QA

How to Define your Tech Stack Strategy

Most people expect blog posts and articles about selecting an ecommerce tech stack to provide answers, yet this one will ask far more questions than it will provide answers.

I say this because every business is different, and not just in terms of products or services sold. An organization’s level of maturity, its availability of time and resources to dedicate to an implementation, and its existing systems have a tremendous impact on how to approach the project. If any vendor or agency tells you they have a foolproof template for building a tech stack for businesses just like yours, run for the hills. If you engage with a company that makes such claims, you will inevitably waste a lot of time and money on a project with a high chance of failure.

There’s no getting around the fact that launching or upgrading your ecommerce tech stack requires you ask many questions both of yourself, and of the tech vendors, consultancies and agencies you’ll tap for help.

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is an ecommerce tech stack? Obviously, the entire world defines it as the collection of products and services that make up your commerce activities, but I no longer believe that to be accurate. A company can have a fantastic collection and still have a tech stack that’s an utter failure. It behooves us all if we redefine it as the partners that power your commerce system.

Select Your Tools

There’s a huge array of tools available to support your ecommerce platform, and another avalanche of them coming to market in the next 12 months. Here are your options, overwhelming right?

So how do you decide which ones are first necessary, and second, a good fit for your business? Here’s where all that questioning comes in.

Know Your Level of Commerce Maturity and Pick Partners that Match It

What do I mean by commerce maturity? It’s the complexity level of business solutions that your business should be employing.

Before you even begin to select partners and technology, you’ll need to assess the level of complexity you’ll need to deploy. How much time do have available to dedicate to this project? How much talent do you have within your organization? How much time does your internal talent have to dedicate? What other projects are they working on? How much budget do you have? What other technologies already exist? Which ones will you need to integrate with your new ecommerce tech stack? Do you have the resources to do that integration?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions you’re far from alone; most companies don’t. A good start is to take an inventory of all the solutions that already exist within your walls. If you don’t have a PMI system, then you probably are at a low level of maturity. That’s not an insult or a bad thing; it’s a guidepost to help you choose wisely. You don’t want an overly complex ecommerce stack if you don’t have the resources and skillset in house to manage.

Know Your Customers’ Expectations

You can’t really assess your maturity level unless you have a good handle on your customers’ expectations. Of course they all expect you to be able to take and fulfill an order, but do they expect you to have live inventory on your site? Do they want a branded shipping experience? Do they want personalized recommendations from you? Do you have the right set of tools to aid in shopping? Do your customers need visual search tools, for instance?

Answering these questions may require a variety of efforts, from market research and competitive analysis to compiling data from your customer service teams. And you should probably plan to spend some time talking with your customers.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of these customers, keep in mind that most companies find it difficult to objectively assess how mature they are. You may want to appoint someone in your organization to ask those difficult questions, and if no one is available, find an agency or consultant to help you.

Pick the Right Agencies and Consultants

Chances are high that you’ll hire an agency or consultant to help you make sense of your needs and help you design your tech stack. It’s an important hire, one that can have long lasting consequences. The number one question you should ask yourself: do you trust this agency or consultancy?

Once you decide that you do trust them, other questions you must ask include: How mature are the other merchants in their portfolio? Are they thought leaders, putting out content that advances the industry? Given that just about every agency has a set of companies they recommend, ask yourself: How mature are the software companies they recommend? Obviously, if they’re not as mature as your company, you won’t get a lot of strategic benefit from them. Conversely, if they’re way more mature, you can find yourself buying a lot of expensive software from partners who are just out of your reach.

Let’s assume you decide that an agency or a consultant is the right fit, you need to ask: Do they have an offering or a way to partner that’s going to help you get to the next level of maturity?

Select the Partners Not Vendors

First and foremost, don’t just buy products or services, select partners, which is to say, companies that are committed to your success, and will work to ensure it. There is a huge difference between buying software from a vendor and partnering with a provider for a solution on which your entire business depends.

So how do you distinguish a vendor from a partner? Partners should be eager to educate you, and willing to explain their technology in ways that are meaningful to you and they should pick up the phone if you have an issue. Of course, many of the tools can be managed with self service but a lot can’t, and if you experience an issue with a mission critical component of your tech stack, you want a partner who understands the urgency of the situation.

They should be able to help you make rational choices. For instance, can they clearly and accurately tell you the resource allocation required to properly leverage their product? Do they have an assessment of their solution’s total cost of ownership? And of course, what level of customer service do they provide? Those are 3 key things that will help you understand whether or not you should engage with them.

Leverage Your Partner’s Pre-existing Relationships

Finally, if you decide to use an agency to help, consider leveraging their pre-existing stacks and relationships to the fullest extent possible rather than adopt net-new products. In technology, familiarity = efficiency.

In other words, if using an agency to assist with your ecommerce using the stuff they’re already good at is going to be good for you. You’ll also get better support, possibly discounts, as well as access to additional resources if your agency has a good relationship with those companies.

I told you this post would ask more questions than it answered, and I kept my promise. But within these questions there is methodology that will help you make smart decisions about your ecommerce tech stack and set your company up for continued success.

Written by: Brian Lange, Director – Business Development

Trends Graphic

Managing Channel Conflict

Every brand wants to make it as easy as possible for consumers to buy their products and for good reason. Consumers face no shortage of choice, and if they face too many obstacles in buying from a particular brand, they’ll simply select another. That’s why most brands adopt a multi-channel retail model. Rather than restrict sales to their own direct-to-consumer (DtC) website and retail outlets, they form partnerships with wholesalers, boutique shops and the online marketplaces to sell their products. But while commerce is made super easy for the consumer, it is anything but for the brand.

Topping the list of headaches is channel conflict. You can work hard to establish a premium brand whose products consumers are willing to dig deep into their pockets to acquire. All that effort can be upended if department store decides to discount your products and all of your other wholesalers opt to match that fire sale price. And when this happens, it’s entirely possible that your website has the highest prices for your products, and consequently, the last place consumers want to shop!

Clearly, developing a strategy to manage channel conflict is as important developing a merchandising strategy (in fact the two are closely related). As we shall see in this blog post, there are steps you can take to protect your margins and your brand, and still have productive and mutually beneficial relationships with your wholesalers and marketplaces.

Let’s begin by discussing why a strategy for managing channel conflict is essential.

Protect your margins

Your DtC site and your retail outlets obviously offer your brand the best margins, and you’ll want to do everything you possible can to protect them. As mentioned above, wholesalers can undermine your efforts by discounting your products (and using their big Google AdWords and Google Shopping budgets to ensure people in-market see their lower prices!).

But they’re not the only ones who can frustrate your efforts. Let’s say you ship inventory to mom & pop shops or small boutiques that have small but loyal clientele. These shops often have stores in the global marketplaces, and may opt to discount your products there in an attempt to find new customers. If that happens, you can bet that the marketplace will detect that lower price point and match it. Suddenly your brand is in a race to the bottom.

Protect your reputation

When customers see the same product sold at different prices at various retail outlets a sense of unease can set it. What shouldthe product actually cost? How do they know they’re not getting ripped off?

That unease is made worse if the same retailer presents different pricing via different channels. This past winter, an NBC affiliate reported that the prices listed in Target’s app change based on the consumer’s location. If at home, prices displayed via the app were generally lower; in store, they were higher. Although Target hasn’t explained their reasoning, to many consumers it felt as if the retailer wanted to lure them into the store with lower prices, assuming that once there they’d just pay the higher cost rather than go someplace else. This isn’t a good way to instill trust, even if Target had no intention of deploying bait-and-switch tactics.

Protect your customer loyalty

Every brand makes investments in their customers, and you want those investments to continue paying dividends through repeat sales and customer referrals. Third-party channels, like Amazon, can help you introduce your brand to new consumers, but the process needs to be managed. If consumers stop coming to your site you won’t have any opportunity to build long term relationships with them.

Now that we know the challenges, what can you do to overcome them?

  • Think twice about discounting core and evergreen products. Let’s say your brand is best known for its bright green alligator shoes; they’re the evergreen product that sell well week after week, month after month. You should resist the temptation to discount them on your site, as your wholesalers will quickly match your price. Given that you probably have agreements in place that guarantee margins for your wholesalers, discounts on your evergreen products are just unprofitable endeavors.
  • Cull your list of wholesalers. While it’s tempting to have as many wholesalers as possible selling your products, sometimes you need to make difficult choices and cull your list. The best wholesalers are those that are equally committed to your margin goals. If a retailer doesn’t mind taking a 10% or 20% hit on the margins for your products, it may be best to sever that relationship.
  • Withhold future shipments. Once you ship inventory to a wholesaler you have very little control over the price they opt to sell it for, but you absolutely have control over future shipments. You can inform your wholesalers that they won’t be entitled to receive future shipments if they discount your products. Just make sure you follow through on your warnings.
  • Create custom products for special events. Wholesalers are often masters of merchandising, and when they approach you to participate in their once-a-year anniversary sale or some other special event, a little flexibility on your end is needed. Rather than discount your core product line, create a special product or bundle just for that retailer. This strategy ensures that your core products aren’t discounted, and that the sale item is only available from that source.
  • Reserve exclusive, limited and customizable products to your owned and operated channels. Keep avid fans of your brand coming to your DtC site or stores by reserving your exclusive, limited availability or customizable products to your owned and operated channels. And, by the way, you can feel free to discount those products if you want, as you’re the only one who sells them.

 

Those are just some of the strategies we’ve seen retailers deploy to manage channel conflict. Keep in mind that while these tactics clearly work to your advantage, they also benefit your wholesale partners who are equally committed to strong margins.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist & Guest, Megan Petersen

Security Lock

Security Best Practices: Security.txt

With the rise of cyber-criminal rings like Magecart, security is becoming an increasingly relevant topic within the ecommerce space. In this post we’ll explore an emerging specification, security.txt, and explore its relevance within the Magento ecosystem.

What Is It?

The usage of security.txt can be read about on the project’s homepage.

In a nutshell, websites publish a file named security.txt, in the .well-known/ folder. Here is an example of a published security.txt file, https://github.com/.well-known/security.txt. The file provides information on how security issues should be reported to the owner of website in question.

Why Is This Relevant?

As reported by Dutch security researcher, Willem de Groot, Magento extension are now the top cause of Magento breaches. “Internet Bad Guys” are proactively scouring the source code of Magento extensions looking for vulnerabilities and using them to compromise Magento sites. As such, it’s more important than ever for Magento extension providers to facilitate responsible disclosure of security vulnerabilities identified by responsible security researchers.

What Is Something Digital Doing About This?

I’m happy to announce that Something Digital now publishes a security.txt file:

If you discover a security vulnerability in any of our open-source modules, our website, or on the any of our client’s websites please report it to us responsibly as we’ve documented in our security.txt file.

Written by: Max Chadwick, Technical Lead

Chart and Arrows

25% of Your Online Sales? 100% Necessary: Your Amazon Playbook

If you are one of those merchants who’s still not selling on Amazon, or you are but haven’t yet checked into all the services they offer sellers, this blog post is for you.

The Case for Selling on Amazon

You might think of Amazon as your competitor, but that isn’t necessarily the case. With the right strategy in place, Amazon can be a vital strategic partner, as my colleague pointed out. Consider that in 2018, Amazon accounted for 49% of all online retail transactions, and an astounding 5% of all retail sales full stop.

Here is where things get interesting: about half of all products sold on Amazon are from third-party sellers. If Amazon is 49% of all online transactions, and half of those transactions are from folks like you, it means that about 25% of online transactions are from third-party merchants selling on Amazon. Put another way, 25% of your market potential online is through Amazon. And as mentioned in a previous blog post, for many consumers, Amazon is the first, and often only, step in their product discovery process, and if you’re not there, you have no hope of ever getting their business.

And key markets just love their Amazon Prime. According to a Business Insider survey, 44% of millennials would rather give up sex than quit Amazon for a year, and 75% would rather give up alcohol.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Amazon offers a ton of services to help third-party merchants sell and thrive on its marketplace. In fact, the breadth of services can be overwhelming, which is why we recommend spending some time reading about the options and making choices about what’s right for your business. Some merchants may benefit from engaging a consultant who has expertise in Amazon to help choose which services will best compliment their business goals.

For instance, what percentage of your business should come from the Amazon marketplace? If you’re getting an abundant amount of sales through the site on a daily basis it may be tempting to focus your efforts there. But what happens if something goes wrong with your Amazon account, or if it is deactivated for some reason? You need to know upfront the level of support you can expect from Amazon (and ensure they’re on the same page).

Step 2: Set Up Your Amazon Account

Generally speaking, merchants are either third-party sellers (Seller Central) or first-party sellers (Vendor Central).

  • Seller Central (3p): Amazon provides a turnkey web interface that allows merchants to market and sell products to Amazon customers (i.e. sell via the marketplace)
  • Vendor Central (1p): Amazon acts as a full-time distributor of your products, buying and storing inventory and taking care of everything from shipping and pricing to customer service and returns.

 

Account Types

You’ll also need to determine an account level. There are fees associated with selling on Amazon, and sometimes they give merchants pause. Don’t forget: there are always costs to do business, and while at times Amazon fees can seem high, consider the cost of selling through other channels. When considering TCO, you may find that it’s actually less expensive to sell through Amazon.

  • Professional: $40/month + fees
  • Individual: $.99/sale + fees

 

Fulfillment Options

Finally, select your fulfillment option. Fulfillment is one of Amazon’s strong points, and the company has built massive infrastructure to get packages into the hands of shoppers in a timely manner. It is a pay-as-you-go model. If you use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) your products are available for Amazon Prime.

  • Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA): Your products are in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, and Amazon will “pick, pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products.” Fees are on a per package basis, determined by size, there are also warehouse storage fees. Amazon offers a fee calculator to help determine your costs.
  • FBA Onsite: You store your products in your own facility, and Amazon reps pick, pack and ship it for you. Eligible for Prime and Subscribe & Save. Amazon fulfillment fees but without the storage fees.
  • Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM): You take full responsibility for  storing and packing and shipping orders. There are no fulfillment fees.
  • Seller Fulfilled Prime: Sellers deliver directly to domestic Prime customers from their own warehouse. By displaying the Prime badge, you are committing to fulfill orders with Two-Day Delivery at no additional charge for Prime customers. Amazon gives you access to the right transportation solutions to help you meet the high bar for the Prime customer experience. Note: There is a waitlist to join this option and participation requires sellers to use Amazon Buy Shipping Services for at least 98.5% of orders.

 

Inventory Management Tool

Amazon has built some great tools for managing your inventory, such as an Inventory Dashboard, and Inventory Performance Index, which measures inventory management over time, including how well you balance inventory levels and sales, fix listing problems that make your inventory unavailable for purchase, and keep popular products in stock.

Step 3: Produce Discovery, Promotions and Advertising

Amazon provides a range of options to feature your products and brand to help you win customers and generate sales. For instance, you can create special offers for sale on Amazon, your site, or your stores only (for FBA participants only). These are powerful tools because Amazon goes out of its way to get your offers in front of its customer base, which is why an additional 5% fee is applied across your entire account. So if you sign up for these programs, make sure you take advantage of them.

  • Amazon Exclusives Program: The Amazon Exclusives Program is one way the marketplace can help you acquire new customers. Amazon describes it as, “best destination for innovators to launch and build a brand by providing increased brand discoverability, marketing opportunities, and self-serve brand tools.” Don’t be put off by the name of the program, Amazon defines “exclusivity” as “selling through Amazon, your own website, and your own physical stores.” This can be a on a per product basis, or even unique variations on an existing product.
  • Amazon Deals: Amazon offers many deal options — Today’s Deals, Lightning Deals, Savings and Sales, and Coupons. If you haven’t yet applied to be included in Deal of the Day, do so immediately. Lightning Deals are now a consumer sport, with numerous shopping blogs offering tips on how to snag them. To participate in a Lightning Deal, you and your products must meet specific Amazon criteria.
  • Sponsored Products: Sponsored Products is Amazon’s PPC advertising service that helps sellers promote the products they list on Amazon. You select the products you want to advertise, assign them keywords and enter a cost-per-click bid. Then, when an Amazon shopper searches for one of your keywords, your ad is eligible for display alongside the search results. You’re charged only when an Amazon shopper clicks your ad, at which point the shopper is taken to your product details page.
  • Sponsored Brands: Formerly known as Headline Search Ads, Sponsored Brands are keyword-targeting, cost-per-click ads that allow brand to promote custom headlines, their logos, and images, and drive traffic to their Store or a curated page that showcases their brand and products on Amazon. Why should you invest in Sponsored Brands ads? From 2015 to 2018, Amazon surpassed Google for product searches, with Amazon growing from 46% to 54% and Google declining from 54% to 46%. And it’s still in its early days yet.

 

Step 4: Evaluate Additional Amazon Services

Ever notice how the arrow in the Amazon logo points from A to Z? That’s not an accident. The company has always sought to provide everything a person may need.

The same holds true for its sellers and a host of other business entities. Amazon offers a mind-boggling array of additional services, some for use on Amazon.com and others for anywhere else on the web. Some of these services, like Brand Registry, I consider must haves, others are beneficial for specific types of merchants and sellers.

  • Brand Registry: Amazon Brand Registry helps you protect your intellectual property and create an accurate and trusted experience for customers on Amazon. It’s software proactively removes suspected infringing or inaccurate content. This is one of the services I think all vendors should use.
  • Amazon Business: Amazon Business is a B2B service that allows businesses to sell and purchase supplies from one another. There’s no fee for joining, and members get access to quantity discounts, tax exempt purchasing, business-only prices, among other perks.
  • Amazon Handmade: This is an artisan-only community for selling handmade items to Amazon customers. Participants can take advantage all other Amazon programs, such as FBA, and promotions.
  • Amazon Custom: Amazon Custom is a store on Amazon.com, where shoppers go to customize your products with their text, images/logos or from a list of options that you provide. Custom products are cross-listed in our store as well as in your specified department.
  • Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment: Amazon’s Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) offers access to Amazon’s fulfillment network, operational expertise, and trusted shipping options for all of your orders, from wherever they’re placed—both on Amazon.com and on other sales channels.
  • Amazon Web Services: AWS provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments, on a paid subscription basis. The technology allows subscribers to have at their disposal a virtual cluster of computers, available all the time, through the Internet.
  • Amazon Pay: Amazon Pay is an online payments processing service that lets Amazon customers pay for item on external ecommerce sites, using the payment (credit card and address) stored in their Amazon account.

 

Parting Thoughts

Before I leave you in this post, I would like to take the opportunity to address some concerns about selling on Amazon that many sellers have shared with us at Something Digital.

The first concern is data. When a customer purchases your product via Amazon, obviously Amazon has access to their customer’s data, including search history, other products looked at, name, address, credit card information, and so on. What’s to stop Amazon from using that data about your customer for themselves or for your competitors’ benefit?

Consumer data is one of the hottest commodities in commerce, period. Should this stop you from selling via the marketplace? In my opinion no. Amazon already has all the data they need and if they don’t they will soon. It’s one of the perks of having the largest assortment of products online.

And consider this: Let’s say your products fall into a unique category that’s not sold on Amazon currently. You withhold your products from the marketplace, but will your competitors? Likely not. So unless you trust all of your competitors not to sell on Amazon, they’ll get to the 300+ million customers on Amazon before you.

Finally, as huge and as important Amazon is, it isn’t the only marketplace in the world.  Walmart, Jet and Alibaba are huge marketplaces, and you should plan strategies for them as well, lest you miss out on those opportunities.

 

Written by: Brian Lange, Director of Business Development

Complex B2B needs? No problem. SD Knows B2B.

Something Digital spends a lot of time building B2B oriented ecommerce sites. In fact, some 60 – 70% our clients are B2B, which is why we’ve made significant investments in building a B2B practice. Prospects often ask us if it’s necessary for companies like Something Digital to develop a B2B specialty because a website is a website, right? In other words, if the purpose of an ecommerce site is to help visitors find what they need and make a purchase, why differentiate between a B2C and a B2B site?

In 99% of the time, B2B sites are vastly different from B2C sites. However, we’ve worked with brands such as gemline.com, which serves a B2B clientele and have sites that follow the B2C model, with product detail pages and shopping carts. But these instances are the exception, not the norm.

Unlike B2C consumers, most users who visit a B2B site aren’t new to the brand (many brands will vet customers before allowing their purchasing agents to shop on their site or require a specific level of volume prior to ordering via the web). The purpose of the B2B site isn’t to promote product discovery and delight, but to make placing orders as quick and seamless as possible. By definition customers to B2B sites are frequent buyers who place high volume, high value orders based on a pre-negotiated price list.

Hallmarks of B2B Sites

Functionality requires vary from site to site, so it’s impossible to say all B2B sites need this set of five requirements. That said, there are hallmarks that distinguish B2B sites:

Differentiated Customer Pricing

Most B2B customers begin purchasing from a site only after they’ve signed a contract with the site owner. Site users expect their orders to reflect any volume discounts and price breaks they’ve negotiated. All orders must accurately reflect that differentiated pricing.

Streamlined Purchase Orders

Business clients rely on purchase orders to track expenses to the right account and to analyze operating costs. B2B sites should allow users to enter P.O’s quickly and easily.

Obtain Quotes for Projects or Project Builds

Many B2B customers will purchase items for projects they’ll deliver to their clients, such as a contractor who has been hired to renovate a kitchen or a bathroom. In such cases, the contractors will want to build a quote for all the costs — countertops, vanity, light fixtures, etc. — that they can share their clients and collaborate on changes. This requires functionality outside of the scope of B2C sites.

Quote Templates

Similarly to the above, many companies have templates for services they order, and would like to create and store those templates on the B2B site. For instance, an interior designer may have a standard approach for designing rooms that are “shabby chic” or “mid-century modern” which include select textiles or signature pieces of furniture. Rather than start each quote from scratch, they prefer to start with a pre-built template that they can edit for individual customers.

Grid Ordering

Grid ordering is essential for B2B customers who place large orders each month, such as a hotel chain that supplies uniforms for their staff. Busy purchasing agents would prefer to select desired products and sizes from a grid of SKUs, or even upload a spreadsheet, rather than search for, select, and add the individual pieces and sizes to the shopping cart manually. Grid ordering is a feature that can be enabled in both Magento and Shopify.

List View Ordering

We work with many B2B companies that want to allow their customers to place orders via a list view or a category rather than a grid. This feature allows users to call up a list of the items they wish to purchase, and quickly populate quantities. This functionality is particularly helpful for users who need to order from a huge category of products in a single order.

Why Something Digital?

Clearly requirements differ from one B2B client to the next, which is why a top-notch professional services team is essential to understand and deliver the right UI and UX site features for your business.

Something Digital has invested in high quality professional services team, which has developed a white glove methodology for delivering B2B e-commerce sites that will last through the years. It begins with a thorough investigation of the needs of your business as well as those of your customers. Our goal is to understand how they wish to purchase from you, and to make that process as frictionless as possible.

We also have engineering team that is tasked with understanding how your customer relationships are actually enabled. In other words, the relationship isn’t confined to your e-commerce site; custom pricing may reside in your legacy ERP system, and contract terms may be housed in your CRM system. Our engineers ensure that your ecommerce site is fully integrated with all critical systems that touch your customers.

And as I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post, we have an award-winningUI/UX design team that’s focused solely on B2B customers.  This team will build an interface that’s designed to enhance the way your customers prefer to interact with your company. If you want more information about the work that we do make sure you contact us.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Home & Bedding is Changing the Ecommerce Landscape

Conventional wisdom says people won’t make big purchases, such as a couch or mattress, without seeing and touching it in person. Yet the facts tell a very different story. In 2018, ecommerce revenue from furniture and home furnishing sales topped $65 billion, and is expected reach $100 billion by 2022. That’s about 12.9 percent of total retail ecommerce sales in the United States.

Bedding in particular is experiencing an ecommerce renaissance, driven by America’s obsession with sleep hygiene. Concerned about the role sleep plays in their health Inc. Magazine reports that, “People are realizing that investing in their own wellbeing is money well spent. And that means there’s been an increased demand for premium mattresses and bedding textiles–and an increase in the number of consumers who are willing to pay for them.” The upshot? In 2016, half of the six fastest growing e-retailers in the Top 500 were mattress startups.

These stats don’t come as a surprise to us at Something Digital. Recently we’ve helped eight online retailers launch their Home & Bedding sites, and that’s in addition to the dozen or so sites prior to this recent spate. Home & Bedding is our largest category of clients, and the products they sell cover everything from furniture and bedding, to home accessories and textiles. This post shares some of what we’ve learned in helping a range of Home & Bedding e-tailers succeed.

Design Matters

Home & Bedding sales rely on the consumer experiencing what it feels like to be in a room or space with a particular product, which is why retailers like Ikea and Crate & Barrel create whole rooms, complete with accessories and textiles, for people to walk through. Consumers can touch the fabric to assess its quality, determine if a sofa or easy chair is too high or too low for their tastes, or figure out if a dresser or wardrobe offers enough storage for their belongings.

Given the visceral nature of Home & Bedding products, one would assume that few people are willing to risk of buying online but as we’ve seen from the stats above, that’s just not the case. Sometimes buying in store is a drag. Selecting pieces and designing a room in Ikea is a blast, getting the loot to your car and securing it to your roof is not. And even if you see a couch you want to buy in store, chances are they don’t have all 30 color options available, which means ordering it online.

And therein lies the opportunity and challenge: online sales blunt the burden of finding a retail location and figuring out how to get the stuff to your house. The challenge is designing a website experience that recreates the feeling of immersion.

When Something Digital designs a website in the Home & Bedding space, total immersion is our goal. I liken it to watching a movie. When you relive that movie in your mind, you don’t remember the details of the set, you remember the plot and the character’s reaction to the events that occurred. In other words, you remember the experience.

We have a variety of techniques to create that immersive experience, such as full bleed, edge-to-edge graphic designs that emphasize the color and texture of products so customers will get a sense of how it will feel in their homes. Sometimes our designers will highlight a product’s bold color by placing it in an empty space. We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves to help website visitors experience a product.

Another trick is to create “shop this room” experiences like those Crate & Barrel retail outlets, a technique we deployed for our client, Kravet.

Kravet’s curated rooms feature fully designed spaces that allow visitors to shop the entire room, from furniture to rugs and wallpaper. It’s a matter of creating an experience that is as interactive, approachable, touchable as it is real life, but in a computer screen.

Curated Kravet
Experience Matters

The second challenge Home & Bedding online retailers must address is the end-to-end experience of the sale. Riley, a Something Digital client that sells affordable luxury bedding, wants every part of the customer interaction to be joyful. They want customers to feel as if they’re about to have the best nap or bath of their lives. They accomplish this by allowing consumers to personalize and endless variety of bath towels, bathrobes, pillows, and so on.

But it doesn’t stop there; Riley has taken tremendous care with its customer facing post-sale interactions, and leveraging them as an opportunity to further the joyful experience. There’s nothing better than the anticipation of waiting for a much-desired product to arrive, which is why Riley’s order received, order shipped and tracking notifications build on that excitement. The company eschews the anemic templated notifications that are standard in online sales in favor of updates that reflect their brand joyful voice.

Riley Home

 

And, as the customer’s anticipation builds, so do the dividends the retailer reaps. We’ve found that user-generated content on Instagram is direct result of these types of post-sale engagements. Ditto for post-product engagement, recommendations to friends, and product reviews. Some retailers incentivize post-sales engagements, offering, say, $10 off the next purchase for posting a photo of the product on Instagram. It’s a great way to spread the word and get repeat sales.

Infusing the end-to-end customer interaction with the brand voice is a skill our extensive experience in this space has allowed us to hone. It’s also one we find most rewarding.

Shipping and Logistics Matter

The last challenge is shipping and logistics. Furniture is notoriously difficult to deliver. Many products are multi-part pieces (e.g. futon frame + futon mattress + futon cover), which means multiple shipments are required. This is where shipping gets interesting, because real-time rate calculation and timing aren’t always so, well, real time. And yet these data points can have a huge impact on the consumer’s decision to convert. So this is a tough challenge, one in which finding the right partners is essential.

Assembly at the home is another obstacle, one that Ikea — with its minimum language directions and heavy reliance on disposable allen wrenches —  is known for. It’s no surprise that the world rejoiced when researchers at Nanyang Technological University announced they had designed a robot that can assemble an Ikea chair in 20 minutes.

Help with furniture assembly is a great way to upsell orders and ensure customer delight. We help online retailers plug in services like Handy and TaskRabbit — helpful middlemen allow retailers to take advantage of flat-pack shipments while eliminating the burden on the customer.

Industry West

 

The final piece of the logistics is customer care. Successful retailers understand that any hiccup in assembling or using a product can instantly lead to buyer’s remorse. In these instances, it’s hugely important to ensure all customer interactions are joyful and to make it a positive brand experience. Fortunately, our understanding of creative expression of brands in this space has been quite helpful.

These are just some of the trends, challenges and solutions we’ve perfected through our work with Home & Bedding online retailers. Need help in optimizing yours? We’d love to help!

Revenue Target

7 Easy Ways to Boost Mobile Conversions

You might not be aware of this, but Something Digital has been a participant of the Mobile Optimization Initiative (MOI) since its launch. If you’re not familiar with the initiative — and you rely on mobile site to make sales — it’s worth your time to learn more. The initiative, per Magento, is a “collaboration and experimentation platform supported by Magento, PayPal and HiConversion designed to understand why the gap in mobile and desktop conversions persists in order to help ecommerce providers succeed in mobile sales.”

How Something Digital Fits In

As a participant, our job is to help merchants boost mobile ecommerce sales by making small but strategic tweeks to their sites. If you’re interested in getting involved in this initiative and work with us on it well great news because you don’t even need to be a Something Digital client in order to work with us via the Mobile Optimization Initiative.

Site owners simply apply for the program and after a brief onboarding process, one of our team member will analyze your site. Specifically, we’ll go through every aspect of your desktop and mobile checkout process, note the differences, and recommend up to four “treatments” or tweeks to make. (You’re free to disagree with our recommendations and choose one of your own.)

Although this is a mobile initiative, we test the treatments on the desktop site as well, since we want to pinpoint differences between the two, and, why not improve both experiences while we’re at it.

Next, we’ll A/B test the treatments over a three-month period, measuring success based on three KPIs: revenue per visitor, conversion rate, and average order value (AOV). If we measure a meaningful bump in any of those KPIs among users who were shown or experienced one of the three treatments, then you can opt to implement it permanently.

Why Is There a Persistent Gap in Desktop and Mobile Conversions?

We applaud Magento for embarking on its quest to understand why some consumers balk at purchasing via their mobile phone. Obviously we spend a lot of time thinking about this issue with all of our clients, but what’s interesting about this initiative is that it tends to focus on testing small, seemingly inconsequential, things.

This approach has led me to a realization: the treatments with the biggest impact provide subtle psychological assurances to the consumer that the order they’re about to place, on the mobile site they’re about to place it on, is legitimate.

For many people, placing orders via a mobile device is still a new experience. They want to know that if they take the time to enter in their addresses and credit card numbers, the order won’t get lost due to a broken connection or some other issue. And of course, they want to know that mobile sites are as secure as those they access via their desktops.

Through the Mobile Optimization Initiative we’ve found that the treatments that deliver the biggest boosts in revenue per user, conversion rate and AOV are those that deliver those assurances.

Below are 7 treatments that we’ve found test well, delivering positive results overall for the retailers that tried them.

Security Lock Icon

This treatment places a security lock on the checkout link, sending a psychological message to the consumer that the checkout is secure. This is one of my favorites because it delivers crazy-great results for both desktop and mobile. At present, few mobile sites use the security lock icon, so I’m hopeful these test results will prompt more sites will test and adopt it.

Security Lock Icon Results:

 
PayPal Express on Product Detail Page

For PayPal users, seeing the PayPal Express icon means they won’t need to enter payment information or type out their address (big benefits when typing on a tiny screen or shopping while riding the bus). It also means a faster checkout process, which customers clearly enjoy, as it results in more conversions:

PayPal Express on Product Detail Page Results:

Coupon Collapse

The coupon collapse treatment deemphasizes the coupon field. It doesn’t go away; rather the user must click on a link in order to open the field.

Coupons tell users that there are better deals out there, which isn’t always the case. The challenge is that once they get that idea into their heads, they’re likely to leave the checkout process in search of a discount code. When that happens, the chances of them returning diminishes. This treatment seeks to reduce that by making the coupon slightly less visible. The results are great. One Something Digital client saw a 12.72% lift in conversion and a 16.14% lift in revenue per visitor with this treatment on mobile!

Coupon Collapse Results:

Simplified Cart Header

The simplified cart header minimizes the mega menu navigation once the consumer enters the shopping cart:

The psychology behind the simplified cart header is similar to the coupon collapse: don’t provide visitors with distraction while they’re checking out. Keep them focused on what they’re buying and you will increase the chances that they’ll complete the purchase. Check out these results:

Simplified Cart Header Results:

One Something Digital client saw a 5.37% lift in conversion with this treatment on mobile!

Floating Checkout Button

On most mobile sites, the call to action is sticky, meaning it never moves from its place on the page. This treatment eliminates that feature, moving the call to action (e.g. “checkout now”) as the user scrolls down the page. In other words, at any point the user can initiate the cart without hunting for the checkout link.

Floating Checkout Button Results:

ZIP Code Autofill

This feature automatically fills in What this does is when the user is checking out, it recognizes where you live and auto-fill your ZIP code. It’s the little things like that that during the checkout process that make the user experience more friendly and efficient. So again, just changing these little aspects that don’t seem to big or crazy but can have a significant impact. Over mobile and desktop one Something Digital client saw a 4.63% lift in conversions with this treatment.

ZIP Code Autofill Results:

Credit Card Auto-Detect

This feature indicates the type of credit card — Amex, Visa, MasterCard — the consumers wish to use to pay for an order based on the credit card numbers they enter. The purpose is to send the consumers a psychological message that the checkout process is in good working order — as demonstrated by highlight the correct card type. This particular treatment did not yield positive results on mobile but had better results overall on desktop.

Credit Card Auto-Detect Results:

If you’re interested in getting involved in the MOI you can visit the official website or reach out to us for help.

Written by: Tori Oates, Digital Strategist

QA

5 Reasons to Wait on PWA

Last week you heard our reasons to jump on the PWA bandwagon, this week we’re going to tell you why you should wait.

5 Reasons to Wait on Implementing PWA
#1: By Definition You’d be an Early Adopter

At this point in time (February 2019), both Magento and Shopify are in the early stages of PWA. There are just seven approaches in Magento ecosystem, and a smattering of third-party service providers that have created PWA plugins. Make no mistake: it’s in it’s early days, and you’d be an early adopter. Of course there are benefits to being early, but you also run the risk of investing in development that won’t ultimately mesh with Magento’s way of doing things. That’s not good.

Two weeks ago, Magento released PWA Studio, which is its own PWA architecture. We’re glad that Magento put a stake in the ground, essentially telling the market, “this is the right way to do PWA on Magento.” But PWA Studio is effectively a beta product, and doesn’t have as many features as other commercial products available on the marketplace.

#2: You’ll Pay More to Implement

It’s hard to get around the fact that it’s more difficult, and consequently costly, to implement anything that isn’t market tested by the developer community. Without a doubt, it will be harder to implement PWA today on Magento than if you would if you were to wait for the ecosystem to mature.

And the same is true Shopify. Shopify has its own plugin ecosystem and PWA stores certainly exist, but they’re not yet mature. The three or four plugins I’ve seen are mostly demos. More telling, visit ShopifyPWA.com to see how many sites are successfully running PWA on Shopify (you can count them on your hands).

If you implement PWA now, you will surely be paying for a highly custom implementation, which will raise your total cost of ownership. And if you select an approach that the ecosystem ultimately rejects, you may find yourself paying for a do over.

#3: Not All Browsers Support PWA Yet

Not all browsers support PWA at this time. Now that’s changing as we write this; check out caniuse.com, and enter “Service Workers” for real time updates of supported browsers. You’ll get a detailed listing of where every browser stands in terms of PWA support.

If a sizeable portion of your users (or even just a tiny subset) use a browser that doesn’t support PWA, they won’t benefit from your PWA investments. They may even have a poor brand experience.

Again, this is changing quickly, but until there’s full coverage, why risk alienating your customers?

#4: PWA isn’t the Only Option for Desired Features

We’ve spoken to a lot of people about PWA and we’re often left with the impression that many equate advanced UI features with PWA. For instance, there is a misconception that PWA is a requirement for, say, using a phone’s camera to scan a barcode (it’s not, you can use a camera on any web app without it being PWA). The same is true about a lot of motion features, or what we call UI eye candy functionality. These are UI features that can be built into your existing site without PWA.

#5: Troubleshooting will be Harder

One of the great benefits with both Shopify and Magento is the robust ecosystem of people who have already solved certain problems, and from whom we can learn. This is the open source mantra; it’s the philosophy of sharing information openly. At the moment there isn’t a critical mass of people doing PWA, so if you encounter a problem, you’re kind of on your own. You won’t be able to Google an answer for an error you’ve received. If you’re an extraordinary developer who can solve just about any problem, then go ahead and give it a try. If not, you may want to way until the developer community does what it does best: try multiple approaches and opine loudly on it until a consensus emerges.

To Wait or Not?

Ultimately, the decision is yours. We’ve given you the pros and cons of both. If you’re still not sure, give your Something Digital team a call. We’ve implemented plenty of PWA sites, and will be happy to talk you through our experiences.

QA

5 Reasons to Jump on the PWA Bandwagon

Every developer is talking about progressive web apps (PWA), the software development methodology that will make everythingabout being online better, faster and, well, cooler. To be sure, we at Something Digital see it as a great way to develop websites for a lot of reasons, and we anticipate the day will come when just about every site is PWA enabled. But, at this point in time, PWA may not be for all online merchants and website owners. In fact, we know of five good reasons why at least some website owners should to wait a year or two. This post examines why you should jump on the PWA bandwagon.

First, what is PWA exactly? There’s a lot of misunderstanding of what PWA covers. Some see it as a framework or new technology, while in reality it’s more of a collection of best practices and modern development styles wrapped into a marketing term. It’s not anything new, per se, rather it’s more about creating websites that provide the best features supported in most browsers with all the benefits of a mobile-app experience. In other words, it’s an idea.

5 Reasons to Implement PWA Now

#1. Higher User Engagement

This is a super compelling reason. Every website and online store wants higher levels of user engagement, because, let’s face it, engagement equals money. There are several ways that PWA makes websites stickier, beginning with the the add to home screenfeature, which installs your website to the user’s desktop and mobile device launcher. If access to your website is right there on their home screens, users will probably visit it more often. It also makes your site feel more like a native app, which, in turn makes it easier and faster for the user to return to it over and over, sans navigating a bunch of tabs.

PWA also allows for push notifications, which may re-engage visitors. You can push order status, tracking and updates, as well as promotional materials, to lure them back to your site.

#2: Faster Page Load Times

PWA typically speeds up page loads (see Service Workers below for details), which, offers a lot of benefits to both the merchant and the user. When pages load quickly, users are more willing to click on additional pages, which translates into more products viewed or articles read. Obviously, this can have a positive monetary impact on your business.

Users also benefit from a better, more seamless browsing experience, which may make them more willing to return to it frequently.

#3: Team Efficiency Gains

PWA offers your developer team some efficiencies, thereby freeing them up to tackle other priorities, which may be an important consideration for you. Granted, the efficiencies are greater for Magento sites rather than Shopify, which may also be a consideration.

For instance, it can be a little tedious starting a project in Magento, taking four to eight hours to set up a local environment that mimics the production or staging environment. This contrasts with PWA, which can shorten set up time to a mere five to fifteen minutes. As a result, onboarding new team members is a lot faster and less labor intensive.

PWA can also ease another concern we hear from clients: make it easier to find talent to work on their sites, especially if they have a Magento environment. PWA allows for “headless” tech stacks, meaning the front end can be separated from the backend. Why is this important for some ecommerce companies? It’s not easy to find developers with experience in Magento’s backend tech stack. In a headless situation, front end developers can be found and put to work with a more modern front-end tech stack.

Finally, it can be a lot easier to keep the code in synch with live data. To break that down a little bit further, when you’re developing locally your data gets stale pretty quickly, or it represents just a snapshot of what was previously happening in a staging or production environment. With a PWA and a headless approach. Developers can directly feed that front end with live staging data, which, in turn, can yield a more accurate development experience, leading to more efficiency gains for all team members.

#4: Gains in Browser Performance

With PWA there are lots of browser or client-side performance gains to be had. Why? With PWA one of three principles will apply. The first is that PWA supports super aggressive caching, far more than the average browser is able to do. Thanks to Service Workers, which is essentially a script in the background a browser separately from the web page, you can provide your users with an opportunity to work offline (to an extent). Service Workers can cache a wide range of items locally, including images and pages, so if your user is bumped off your site due to a lost connection, he or she can still click between pages. Moreover, the Service Workers caching further speeds up page loads, further improving the user experience.

#5: Operational Efficiencies

PWA offers merchants, especially those in the enterprise class, some significant operational benefits. Notably, PWA is basically built once and implemented everywhere — and on your schedule. This simply isn’t the case with native apps, which may require separate development and testing efforts for iOS and Android (that’s on top of your web development). And each time you enhance your app you need to submit it to The Apple Store and the Google Play store, and wait for their approval. With PWA, you and you alone decide when to go live.

If you want to see some examples of real ecommerce sites who are already doing PWA, check out this curated list on Headless.page.

All of these are terrific benefits … so should you jump in ASAP? Check back next week for reasons you may want to wait on PWAs. Have some questions before then let us know!

LTV

Optimizing Cross Navigation on PDPs for Up-Sells and Related Products

Make Your Investments Last

As an online retailer, you probably invest a tidy sum to attract consumers to your site. The last thing you want is for prospects to land on a product page and click away immediately because they didn’t see exactly what they’re looking for.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your product detail pages (PDP) work harder for you by keeping visitors on your site longer, thereby increasing the likelihood they’ll find what they need and even boost the value of their orders. This post examines the role that Magento’s up-sells and related products features play in promoting those goals.

Up-Sells and related products Defined

First things first, Magento defines up-sells and related products as they appear on PDPs in very specific ways. Up-sells aren’t necessarily more expensive products, in fact, as we shall see below, higher cost items may be a deterrent for some consumers. Rather, up-sells are similar products, ideally within the same price range, as the item the consumer has chosen to look at. Related products are accessories; if a consumer is on the product detail page of a ski jacket, related products may be ski gloves or a ski hat.

Let’s see how these features can work to your advantage.

Accommodate a Greater Range of Shoppers

It’s important to keep in mind that people come to your online store from different viewpoints. Some may be super familiar with a brand and know exactly what they want, while others are less familiar with a product category, and are exploring available options. As a retailer you need to accommodate both people at once, which can be a challenge.

This is where up-sells and related products excel. By displaying a range of additional options on a product detail page, the shopper who knows exactly what they want can add it to their cart and be on their way, whereas the shopper who is still in discovery mode will have the opportunity to compare products quickly, easily and conveniently. For this reason, we at Something Digital consider it a best practice to give both cross-navigation options a lot of weight.

Placement of Up-Sells and related products on Your PDPs

Obviously you want the product featured on the PDP to be most visible, but a best practice is to ensure that consumers can see additional options without squinting or opening a new browser tab. That means the up-sells and related products should display within the viewport to the furthest extent possible. If shoppers see they have multiple options in their desired price range, they’ll take the time to comparison shop, which in turn, increases the likelihood of a conversion.

Differentiate Between Up-sells and related products

Although we recommend using both up-sells and related products, take care that the two are easily distinguished on the page. Related products should have a different treatment than up-sells, so as not to confuse the customer. This is a mistake I frequently encounter as I shop the web. Up-sells and related products should be populated in different ways.

Avoid Sticker Shock

Up-sells in Magento are all about providing choice, and not getting a consumer to blow their budget. If a shopper is looking at a $200 ski jacket, it’s unlikely they’ll seriously consider buying one that costs $1,000. In this scenario, a best practice is to display a range of similar coats by different brands at the same price point (within $20 or so).

The same holds true for related products. If a shopper has a $200 budget for a ski jacket, avoid related products that are close to or above that price point. In other words, promoting a $20 ski hat or a $15 box of feet warmers will likely result in additional purchases, but not a $250 pair of ski pants or $300 pair of goggles.

Promote Comparison Shopping on Your PDPs

The main goal of up-sells is to cater to people who aren’t sure of what they want. The strategy should aid in their product discovery process, without the need to click between multiple pages and browser tabs. This is particularly critical for sites with hundreds or even thousands of product SKUs. No consumer has the time or patience to weed through 2,000 product pages, so when they select a specific item from your product listings page, they’re providing you with critical insight into their requirements. Use that as an opportunity to help them in their discovery process.

There are a variety of data points that help people compare products at-a-glance. Including things like price, consumer reviews or stars, along with a photo will help them compare products from the original product detail page they selected. We also recommend a brief description, including details like material, dimensions, or other features, so they can easily assess how each product differs.

If the product is one that relies on visuals, like a ski jacket, make sure the images of your up-sells and related products are large enough to assess and compare. Providing shoppers with pertinent details will help them compare products.

Promote Self-Bundling

Consumers are more apt to purchase related products if they can add them to their cart or bag from the PDP of the main product they wish to buy. This isn’t a requirement for your up-sells but it’s definitely a good practice for your related products. By offering three or four related products, you allow the individual shopper to create a custom bundle. Incentives, such as free shipping or 10% off orders above $100, prompt customers to bundle.

Track Products of Interest

Consumers who are deep into discovery mode may find it difficult to keep track of or find products they’ve looked at previously. You can help them by adding a third-party plugin that allows you to show customers products they’ve already viewed. This will go a long way in helping them make a decision from a single page, which is precisely the goal.

Question or comments? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Written by: Gina Angelotti, Interactive Designer