CNN Money recently reported that since January 1 of 2017, retailers across the U.S. have announced plans to close more than 6,700 physical stores, according to retail think tank, Fung Global Retail & Technology. That level beats the previous number of 6,163 reported in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis.
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The main reason CNN cites for this dramatic downturn in the brick-and-mortar retail economy is the “shift away from traditional storefronts and towards online shopping.”
With the 2017 holiday season right around the corner and 84% of consumers expected to do shop online for their gifts, according to PwC, it’s critical to get your ecommerce site and marketing strategy in tip-top shape now to capture those holiday sales.
DO - Personalized, Audience-centric Ecommerce Experiences
Major advances in the efficiency of big-data analysis allow for a more personalized and interactive online shopping experience that is tailored to each customer’s specific interests and needs. In 2017 ecommerce retailers have increasingly made use of sophisticated tools such as Etilize that gather information on products in real time, allowing them to offer more personalized item recommendations to shoppers. In the case of apparel, data aggregators can even suggest items that are likely to be a good fit for the customer based on their past purchases and preferences.
DON’T - Cluttered and Difficult Online Shopping Experience
In 2017 consumers want a simple, frictionless, easy shopping experience. When is the last time you tested out your online store’s buyer journey, beginning to end? Having a streamlined online buying process is essential, because once consumers run into difficulty, they’ll most likely drop out or abandon their shopping cart, never to return.
Now is the time to review and analyze your store’s metrics, looking for choke-points and bottlenecks. Have testers go through the site with a list of checkpoints: product descriptions, consumer reviews, clear return and shipping policies, number of steps needed to complete transactions, and of course, optimized images of the product along with recommendations for other items to capture upsell opportunities.
DO - Optimization Your Online Store for Mobile
While evaluating and testing your ecommerce store’s user interface and shopping process, it’s equally important to ensure your online store is optimized for mobile, considering the number of mcommerce users is expected to exceed two billion by the end of 2017.
DON’T - Disregard Mcommerce Growth Adoption
There was a time when millions of shoppers used mobile to research and browse for products, and then ultimately buy in the physical store or on their desktop or laptop when they returned home. That is no longer the case. According to a report by ComScore, mcommerce growth has exceeded other online retail spending, including a three times growth rate over desktop ecommerce.
DO - Follow the Rise of Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Retail
In 2017 we’ve seen the conversation develop further on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in retail, especially with rise in consumer adoption of voice-activated online buying via devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. The result of data collecting married with the use of AI within retail shows how, “Accurate demographic data allows a retailer to understand exactly the type of shoppers who are engaging with its brand, and those insights allow for more tailored decisions on everything from merchandise assortment and marketing campaigns, to store design and buildout, to customer loyalty programs,” according to VentureBeat.
DON’T - Rely on the Old Middleman Retail Model
In 2017 middlemen will increasingly be called upon to justify their existence, as more and more buyers want to buy directly from their favorite brands, thus bypassing third-party distributors and merchants. If your ecommerce business is based on a resale model you may need to rethink your strategy. Concentrate on pushing the advantages that your business can offer buyers over
purchasing directly from brands--offering a wider selection of products, faster and free shipping, specialized customer service, locally-based inventory, and so on--otherwise you risk being cut out of the process altogether.
DO - Consider Snapchat Marketing for Younger Audience Targeting
Snap, Inc. has had a mixed year. Since their widely anticipated public offering, more money has been going out the door ($400 million) than has been coming in (less than $200 million, according to their August earnings report). Their hardware entry, Spectacles, was a sensation last year. In 2017, over 100,000 units remain in their warehouse.
That said, for retailers who target Generation Z and millennials, it’s important to note that Snapchat is where this highly-coveted demographic lives, connects, and shares. A recent study by eMarketer showed teenagers between 12 to 17, and young shoppers 18 to 24 years old continue to flock to the Snapchat while Facebook’s user base within these age segments are expected to shrink by 3.4%.
Instagram, which has mimicked many of Snapchat’s features, also draws teens to its platform. Its parent company, Facebook, along with Twitter and YouTube, have been in fake news hot water with both the U.S. government and major brands. Snapchat, seen as a “more competent” media company, has taken the high road and avoided being a platform spreading false stories. Their secret, “Humans,” said Nick Bell, Snap’s vice president for content in an interview with Bloomberg. “We only work with authoritative and credible media companies, and we unashamedly have a significant team of producers, creators, and journalists.”
Back to eMarketer’s report, Snapchat’s growth in both teen and millennial age groups is expected to exceed Instagram’s by the end of 2017. Snap also announced new video tools and advertising discounts designed specifically for smaller retailers, making the 2017 holiday season the ideal time to not only capture new young shoppers, but acquire long-term customers.
DON’T - Offering Slow Shipping and Inconvenient Returns Policies
These days, consumers want what they want when they want it. During the holidays, speedy and reliable delivery is even more critical. Same-day delivery is increasingly becoming standard and customers frequently list slow shipping as a significant factor to dropping out of their online purchases.
Similarly, an inconvenient or unclear returns policy will discourage many potential buyers. If you want to increase sales, make returns as easy and painless as possible. When a customer can clearly understand your company’s flexible returns process, they’re more likely to order, secure in the knowledge that if their gift was the wrong size or didn’t please the recipient, there will be no trouble sending items back for an exchange or refund. Remember to always have optimized, vibrant product photos so when those holiday bundles arrive, shoppers will be pleased to find that their expectations were met or even exceeded
DO - Prepare for Cyber November
Recently we’ve seen an increasing trend for high-profile retailers to expand their Cyber Monday and Black Friday offers to an entire month of discounted holiday-season shopping. As a result, many consumers now expect to find a wide range of discounted products on sale throughout all of November.
DON’T - Neglect Your Site’s Security and Trust
With many high-profile data-breaches in the last year or two, including the catastrophic Equifax hack that left hundreds of millions of U.S. consumers’ grappling with potential identity theft, citizens of all countries are rightly concerned about online security. Their not the only ones. The Financial Services Roundtable and the Retail Industry Leaders Association are also pushing for legislation that would institute a national breach notification standard.
It is absolutely essential to reassure customers that transactions processed on your ecommerce site are safe and that their vulnerable data will not fall into the wrong hands. Using secure HTTPS hosting with an SSL Certificate for your entire website is the first step, followed by using a reputable gateway provider like BigCommerce or Shopify. While it may be more convenient for consumers to store their credit cards, restricting this ability will prevent the potential for data breaches the likes of Target, which cost the retailer $18.5M after 40 million consumers were affecte
DO - Multiple, High-resolution Product Images
The days when you could get away with just showing one photo of a product are over. Likewise, small, poor quality images that cannot be enlarged or zoomed will no longer cut it in 2017. Consumers expect you to provide them with a comprehensive series of images that show the product from all angles in a clean, white background with crisp resolution.
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Providing multiple images of products can help to reduce the rate of returned goods. The goal is to make the online buying experience as close as you can to in-store shopping, aside from trying on products, while providing clear and accurate descriptions to meet customer expectations.
DON’T - Rely on Smartphone Filters for Product Photos
It may be tempting to go the cheap route and use your smartphone to capture all your product images, relying on Instagram-type of filters to add pazazz and flair. The result is not always retail friendly. Pictures shot with a shallow depth-of-field and finished off with a warm-toned retro filter don’t often translate into “I want to buy that” sales conversions. Do your research and seek out a professional photographer, or at the least, use a DSLR that has more flexibility to capture quality photos of your product in the right setting (knowing you can further optimize your photos with Clipping Path India).
DO - Get to Know and Understand Automated Chatbots
Technological advances have led to the creation of increasingly sophisticated chatbots and their use within the ecommerce sector. Their key benefit is known as conversational commerce, which helps to keep customers browsing your store for longer by answering questions in real time and providing information about products and services. This interactive FAQ tool can be tailored to the customer’s requirements, providing retailers with a highly economical mode of offering quality and convenient customer support.
DON’T - Rely too Heavily on Chatbots
When it comes to customer service, customers also want genuine, interactive engagement from retailers. So avoid relying on chatbots completely with a “set it and forget it” mindset. Instead, center your customer service on a foundation of a human touch that provides many ways for online shoppers to communicate with you. Have your phone number clearly identified on each site page, ensure you’re replying promptly to emails, provide live chat, and offer customer service through your social media channels.
DO - Optimize Your 3rd Party Product Pages
If you sell your products on eBay and Amazon, doing a thorough review of each product page and updating them to coincide with any on-site improvements, descriptions, and product images is a must. This avoids confusion by a consumer seeing the same product presented in different ways and increases your chance for sales conversions.
DON’T - Use Only Static Product Photos
Retail sales statistics reflecting a shift from physical to online shopping are only expected to increase in the coming years, which is great news for your ecommerce business. It also means more retailers are going to be vying for their share of the online revenue pie, so you’ll need to increase your competitive edge not only for this year’s holiday season, but through each sales season, year over year.
If your store isn’t already tuned up for the holiday sales rush, now’s the time to ensure that all your product images are looking their absolute best. It’s easier and less expensive than ever to present clean, well-lit photos with spotless white or light-colored backgrounds.
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