Challenges and Tactics of Ecommerce for Health and Beauty Brands

For any brand, establishing an ecommerce presence is a tricky endeavor, one that requires a thoughtful approach and plenty of testing. For health and beauty brands, the challenge is compounded. After helping a number of health and beauty brands launch successful ecommerce businesses — including IMAGE Skincare, Champion Performance, a Clorox company, and Garden of Life, a Nestle company — we’ve seen first-hand the challenges you face. But we’ve also seen how those challenges can be addressed.

Let’s start with the challenges. There are four big ones that all health and beauty brands face.

#1: In health and beauty, it’s personal.

Whether it’s a vitamin to improve physical or mental health, or a lotion to enhance outward beauty, all health and beauty products are incredibly personal to the consumer. Such products profess to change the consumers’ life or lend some benefit to make them feel better about themselves.

As a brand, you need to exhibit a lifestyle. For instance, a wellness brand will need to sell the eventuality of the life the consumer might have if she were to take or use this product. This isn’t easy to accomplish for many reasons, including FDA-imposed limits as to what you can and cannot say. Building a lifestyle requires content — and lots of it — which leads to challenge number two.

#2: Content management

Creating a lifestyle brand requires a lot of content for the simple reason that you will have a lot of personas to sell to. Thus, content management is a big challenge.

For instance, if you’re a wellness brand you’ll need to sell products to a range of personas, from the busy mom to the single dude who wants to go mountain biking with his buddies. If you’re a beauty brand, you sell to consumers who are concerned about aging, and even within anti-aging products, there personas for people seeking preventative maintenance and people hoping to repair damage already done.

In addition to creating content for persona, you’ll need to cater your content to website traffic sources. For instance, organic traffic relies almost exclusively on content that’s fresh, original, and ever-changing, especially around particular keywords. Keyword research is imperative.

You’ll need to continuously craft content, both for your product detail pages, as well as the world of content that lives alongside the sales process. Because these products are so personal, you’ll need to engage with consumers in ways that establish your brand as an authority in the subject your products address. If you sell a skin care product, you also need to be an expert on the impact of diet and exercise on a consumer’s complexion.

Without this world of content that lives alongside your sales process, you’re effectively asking people to put something in or on their bodies based on your word. For this reason, it is essential to build trust with your customers, and that takes time. Which brings us to the next challenge.

#3: Long Product Consideration Times

Trust is a critical driver on health and beauty product purchases, and that means consumers take a long time to make a purchase decision. They do a lot of comparison shopping, and this in and of itself is a challenge as it isn’t easy to compare products. Many, such as L’Oréal Age Perfect Cell Renewal, are off-the-shelf, while others are more bespoke, with more limited distribution. Price, usage, volume and replenishment rates can differ wildly, making it difficult for consumers to do an apples-to-apples comparison, which is why it takes a long time to decide which product is right for them. But that long consideration time comes with an inherent opportunity: the lengthy consideration time means the consumer is like to become a repeat customer (assuming they’re happy with it).

#4: Customer-Acquisition Attribution

Health and beauty brands are eager to understand their customers’ journeys, but customer-acquisition attribution is a huge challenge. Consumers tend to browse on their mobiles and tablets but convert on their desktops in the category. It’s likely your customers complete their path-to-purchase on multiple devices.

How do you assess which channels deliver the best sales? Let’s say you compensate your social media influences with free products, how do you tie an Instagram post seen by a prospect who then converts in-store or via Amazon? The truth is, it’s very difficult to tie these sales to the original interaction, and that means the traditional methods and assumptions of sales attribution and investment need to be challenged. You also need attribution technology, but even those technologies are as much art as they are science.

Tactics and Strategies for Success

So now that we have an overview of the challenges, what are some of the ways you can overcome them? I can’t stress this enough: the right approach varies from brand to brand, from product to product, and from demographic to demographic. That said, we’ve found the following tactics and strategies to be very useful.

Sell in Many Channels

Consumers will hear of your product in many ways — an ad, an article, a social media influencer, a friend — and will look to purchase it via their preferred channels. For this reason, it’s critical that your products are available in as many channels as possible, including your ecommerce site, marketplaces and offline stores.

That said, some companies, such as Something Digital’s client, Garden of Life, is focused on winning new customers, regardless of channel, sales via Amazon, Alibaba, grocery stores, or pharmacies are all equally valuable in their eyes. Interestingly, due to one-to-one fulfillment expenses, the brand prefers not to sell via a direct channel. As I said above, every brand is unique!

Affiliate/Referral Sales

In addition to your direct purchase channel, plan on building a thriving affiliate network channel. This is a smart tactic for an important reason: The strongest endorsement you’ll ever get is when one friend tells another her life has changed for the better, thanks to your product. That testimonial will carry way more weight than any content you can put on your product page.

Referral sales typically offer compensation to the brand evangelist, and some brands even compensate both the referrer and the referee. (Just take care to strike the right balance so as to avoid harming your margins or diluting your brand in the marketplace.)

Spend More to Acquire Customers with Higher Lifetime Values

Most health and beauty brands find it’s well worth it to spend more for an initial purchase as they tend to have a high AOV along with a fixed replenishment date. If a new customer is happy with your 30-day supply of vitamins, he’ll be back to purchase another 30-day supply the following month.

Subscription Selling

One way to make your investments (and long wait times) in initial purchases deliver bigger payoffs is to offer subscription buying. This tactic ensures customers keep buying your products, stay with your brand longer, and drives their LTV higher.

Create a Culture of a Content Machine

Every health and beauty brand needs to create a culture of content that evolves and changes with the times. Case in point: ten years ago, I worked at a vitamin company, and our focus was on SEO. We created a WebMD-style ailment digest with 20,000 pages of content. Today, this kind of content isn’t prioritized because consumers no longer begin their purchase journey on Google.com; they start on YouTube.

Your content will need to follow the consumer. Not too long-ago brands began creating long-form videos as consumers started their purchase journey on YouTube. Closed captions were added so that people could watch them in the office without disturbing their colleagues. As consumers wanted shorter content, brands moved to Instagram, creating 30-second spots.

In other words, you’ll need to create content that’s appropriate to channel in which it is consumed. This will differ by brand and age of the consumer (millennials prefer Instagram while baby boomers live in Facebook).

Conclusion

These are just a few of the tactics and strategies health and beauty brands can deploy to address the unique challenges of their sector. Need more specific advice? Feel free to get in touch.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Ecommerce Footwear Guide

Shoes Lead the Way: How Footwear Brands are Pushing Commerce Technology Limits

Something Digital had the pleasure of sponsoring Logicbroker’s second annual Connected Commerce conference, this year taking place in New York. Connected Commerce was created to unite brands and retailers all while bringing the brightest minds and the best of technology together. The 1-day summit featured thought leadership around scaling digital commerce operations and delivering exceptional customer experience.

This year, Phillip Jackson, SD’s Ecommerce Evangelist had the opportunity to be one of the keynote speakers at CC18. His talk ‘Shoes Lead the Way: How Footwear Brands are Pushing Commerce Technology Limits’ discussed how footwear brands are finding creative ways of solving challenges – from supply chain to authentication and counterfeit. From creative partnerships to Augmented Reality — from Secondhand Commerce to hyper-custom personalize creations, footwear brands are leading the way for technology and social-driven commerce.

In this talk he highlights the importance of addressing the market challenges a footwear merchant will face such as inventory, exclusivity, bots, and merchandising as well as changes in consumer expectations. Many consumers now look for free shipping not just cheap shipping and paying for shipping can be a deal breaker for many online shoppers. Consumers are looking for curated shopping experiences and expect 24/7 customer service and the ability to shop anywhere no matter where they are or what device they are using. This talk discusses how these merchants are beginning to overcome some of these challenges all while staying unique to their brand.

Interested in hearing more? Watch his full talk here.

If you couldn’t make it to Connected Commerce this year and are sad you missed out, save the date because it’s coming back to NYC September 19, 2019.

Executive Series

Singles’ Day is Coming and it Will be Big!  

Singles’ Day is just around the corner. It’s the largest holiday shopping event in the world, bar none. Last year spending topped $25 billion — that’s four times the size of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. And with 1 billion individual sales predicted in 2018, revenue will reach the stratosphere.

So what exactly is Singles’ Day, and why haven’t most Americans heard of it? The holiday began in 1993, when a group of bachelors at China’s Nanjing University wanted to create an anti-Valentine’s Day. The date 11/11 was chosen for its collection of lonely ones. It soon morphed into a day to celebrate singledom for all genders. In 2009, Alibaba got in on the action, launching a 24-hour Singles’ Day bonanza, with special deals for singletons. The shopping holiday was destined to be huge — China has 400 million millennials, five times more than in the US (and 74 million more than the entire US population).

The annual event kicks off at midnight on November 11, and runs for 24 hours. Like Amazon Prime Day here in the US, the event features steep discounts that are driven by the main Alibaba-owned platform, Tmall.

Due to China’s relatively new consumer market, Singles’ Day is brand-focused, meaning an important goal is to introduce the consumer to new brands and products. Alibaba encourages brands “to launch their latest products and try out their most creative marketing campaigns. It’s the Super Bowl for brands.” Consumers don’t need to buy any kind of membership in order to participate in Singles’ Day deals, nor do they even need to go online. This contrasts with Amazon Prime Day, which is focused on selling Amazon house products, and requires an Amazon Prime membership.

It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal Singles’ Day is in China. Alibaba flies in celebrities to perform at a televised gala in the hours leading up to the stroke of midnight. In fact, Singles’ Day is quickly become a popular date for couples to tie the knot.

It was only a matter of time before the holiday spread beyond China, first into Southeast Asia and Japan. Last year, retailers in Germany, Holland, Sweden and Turkey hosted Singles’ Day sales. Is it coming to the US? When publications such as Retail Insight ask are western countries missing out, the answer is probably yes. Maybe not this year, but soon.

As a retailer there’s a lot you can do to leverage Singles’ Day 2018. For instance, you can offer existing customers special deals for Singles’ Day, and encourage them to visit your site. And just as we advised for Amazon Prime Day, you don’t need to offer your top selling or evergreen products on Singles’ Day; ancillary products are a great option for impulse buys.

If you have the wherewithal — meaning you sell via Tmall and you can ship overseas — it’s a good time to alert consumers that they’ll find deals on your site. Chances are, you’ll get a surge of customers new to your brand.

Start of the Holiday Season

Or, you can approach Singles’ Day as the new start of the Holiday Season, and promote special deals on gift ideas. For retailers who invest in paid search, this can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Let’s say you promote a great gift idea in paid search, which attracts the attention of a new customer who comes to your site and converts. She then gives the gift to a friend or family member, who is then made aware of your brand. Now let’s say that person visits your site to purchase a gift for one of their friends or family members. Gift buying is a great way to double or triple the brand awareness impact you get from advertising and media spend.

Singles’ Day as a shopping event is less than ten years old. But it’s success has been fast and furious, and will continue to smash records. No doubt US retailers will want in on the action, and it will soon become the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Accessibility Ebook

5 Accessibility Features Built into Something Digital’s SDK Accelerator

More and more the activities of daily living occur online. We shop, bank, request a ride, check in with friends and schedule appointments via the web. The convenience of the digital ecosystem is compelling, especially at times when we feel harried, or inclement weather makes us want to stay inside. More than that, web-enablement is so wide spread that for many brands, it’s the only way to interact with them.

But what happens if your eyesight is poor, or your muscles lack the dexterity needed to operate a mouse? Such conditions can bar you from engaging in the activities of daily living the majority of us take for granted.

Recognizing the role of the web in today’s society, unfettered access to web-based services is now the law of the land. Specifically, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses help disabled people access the same services as able-bodied people, including those services offered via a website. And with 51.2 million Americans with disabilities, allowing all people to buy from your website makes good economic sense.

No doubt, designing an ecommerce site so that it is accessible to the widest possible audience can be complex. To eliminate that complexity, Something Digital created an SDK accelerator that offers five functionalities — all absent in baseline Magento —  that make ecommerce sites accessible to consumers with disabilities.

These functionalities include:

Keyboard Navigation

For a variety of reasons, many people find it difficult or impossible to navigate a website using a mouse, and must rely on their keyboards to accomplish all website functions, including selecting menu options, accessing desired content, and moving between elements on a page. For this reason, SD’s Accelerator provides functionality that allows users to navigate your website via their keyboards.

Convenience & Assistive Cues

Most people don’t need instructions on how to navigate a website or access the content we want. Decades of going online have taught us a common vocabulary. We instinctively know how to accomplish the tasks we want to accomplish, even if we are first time visitors to a site.

For instance, most website content is placed approximately in the middle of the browser to provide space for site navigation, logos, assistive links, advertising, and so on. People with good eyesight, by habit, skip over these elements and go straight to the good stuff. But if your eyesight isn’t strong, or you rely on a keyboard, you need a way to go straight-to-content or back to the top of the page.

Our Accelerator includes assistive cues that allow people with disabilities to take advantage of these conveniences.

Voice Over Support

People with disabilities often rely on assistive technology when going online to shop or access other services. These devices may be screen readers (i.e. programs that read text aloud for the user), text enlargement software, or software that allows users to control their computers via voice commands.

Screen readers literally read the contents of the screen to the user, which offers obvious benefits, as well as some surprising challenges. For instance, a screen reader must read the menu options and navigation options for the user, which means it will read all of the text contained ARIA-rolls, alt-tag, title tags and so on. As a result, the same text can be repeated over and over, causing confusion and creating a poor brand experience for the visitor.

SD’s Accelerator identifies when text is redundant, and instructs the screen reader to skip it.

Focus Management

Focus management is a big deal in creating accessible websites, and it took up the bulk of our efforts when developing SD’s SDK Accelerator. Focus, as it applies to web page accessibility, is the outline that highlights an item or element that is selected by a person who doesn’t use a mouse.

Focus management addresses challenges people with disabilities encounter as they navigate sequentially through content. Here’s a prime example: Let’s say you’re on an ecommerce site and you place an item in a shopping cart. Many sites will have an overlay or pop-up image of the mini-cart, which now becomes the center of focus. You can either interact with that mini-cart, or you can go back to page content by simply clicking outside of that mini-cart, which automatically dismisses it. Or let’s say you continue to browse products after you’ve placed an item in your cart. At any point, you can access the mini-cart pop-up by clicking on the shopping cart icon, typically located in the top navigation bar. Once clicked, the mini-cart becomes the focus of your screen, but you can easily dismiss it by clicking on the surrounding page.

Such conveniences are difficult and confusing to people who use a keyboard or screen reader. If using a keyboard, there’s no way to click on the surrounding content to close the overlay. If using a screen reader, the content is out of the expected sequence, andthere is no way to click on the original content.

The challenge, therefore, is to allow disabled people to close the overlay easily. To accomplish this, our Accelerator inserts an X for closing the overlay, and it puts the focus (i.e. outlines) on that X. (The X is a universal cue for closing a page or document.)

We also capture the focus so that the overlay is truly captive, meaning that users are prevented from accidently tabbing through the navigation, which can result in them closing the overlay without realizing it, and getting lost in the page.

Images Embedded in Text

Magento 2 has a new default theme named “Luma,” which is a clean and elegant theme that that features better usability practices than its predecessor, the “Madison Island” theme.

The Luma theme encourages website designers to embed text within hero, masthead and other images. Such text often conveys important information to visitors, but because it is part of an image, it can’t be selected. Assistive devices, such as braille displays and screen readers can only read text that’s selectable. Therefore, a person relying on an assistive device is unable to access any text that’s embedded in an image.

To overcome this challenge, the Accelerator includes numerous CMS content widgets for the drag-and-drop editor in Magento’s visual page builder tool. Essentially, the approach is to allow website designers to create images with text that is overlaid onto the image, not embedded into it. The text can match your brand typography so that the overall impact of the text and image is equally beautiful as if it had been created it in the Luma theme.

And there are additional benefits to this approach. Because the text is actionable, search engines can read it as easily as assistive devices, which means it has SEO value. It also means that the text will load on the page faster than the entire image, which means allvisitors will be able to see the message sooner.

Seamless Accessibility

All of the functionality described here are seamless to your website visitors. If they don’t rely on a keyboard or assistive device to navigate websites, they’ll never know you’ve built accessibility into your ecommerce store. Creating a website that allows more people to use it doesn’t require you to make design sacrifices at all.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Artificial Intelligence

7 Strategies You Need To Compete With Amazon in Paid Search

Amazon is an ecommerce powerhouse that keeps on growing. Between Amazon’s strong domain authority, trusted customer base, and exclusive shipping methods, it can be difficult for brands to compete with Amazon. By the end of the year, Amazon is expected to generate $258.2 billion dollars in retail sales, which will make up 49.1% of all ecommerce sales. Many brands who feel they cannot compete with Amazon have resorted to selling on the marketplace.

However, you can compete with Amazon in the digital search space. Through carefully thought-out, planned digital strategies, your business will be able to capitalize on some of the weaknesses within Amazon’s digital strategy. So, how exactly do you compete with Amazon in the digital game? Follow these tactics. By utilizing these seven strategies, your online business will be able to find a way to compete against Amazon.

Tactic #1: Bid More on Branded Keywords

You own your brand, so by bidding on more branded keyword terms, you will have the opportunity to take up more of the retail space within the SERP, above the fold. When consumers search for your brand, your paid ads and organic listings will dominate the search engine space, giving you a larger opportunity to gain more customers. Not only will your online business gain more exposure in the SERP, you will have the opportunity to save money. Google will always favor the brand and branded keywords are generally less expensive than non-branded long-tail keywords. Know that there is power in your brand.

Tactic #2: Sell Unique Product Offerings

Consumers love Amazon because it is generic and efficient, but there are consumers who still shop online for an experience. Therefore, a way to compete with Amazon is to offer unique products not sold on Amazon. Think about what products of yours are on Amazon and then create new ads for products that are not sold on the marketplace. Another strategy is to take the products that you sell on Amazon, but make your product offering more unique, like bundled promotions or entering a contest. Entice consumers to click through to your ad with something unique.

Tactic #3: Create a Localized Experience

One of the struggles brands are presented with is competing against Amazon for ad space. They have a large budget in place for CPC but a downfall to this strategy is that Amazon does not bid locally. By placing bids and narrowing down your target market based on location, your online business will have the opportunity to target the right people in locations where consumers convert. Rather than placing bids on all locations, create ads that are location specific. For instance, if you know people in the mid-west typically do not purchase your products, but consumers in New York City and Boston have the highest conversion rates, spend your budget accordingly. Do not devote money to areas that do not convert. Segment consumers based on location and offer high-quality ads to profitable locations.

Tactic #4: Create Strong Content

Part of Amazon’s paid search strategy is that they only optimize on keywords in the first headline and the rest of the ad copy is rather generic. As a result, Amazon’s ad copy and landing pages are rarely optimized. This is a great opportunity for your online business to generate clicks by creating highly targeted landing pages with ad copy full of rich keywords consumers are searching.

For example, there is a major difference between the ad copy in Amazon’s ad and Sony’s ad. Although Sony’s ad is in position number two in the SERP, Sony’s ad copy is full of strong keywords that will entice a higher CTR. By creating better content with optimized landing pages, your online business can generate more clicks.

Tactic #5: Develop and Omnichannel Experience

Similar to bidding on more branded keyword terms, creating an omnichannel experience will enhance your overall presence in the SERP. By creating an omnichannel keyword list that will be utilized in both PPC and organic search strategies, quality score will increase, CPC will decrease, and your ranking in the ad space will have more authority. Take the time to work on organic search and reap the benefits in both PPC and SEO.

Tactic #6: Narrow Down your Target Market into Niche Markets

Amazon is fortunate enough to have a large budget and strong brand authority, and bidding on broad keywords may make it difficult to receive representation in the paid search ad space. Therefore, to compete with Amazon, narrow down your target market into niche segments that have a past of making online conversions. From there create a list of long-tail keywords that these niche markets would search for. By doing this, you have the ability to create highly target ads whereas Amazon ads target a larger audience.

Tactic #7: Create a Free Shipping Promo within PPC Ads

One of the biggest attractions to Amazon is their free two-day shipping for Prime members. With over 100 million Prime members worldwide, shipping can be the make it or break it point when it comes down to your branded landing page or Amazon’s marketplace. Create an ad campaign or ad group that is geared towards offering shipping promos in order to compete with Amazon’s most utilized ecommerce strategy.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, your ecommerce store can offer a unique shipping experience for your customers that Amazon cannot offer them. Follow these strategies, adapt them to your ecommerce goals and business plan to compete with Amazon in the paid search space.

Written by: Tori Oates, Marketing Strategist

Adobe Experience & Magento

What is Adobe Experience and How is it Applicable to Your Business?

This past May, Adobe acquired Magento “in a bid to capture a bigger slice of the digital-commerce industry from Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp.” This news may seem as if it has little bearing on your day to day life, but it’s actually worth thinking about, especially if you plan on purchasing a third-party solution to round out your Magento solution in the next year or two.

First, let’s address some semantics. Adobe has two distinct product suites with similar names that people use interchangeably: Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Experience Cloud. They’re not the same. The former is an enterprise-level platform, used by the likes of Nissan and Hyatt. Adobe Experience Cloud is a suite of Adobe-built or Adobe-acquired solutions integrated into a single platform. That’s where Magento sits.

Adobe Experience Cloud offers a lot of functionality that ecommerce managers need, many of which are redundant to solutions available via the Magento ecosystem.

Most well known is Adobe Analytics, an enterprise-levelt analytics platform, formerly known as Omniture Sitecatalyst. Why would you consider using Adobe Analytics? If your business is competitive to Google, you may not feel comfortable sharing your data via Google Analytics. If that’s the case, Adobe Analytics may be a good option for you.

Adobe Experience Cloud also offers Adobe Audience Manager, which is a data management platform (DMP) that allows you to glean insights into who your audiences are, create segments based on those insights, and offer a relevant experience to those audiences across all of your touch points (your mobile app, website, social media, forums, etc).

The DMP will allow you to identify commonalities among certain audience members — say moms who live on the west coast and like red shoes, and moms on the east coast who prefer blue shoes. You can create a “red shoe” and “blue shoe” audience segment, and ensure that when they go on Facebook or your mobile app and see your ads, those creatives will feature the right color shoe.

Additionally, it can link multiple devices to the same user, so that you can recognize the consumer and present a unified experience, regardless of whether she interacts with your brand via your website or mobile app at home or in the office.

Another tool offered in the Adobe Experience Cloud is Adobe Advertising, which includes paid search and ad buying functionality, along with access to an ad network with personalization capabilities. Adobe Advertising allows you to launch multi-channel digital campaigns at scale, all from within Experience Cloud.

Adobe Target, formerly Omniture Test and Target, is a personalization solution that makes it easy to identify your best content through tests that are easy to execute and can deliver the right experience to the right customer.

And of course, with Magento, Experience Cloud now has a robust ecommerce platform.

There are some interesting things about this arrangement. For instance, Experience Manager, the CMS, also sits in that ecosystem, and that elevates Magento’s platform to a unique position: it is the only component of the Experience Cloud that is a platform-based solution with an ecosystem of solutions that are competitive to these other Adobe products products.

What Adobe Experience Manager Means for You

The Adobe acquisition of Magento, and Magento’s integration into Adobe Experience Cloud means you have access to Adobe’s personalization and audience segmentation solutions, which are more sophisticated because they leverage machine-learning optimization.

As a manager of an ecommerce site, the real value of the Adobe product suite will be its eventual seamless integration with Magento. In the future, you will be able to adopt an Adobe product — Adobe Audience Manager or Adobe Target — with just a click of a button. This prospect will offer more than convenience (although convenience is certainly a plus). The seamless integration will mean that the applications will be able to share data, and inform how each is optimized. For example, the personalization you drive on your website can be tied back to your advertising campaigns. With all solutions within the Adobe ecosystem fully integrated, you will have a coordinated solution that makes it easy to support the entire lifecycle of the customer.

Finally, with Magento integrated into the Adobe Experience Cloud, your business will have an easy path to migrate into a much larger platform.

Those are some of our initial thoughts on the Adobe acquisition of Magento. We will keep you informed of the interesting opportunities as they rise, so that you can plan for the future.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

EYEO Festival Takeaways Banner

Something Inspiring: EYEO Festival Takeaways

I’ve been to forums in the past where speakers onstage serve up Kool-aid, in the form of flashy innovation, the illusion of collective harmony, or myths of the illusive work-life balance. And, I admit, I’ve drunk it when I’ve been thirsty for something, anything, to get me out of a design funk. But now I know there’s someplace better. In EYEO, I found a festival in which speakers serve up the human side of technological innovation, the power of critical mass, and first-person accounts of successfully, and industriously, making space in life for work that excites us.

This summer, I attended what I hope to be the first of many EYEOs, and the takeaways still feel fresh and refreshing, like the life water we all need to reenergize our careers and reevaluate our creative choices.

EYEO is an interdisciplinary tech conference that encourages collaboration across industries, borders, and cultures. The festival draws driven thinkers and leaders from all over the world, including visual and audio artists, designers, developers, engineers, data scientists, educators, and social activists. Its mission is to show how those identifiers are fluid, how our curiosities overlap, and how our communities can be more inclusive. EYEO encourages participation and the forging of new partnerships; their slogan is “converge to inspire.”

At EYEO, speakers present ideas that rise above sterile case studies or sales pitches. We’ve heard that all before and we sign up for EYEO because we know we deserve better. EYEO attendees instead get eye-opening humility, humanity, transparency, storytelling, comedy, and calls to action. Talks range from academic — like a social history of the American hardware store — to deeply personal —a first-person account of how a tragic event can alter one’s life course — to curated panel discussions that spark a fire in those of us who see injustice in the industries in which we work. Every captivating talk, roundtable, and meetup asks us to think about how we can leverage technology for good, and why we should be.

There is no marketplace and almost no corporate swag, which in itself says a lot about the principles of the event organizers. Instead, EYEO gave attendees a single notebook in which they could memorialize quotes, ideas, and sketches. Classic. Understated. But the magic is how it was designed. Prior to the conference, attendees completed a survey of short questions about their personalities. Are they optimists or skeptics? Are they adventurers or do they play it safe? Then, Accurat, an information design company lead by speaker Giorgia Lupi, transformed the submissions into an abstract data visualization that is printed on the cover, like a secret code.

The brightly-colored notebook is not only a vehicle for ideas, but also an icebreaker, an artifact, and a reflection of how each of us plays a role in a greater community, which can’t be overstated. Now it’s my turn to give back, so I’ll start by sharing my notes from the conference as they can be applied to the working environment and the work that we do at Something Digital.

Notebook + Book
Left: The EYEO notebook designed by Accurat and Pitch Interactive.; Right: “Dear Data”, an amazing book on soft data written by two EYEO speakers and friends, Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec.

Humanize Data

We have unlimited data plans with which we listen to playlists curated to our tastes, order products that are recommended for us, and monitor our health stats. Data science is literally on the pulse of everything that happens in our lives and we’re producing data all the time. Everything we do, say, hear, and see is data. Although we may not be aware of it, we’re making and processing data, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed — even while we’re sleeping. Data can be for us to help us measure our own progress, or it can be for a corporation to market products and services to us tailored to our predictable behavior.

From a personal perspective, because of its deeper technological applications, data can often seem out of our control, or like an unreal, mysterious ‘other’ (I know I’m being watched by the device in my hand and on my wrist, but that’s just the world we live in). From a business perspective, because my work is about designing better user experiences based on data analysis —monitoring click-through rates, traffic, and popular searches — data can seem tactical, a means to an outcome.

But a common call to action among many of the speakers at EYEO is to rethink what we classify as data. Slowing down, being present, observing, and taking note: that’s data. Sources of data are everywhere. It could be as banal as the minutes a subway train arrives off schedule each morning or as critical as documenting the daily side effects of the medications we take. Counting something means it matters. Spending time reviewing this kind of data — sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ or ‘folk’ data for its lack of social currency — means spending time with ourselves.

How can this humanistic approach to data be applied in commerce? One way is to allow people to see themselves in data. We create personas by observing real behaviors of real people, making predictions based on their lifestyles and interests, and designing with the intention to show them that their needs are valuable. Data becomes a way to communicate intention. UX design is an industry driven by subjective data, like user feedback. In user testing, we ask questions to lend visibility to data that otherwise goes unseen and unmeasured.

Soft data in the marketing world can be found in social sharing and user generated content. For example, the eyewear store Tens.co features a widget showing visitors in real-time which products other customers are purchasing in that very moment. Instead of promoting only the cross sells or upsells stakeholders think customers should buy, the widget enables customers to see what appeals to the people within their affinity community and be persuaded — or not — by their own observations, giving them credit and entitlement.

Ten.co ExampleTens.co provides a visualization of what other customers are buying in real-time.

The term ‘soft’ data underestimates its merit. Observed data, in conjunction with numerical data, can be more impactful on a human level, because it reminds us that we aren’t nameless hash marks; our personalities, opinions, and stories are as important as our buying power.

Data, after all, is people.

Get Empowered

Another big talking point for speakers was to mix up power structures. Fear, paranoia, the feeling as though we are being violated by giving up data without consent — when nearly our every move is always recorded, it’s hard to not feel disempowered by technology. Add on disenfranchisement and biases that stem from a lack of diversity among the engineers who write algorithms, and it’s no wonder that an atmosphere of mistrust is brewing. And yet! We all still carry our little glowing rectangles with us everywhere anyway.

The message from many speakers at EYEO is that objects of power are only powerful when we put them in the right hands. But how do we make data less disempowering and more empowering?

Or, as Carmen Aguilar y Wedge of Hyphen-Labs asked: “What is it you need from me to see you as human?”

Vimeo Still of Hyphen-Labs ProjectOne of many inspiring projects by the women at Hyphen-Labs.

One way is to think of data analysis as a service rather than self-serving. Use data to diagnose actual problems and identify the right tools and people to fix them, instead inventing solutions to problems that weren’t there to begin with and may produce even more problems over time.

For example, when we take on clients with existing sites at SD, we evaluate their site data as it is and recommend technical debt remediation before launching new marketing initiatives. Broken components and security breaches make customers feel confused and unsafe. We show the clients the holes in their system and offer a step-by-step roadmap to fill them. By tackling the backend problems first — issues customers can’t see but that hinder them from completing tasks — we’re indirectly improving the front-end user experience and flexing our expertise to serve our client’s and their customer’s best interests first.

Another way to do good by data is to mix up power structures. If advancements in technology are predicated on the confines of the platforms and languages we use, how do we use that technology to tell stories that are not written by the marketing department of larger corporations? How do we tell new stories?

Start by bringing new voices to the table, listening, collaborating, and giving those voices due credit. In a panel on diversity, one speaker noted that HR departments don’t have a pipeline problem, they have an effort problem. One reason I’m personally proud to work at SD is that while at first I had little web experience, the managers who interviewed me saw my perseverance and history of work ethic as an advantage, and that as an outsider, I brought another perspective to the creative team. Over the course of my tenure here, I’ve witnessed SD making great strides in recruitment and retention, giving all employees the freedom to directly interact with clients, communicate their ideas, and release their code, strategies, and designs out into the wild right away. New voices that cross cultural, racial, gender, and age lines help organizations approach problem solving at multiple angles, because how each of us sees the world is path dependent and, most importantly, valuable.

Diversity — and openly discussing diversity — within an organization equips teams to be more aware of the needs of users who might otherwise go unnoticed. EYEO speakers also called on those who represent the majority to assert their privilege to protect users who don’t always get the same protections. As a web agency specifically, we need to think about the safety of every community and every individual interacting with our work by:

1. Building accessible sites.

2. Prioritizing data security.

3. Designing not just for personas, but for representation.

What if frequent visually distracting pop up notifications distress users with PTSD? What if we QA test a site on broadband internet, but it is intended to be used in a region wherein access is more limited? What if a brand aims to market their products to ‘everyone’, but the lifestyle images they display on their product pages persistently only show models of one demographic?

This leads me to:

4. Ask questions. A lot of them.

It’s a mistake to assume anything is instantaneously understandable. Coming up with a thorough checklist as a team and asking as many questions as we can is how we break free from expert mind — what we already know or think we already know — and how we prevent faceless data from amplifying our biases. This is how we get closer to actual personalization, the kind that isn’t invasive or creepy, but is humble and constructive. Questioning leads to iteration. Iteration lead to prototyping. Prototyping leads to an evolving product that continually becomes more usable for everyone. It is yet one more argument for making slow observation and human feedback a part of our professional practice.

Go Forth and Do Better

For their encouragement to humanize data, get empowered, play with new people, and to find as many ways into a problem as possible — overall, to just do better! — I can’t thank the EYEO festival speakers and organizers enough. And I encourage you to visit eyeofestival.com to meet the speakers and watch videos of past talks.

I leave you with one last scribble from by trusty yellow notebook: Find delight in the work that you do. For me the delight comes from being able to inventory the data of my own life and add a point on that graph, however its modeled, for the invaluable learning opportunity EYEO afforded me to become a better designer and advocate for SD, our clients, their users, and you.

Written by: Gina Angelotti, Interactive Designer

errors

The ways of our errors: Error recovery UX best practices

Although field validation is perhaps the least thrilling UX topic, it is arguably one of the more important. Without proper guidance to correct customer’s mistakes, the simple task of checking out on an ecommerce site can turn into a long, painful ordeal. If an error goes unresolved, it results in a 100% abandonment rate. This is not an ideal statistic to say the least. As a UX designer (and tester) there are validation issues and solutions we keep an eye out for at SD.

But first, the basics.

What is an input field? When we talk about input fields, text, dropdowns, checkboxes, and radio buttons, we simply mean the area the customer is selecting or typing into. This includes fields within checkout, registration, and account creation specifically within the ecommerce spectrum. Errors are the messages customers receive when attempting to progress through a form without entering a valid entry for required fields. The backend can put limitations such as the number of characters and the type of characters (letters, numbers, symbols etc.) on each input.

If error messages are styled, worded, and placed properly, they will successfully draw the customer’s attention, inform the customer something went wrong, and provide an easy path to error recovery.

Words matter

Clarity is key when coming up with the correct error message. A vague message such as “We are unable to process your request” leaves the customer guessing and wasting time trying different solutions. If they can never fix it, they will never buy your product.

A popular inline error message is “invalid input”, which is very ambiguous. The good thing is, the backend knows exactly what is wrong. A better way to pinpoint the error is to customize messages per input. You can use 4-10 adaptive messages to provide this clarity. If a zip code is entered without the correct number of digits, instead of displaying “You have entered an invalid number” customize the message to “5 digits are required” or something similar.

On Home Depot’s shipping address form, the error messages are tailored to the user’s current entry.

 

The right place

Say you have all your error messages tailored to each field. Great! But what if the customer is on a mobile device, and the error message(s) appears out of the customer’s view? Many customers in this situation believe the page has completely frozen. The abandonment route will likely be taken.

An easy fix is to scroll the customer directly to the offending field. If there are multiple errors on one page, however, we have to handle it a bit differently. The customer in this case should be scrolled to the top of the page to view an error message outlining the specific incorrect fields. This informs the customer how many fields to look out for as they scroll back down the form.
Also, make sure you retain the customer’s original input. That way they can assess where they mistyped.

Draw the customer’s attention to each incorrect field by highlighting the field in red and placing the error message next to the field. Red has been the most common color used for warning signals for centuries. Think about stop signs, traffic lights etc. Because red is largely associated with error messaging, it’s best practice to limit the color across websites.

Luhn Validation

There is one field that calls for special attention: the credit card number input. The bad news is this field is the most error prone due to the length. The good news is all correct credit card numbers follow what is called a Luhn/Modulus 10 checksum validation. Because of this, the credit card number can be validated on the front end, giving you the ability to inform the customer of errors as they are typing. Customers wantto pre-empt error messages, so an easy front-end validation can go a long way.

On Home Depot’s checkout as he user enters a credit card number the number is validated on the front end.

 

The customer is right

Nobody wants to be told they are wrong when they are certain they are right.

A common validation bug is not removing the red error message and un-highlighting the field once the customer has made their correction. Ensure all outdated error messages are removed once the requirements are met. Live update the error message on a keystroke level.

In this example the user has corrected the field, yet the error message persists.

 

Another issue is presenting the customer with an error before she even has a chance to attempt the field. This is less than encouraging. Make sure no error messages display before the customer has a chance to interact with the form.

Key takeaways

Optimized error recovery is the difference between a site that works with you and a site that works against you. Be mindful of the following:

  • Provide alternative error messages for each field for specificity
  • Always retain the customer’s input data
  • Optimize the mobile error experience
  • Use red only for error messaging
  • Use Luhn Validation on the credit card field
  • Keep errors messages updated and accurate

 

Although the frequency of errors may be low, the resulting severity is high. Take care of your errors as you would any other important UI element on your site, and you’ll be likely to keep every intended sale.

Written by: Lindsay Stork, Interactive Designer

 

Women in Tech

Retail Podcast Round Up – SD’s Favorite Podcasts

Here at SD it’s no secret that we love a good podcast, we even have our own Merchant to Merchant Podcast. Podcasts aren’t just for entertainment, there are so many different podcasts out there and it’s a great way to educate yourself on a topic that you want or need to learn more about. We decided to round up three of our favorite ecommerce podcasts that we listen to.

  • MageTalk– If you’re all about Magento, MageTalk is the podcast for you. Hosted by Phillip Jackson and Kalen Jordan, two developers that are extremely engaged in the Magento community. This podcast is all about Magento and the hosts want to get you as excited about Open Source and Magento as they are.
  • Jason and Scot Show– The Jason and Scot Show is a weekly podcast about the ecommerce industry. It features tons of interviews with industry leaders, digs deep into key topics, and timely news. This podcast is hosted by Jason Goldberg, SVP of Commerce at SapientRazorfish, and Scot Wingo, Founder and Executive Chairman of Channel Advisor.
  • eCommerceFuel– eCommerceFuel’s mission is to build the best community for seven-figure and up ecommerce merchants in the world. The podcast focuses on providing merchants with strategies, stories, and tips to help their business grow and hit the next level. The committee is made up of ecommerce professionals that have grown (and sometimes sold) their own seven figure-plus ecommerce stores.

 

What’s your favorite podcast? Send it our way and who knows maybe it’ll end up on our next favorites list.

SD Holiday Tips Graphic

It’s Never Too Early to Start Holiday Planning

It’s barely the dog-days of summer, and that means retailers are in the throes of back-to-school shopping (and sales tax holidays). Is it really time to start planning for the holiday season?

At Something Digital we fully believe that it’s never too early. Here are the essentials we recommend you consider now:

Make Sure Your Site Doesn’t Go Down

This past Prime Day was a bit of a disaster for Amazon…the Prime Day landing page didn’t work, and many of the product links led to error messages. Pity, given the all the work and marketing investments that went into the shopping holiday. If it can happen to Amazon, it can happen to anyone. But possible doesn’t mean inevitable. There are things you can do now to ensure your site is working as anticipated this Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all other key shopping days.

Start planning your infrastructure and site capacity now. If you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy higher traffic volumes this year (congratulations!) but you probably need to account for additional capacity for those high volume days during the holiday season.

Button Up Your Project Planning

If you’re reading this at the beginning of August, then you only have eight to ten weeks before the start of the holiday season. A top goal should be to have a long period of site stability before the holiday season rush, which means, in our opinion, a hard code freeze at least two weeks prior to Black Friday.

If you’re planning bigger changes, such as launching a new site or implementing a new ESP, make sure they’re done well in advance of the above-mentioned code freeze. If you can’t make that deadline, postpone until after the holiday season.

And if it’s not obvious, we’ll state outright: Don’t attempt to launch a new site two weeks before Black Friday!

Don’t Consolidate Risk into a Few Days

Think twice about putting all of your holiday eggs into your Cyber Monday basket. Use your marketing emails and advertising dollars to promote pre-Cyber Monday sales events, to get your customers spending on your site prior to or after the big day.

We’ve seen many of our clients do this successfully by offering incentives to shop prior to Cyber Monday. For instance, you can offer a discount for shoppers who purchase before Cyber Monday and choose a slower shipping option, or even free shipping on items if purchased before then.

This strategy ensures that your existing customers buy their gifts from you, as well as reduce the traffic load to your site on Cyber Monday.

Plan on Tried & True Traditional Tactics

Traditional tactics, such as custom landing pages and product categorization work, as long as they’re well thought out. For instance, “gifts under $100,” “stocking stuffers,” “gifts for teens,” or “gifts for her” are helpful for shoppers, and increase product discoverability.

Best selling items are also very useful, especially for shoppers who fear they don’t know what to get people on their lists.

And if you offer live chat services, consider calling them concierges and train them to suggest gifts to people who need help selecting gifts.

Plan Your Marketplace Strategy

For many consumers, all shopping begins with Amazon or some other marketplace. While we at Something Digital believe every online retailer should have a marketplace strategy all year round, it is especially important during the holiday season, given the role these sites play in product discovery.

As we mentioned in a recent block post, Is Amazon Your Competitor?, you don’t need to offer your entire catalog on a marketplace. Many brands offer their evergreen and classic styles there in order to build brand awareness, and reserve their complete catalog and newest styles for their ecommerce site. With the right merchandising strategy, a marketplace can serve as your first point of contact, and leverage those initial sales to serve as the building block for other onsite offers.

Process Planning

It’s not just your website that will be taxed this holiday season; volume will ramp up for your returns and customer service departments as well, so you should begin thinking about how you’ll handle that extra work now.

In terms of process planning for your website itself, here’s our best advice: Don’t make any changes that aren’t absolutely necessary to make. We’ve seen instances where retailers have stable code in time for the holiday rush, only to decide to implement last minute changes, such as implementing a new feature. The results are rarely good. Obviously, fix the bugs that prevent customers from discovering and buying on your site, and put off everything else until the holiday season is safely behind us.

Get Your Mobile House in Order

Consumers love their mobile devices and increasingly, they buy more of their holiday gifts on their smartphones. There’s a lot you can do to increase conversions on your mobile traffic, from making mobile payment options available, supporting social sign on, deploying auto-fill technology, among other critical tactics. All of these strategies are discussed in our recent blog post, How to Increase Conversions From Mobile Traffic.

Do you have questions about prepping for the holiday season? Let us know!