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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!

Bidding on Brand

Bidding on Branded Search Is Not Stupid

As a digital marketer, there are a few common questions that I receive whenever I first engage with a new client. When it comes to the topic of branded paid search, the conversation typically goes something like this:

Client: Should I bid on my brand terms?
LP: Yes.
Client: But why should I pay for brand terms when I already rank #1 in organic search? Won’t customers find my site through my organic SERP listing?
LP: Maybe, but why would you take the chance?

Some clients have a difficult time moving past the idea that branded paid search is a waste of money and that as long as organic is performing well, it just isn’t worthwhile. I’m here to tell you that a) this isn’t true and b) it’s time to start thinking about branded search in a more strategic way.

To start, let’s define exactly what “bidding on brand terms” means. Contrary to what some believe, it’s more involved than simply spending money on variations of your company’s name and calling it a day. When I say “brand terms” I mean any terms that are specific to or synonymous with your company. For example, the awesome female founded company Wildfang (they’re not our client – I’m just a fan) might bid on the following brand terms:

  • Wildfang
  • Wildfang.com
  • Wild feminist shirt

 

You might think, “Hey, wait a second … ‘wild feminist shirt’ is not a brand term; however, it definitely is because it’s synonymous with the brand. Product names or product categories are included when they fall under this umbrella.

 

Now that we’re on the same page when it comes to brand terms, let’s dive into the top 5 reasons (in no particular order) why you need to bid on them.

1. If you don’t, someone else will.

The space might be free of paid ads now, but if your competitors are smart, they’ll see that you aren’t bidding on your own terms and will swoop in and take advantage. If you could prevent someone from stealing your traffic (especially potential new customers), why wouldn’t you? If competitors, resellers, or affiliates are already bidding in the space, then your involvement is an absolute no-brainer. Unless you want customers to only shop at resellers, you absolutely need to buy ads to remind them that you exist and have something better to offer.

2. Brand terms are cost-effective.

They might not exactly be cheap, but they’re definitely cheaper than the broad, non-branded terms you might use for prospecting. Also, ROAS (return on ad spend) is high, sometimes netting you as much as 10-12x back on your initial investment. If you’re a new brand with a limited amount of search volume, you will probably struggle to spend money and won’t see a crazy high return at first, but clicks and conversions will start to grow as you build the brand. In this instance, branded paid search can actually act as a barometer for the success of your other strategies. If you continue to monitor it, mine your search query reports for new terms, and optimize, you will see incremental success over time.

3. You have full control over brand message.

Sure, there are organic strategies you can employ to try to control SERPs (defined meta descriptions and page titles, structured markup), but search engines don’t always abide by your wishes. Perhaps you’re running a sale that you really want to tout in your sitelinks. The sale link might show up in SERPs, but it will definitely show up in paid search if you set it as a sitelink extension. The same message holds true for landing pages. Maybe you’ve built out a really beautiful landing page for bestselling products, but you’ve noticed that organic searches don’t always direct users to it, even when it’s relevant. If you’re running branded search ads, you have the ability to control the first thing users see when they reach your site.

4. Dominating SERPs is always good.

The more listings you have, the more likely it is that a user will reach your site. If you are running shopping ads, paid search ads, and have a high-ranking organic listing, you’re in a great position. According to Moz, “searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on an organic listing, or they may be more likely if they see a high-ranking organic listing for the same ad to click that ad.” In other words, ad presence can increase organic search click-throughs. The good news? Google charges for clicks, not impressions.

Imagine this scenario: a user sees your paid search ad at the top of the page and is then reaffirmed that your brand is legit when they also see a top-of-page organic listing. The user then clicks the organic listing and buys something on your site. While this paid search listing impression cost you nothing, it directly impacted a user’s decision to click and buy. Why wouldn’t you want this?

5. Bidding on brand terms increases overall traffic from search engines.

Everyone will tell you that spending money on ads doesn’t directly increase organic rankings, but what about indirectly? A 2012 study from Google plainly states the facts: “89% of the clicks from search ads are incremental, i.e., 89% of the visits to the advertiser’s site from ad-clicks are not replaced by organic clicks when the search ads are paused.” In other words, those people who think that they don’t need to pay for brand terms because organic search makes up the slack are wrong. You might be skeptical of a 6-year-old study, but I can tell you that I’ve experienced this behavior firsthand as recently as last month. Whenever branded paid search ads are paused, we always see a decrease in organic search. If you don’t believe me, check out this 2018 study from CPC Strategy.

If you made it to this point and are still a skeptic, all I can suggest is that you give branded search a try. Set up a campaign and run ads with a modest budget for a few months while also monitoring your organic rankings. If you don’t see a decrease in branded organic search terms after pausing paid ads, please send me an email at [email protected] and tell me how wrong I am.

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

Tax Holidays

Why State Tax Holidays are GREAT Marketing Opportunities

Mention state sales tax and eyes are sure to glaze over. Sure, the ins and outs of state taxes are complex (and boring). But there’s one aspect of them that’s super exciting: State Tax Holidays. And, the states themselves establish each sales tax holiday theme, so all you need to do is hitch your marketing wagon to it.

Let me explain. Most state tax holidays are tied to back-to-school, and exempt online shoppers from sales tax on basic school necessities, including clothes or computers. These tax holidays typically occur in the month leading up to the start of school. This gives you a great excuse to advertise a very specific and limited event — no sales tax on specific days — and bring customers to your store.

But back-to-school isn’t the only theme. Some states focus on other priorities that are relevant to their residents, such as hurricane preparedness (Florida, Louisiana), the start of hunting season (Louisiana), or very hot weather (Texas). These states offer sales tax-free shopping on items such generators, ammunition and energy-star air conditioners respectively.

All state tax holidays are short in duration, lasting just two to three days in most cases. All states impose limits on the types of products that can be purchased tax free, as well as spending thresholds. For a complete list of tax free holidays (dates, items covered and spending caps), click here.

How to Make State Tax Holidays Work for Your Store

Tired of generic promotions, like “Summer Sale” or “Fall Blowout”? State tax holidays are a great marketing opportunity to add a new twist to your campaigns. If, for instance, you sell school supplies to customers in say, Iowa, you can let them know that on August 3rd and 4th, they can purchase up to $100 worth of school supplies and pay no sales tax.

Other strategies:

  • Create a page with eligible items on your website by holiday.
  • Call out the state tax holiday on the product pages of eligible products.
  • Use your ad campaigns to inform eligible people of the tax free holiday, and drive them to your store.

 

Note: To ensure a positive experience, take care to target only eligible consumers. You don’t want to promote Texas’ tax exemption on A/C units to residents in Arkansas or Florida or other sweltering states.

Changing State-Tax Laws?

You may wonder what state tax holidays have to do with online retailers, since consumers don’t even pay state tax when they buy online. Don’t expect that status to last much longer. In South Dakota v. Wayfair, U.S. Supreme Court rejected the notion that collecting sales tax is too onerous for online retailers, and that South Dakota is well within its rights to require Wayfair.com to comply with state tax laws when selling to its residents. This is a new precedent set by the highest court in the land, and as our partner, Vertex explains in its June 21 blog post:

“The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair overturning the long-held Quill decision will dramatically change the landscape for online sellers when it comes to sales tax. It’s likely that the states will now increase their efforts to collect sales tax on online sales.”

This means you face a more complex future.

A Word on Vertex

If you don’t have tax software, Something Digital recommends Vertex, which is built into Magento as of version 2.2.5. Vertex streamlines the complexity of state’s sales tax (which you may be required to collect as a result of South Dakota v. Wayfair).

And complex it is! Consider that sales tax laws differ from state to state, county to county, and even ZIP code to ZIP code. In fact, sale tax laws can even differ within a given ZIP code as townships and towns can tax the same item differently. Classic example: depending on where you live, a Snickers bar may be taxable, but not so a Twix bar. Why? Because Snickers is technically a candy bar, whereas Twix is technically a cookie, and may be subjected to different tax structures. The right tax software, such as Vertex, can handle all that complexity on your behalf, and ensure you’re in compliance with all sale tax laws, regardless of where your end customer resides.

If you have questions about tax let SD know!

 

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Strategies for Amazon

6 Strategies to Boost Sales this Amazon Prime Day

Amazon Prime Day begins at 3:00 PM this July 16, and promises to be an “epic day and a half” of exclusive deals, exclusively for Amazon Prime shoppers. Whatever you’re into, Amazon assures its customers, you can find it at a great price this Prime Day.  Explore Something Digital’s six strategies on how to boost sales during this “epic day”.

Launched in 2015 to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Amazon’s goal is to make Prime Day the biggest shopping event of the year, topping even Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Though not quite there yet, Prime Day has generated impressive sales volume:

  • Sales in Billions of U.S. Dollars
    • 2015 – 0.9
    • 2016 – 1.52
    • 2017 – 2.41

 

Why You Should Care About Prime Day

Many retailers prefer to sit out Prime Day, considering it a manufactured holiday for selling stuff no one wants to buy (sales revenue in the billions prove otherwise). Besides, why should retailers participate in an event meant to benefit Amazon?

Here’s why you should care: The data show that customers who buy from a retail brand via multiple channels have stronger loyalty and higher lifetime value (LTV). You likely have many customers who are avid Amazon shoppers, which means Prime Day is a great way to strengthen your omni-channel marketing strategies. You can drive cross-channel purchase behavior by sending them emails or social messages promoting exclusive Prime Day deals. And not for nothing, 51% of all Amazon sales go to third-party marketplace sellers.

Moreover, other retailers, including Walmart, eBay, Microsoft  and Best Buy are likely to get in the game, offering enticing sales strategies as part of their Current Deals programs. In other words, consumers will be primed to shop, and are likely to go online in search of a wide array of items, and you won’t want to miss out.

Here are 6 strategies to consider to help you make the most of this Prime Day:

#1: Offer items you want to move and that are easy impulse buys

Prime Day is impulse-buy central, with shoppers purchasing high volumes of stuff they never knew they wanted. This means you don’t need to offer your top selling or evergreen products on Prime Day; ancillary products are a great option. For instance, a shoe manufacturer once racked up Prime Day sales by offering exclusive deals across a huge selection of shoelaces. No one goes online for the express purpose of purchasing shoelaces, but when presented with a dazzling array of colors and styles in the feed, the impulse to buy is strong.

Prime Day is also a great way to move inventory in order to make way for new products (e.g. offer exclusive discount on swimwear so you can stock up on winter hats).

#2: Get Into Amazon Deals

Amazon Deals are essential to Prime Day, and getting your products into any one of them can send your sales through the roof. Amazon offers many deal options — Deal of the Day, 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 (i.e. deals on items that last a short duration and are limited to one per customer) are a 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 these Amazon criteria:

  • Have a sales history and at least a 3-star rating on Amazon
  • Include as many variations as possible
  • Not a restricted product or offensive, embarrassing or inappropriate product
  • Prime eligible in all states, including Puerto Rico
  • New Condition

 

#3: Use Sponsored Products to Your Advantage

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.

If you carefully target Sponsored Products properly, and are thoughtful about your audience and your product assortment, you’ll find the tactic quite rewarding.

We experienced a great example of the power of Sponsored Products first hand when searching for a hydration vest for trail running on Amazon Prime. A product was listed for $150 (a bit high), but fortunately three competing products were listed in the feed as Sponsored Products. Although none of these products were Prime eligible, meaning they wouldn’t arrive within two days, they were $100 cheaper, and well worth the extra wait to receive the vest.

#4: Gift Cards

Gift cards are huge on Amazon and Prime customers are eager to get gift cards packs at a discount. You can leverage this impulse to encourage more omni-channel behavior, which, as we discussed above, promotes loyalty and higher LTV. For instance, you can offer a Prime Day deal of a discounted pack of gift cards that are redeemable on your own site.

#5: Gain Product Exposure via Headline Search Ads

With tens of millions of shoppers heading to Amazon this Prime Day, you have an opportunity to gain significant brand exposure, and Headline Search Ads are the perfect vehicle to help you do just that.

These ads, which appear in the search results on both desktop and mobile, feature multiple product listings of your choice, along with your logo and a headline. When customers click on your ad, they’re taken to a custom page with three or more items. If they click on a specific item listed in your ad, they’re taken directly to that product’s details page.

#6: Run Promotions on your Own Site

In the spirit of promoting omni-channel behavior (read: higher LTV), consider alerting your own website visitors to your exclusive deals for Amazon Prime Day.

This is also a good way to capture consumers who aren’t your customers, but who have been eyeing a product of yours and are wondering if you’ll offer it via a Prime Day deal.

In Conclusion

Amazon Prime Day may be a manufactured shopping holiday, but it’s catching on fast among consumers. Coming six full months before the holiday season, Prime Day may ultimately help retailers turn a profit before Black Friday rolls around. For this reason alone it’s worth taking the time to create and implement Prime Day strategies.

 

 

 

QA

Launching a new ecommerce site? Here’s how to do your QA right

Are you planning to launch a new ecommerce site? Refresh your existing one? New sites are always exciting, to both site owners and customers and with the right approach to QA, you can ensure that your customers have a positive experience when they visit your brand new online store. I have tried to point out areas (on a high level) that we should focus on for the functional QA and recommendations for them (if any) by also stepping into the shoes of an end-user.

Where QA Fits within the New Ecommerce Site Lifecycle

There are six software development lifecycle phases (SDLC) when building any new website: discovery, design, develop, demo, deployment and ongoing maintenance. QA (Internal QA) fits within the demo phase, and it gets the lion’s share of the timeframe. When Something Digital works with clients, we dedicate a large portion of the project timeline to QA within the demo phase.

Why so much time? QA covers a lot of ground; we need to test use cases, log issues, and retest them once the developers fix the issues found (issue resolution). In an agile environment, QA encompasses a few cycles of testing, issue resolution and retesting depending on the length and scope of the project.

User acceptance testing (UAT), also known as user experience testing (UXT), is also part of the QA phase. This is when we test whether or not the site experience matches the client’s expectation of how the site should behave. For instance, let’us say you have a fashion online store for both men and women. We test whether it’is easy for site visitors to navigate to categories of interest, and resolve any obstacles that get in their way. Or, let us say that you want the most recent Instagram photos to appear on your website. We need to ensure the most recent ones are there, and if they are not, find out why.

All testing is done in the “sandbox,” meaning it’is not a live site. We do not want customers to wander onto a site that’is not quite ready for prime time. This fact is important, as we will discuss later on.

How I Approach Functional QA

Doing functional QA means testing every functionality (in the scope) on the site to ensure it all works correctly, and as anticipated. It also means finding the stuff you never anticipated, but can have a very bad effect on the customer experience. In short, it is a lot of testing. So how do you organize your approach? You need to be super methodological.

  • Have the test plan, test suite and test cases (crafted from the requirements document) ready for the project/task/module (and reviewed by the concerned team members) before the demo phase.
  • Have the ability to modify/change the test cases according to the requirements change or scope change throughout the life cycle of the project.
  • Identify, record, document and track bugs thoroughly.
  • Provide real-time test reporting to the project manager (PM).
  • Perform a thoroughfull site QA (FSQA) if the site was previously tested in sprints (for an agile approach to a project) before handing the site over to UAT.
  • Produce QA documentation to client before UAT.
  • Participate in UAT to reduce efforts on the developer, client and also PMs.
  • Work closely with PMs, developers, designers and clients to reduce the back and forth to the best possible extent.

 

During the test execution I divide the functional QA into seven distinct categories of the site to test after I perform the smoke test and make sure that the module/site/project given to me is actually ready to be tested for regression to ensure efficient and effective testing:

1.     Homepage
2.     Header & Footer
3.     Category Page or Product Listing Page (PLP)
4.     Product Detail Page
5.     Shopping Cart
6.     Checkout
7.     Account

Let’s take a look at each.

#1: Homepage

The homepage is often a customer’s first impression of your brand, and naturally you want it to be a good one. That means it needs to look great and function properly.

Most site owners have a strong vision of what they want for their homepage. Social media feeds (Instagram photo feed just above the footer section), carousels (main mantles showing all the promotions on the site in the form of a carousel), featured products, endorsements and video feeds are just some of the bells and whistles brands deploy to make a highly relevant experience for visitors.

But they can also be points of failure if not tested and retested. When I test a homepage, I make sure that every feature and call to action (CTA) item work as anticipated.

#2: Header/Footer

The header is the place where critical functions occur, such as registering for an account, signing into an account, navigation to the site sections and searching on the site.

The footer can consist of the site map, about the site/owner(s), navigation to the site sections, blog, social media page links, customer support links (sometimes live chat) or newsletter sign up.

Most of the features or the functionalities in the header and footer can overlap or be interchanged. All of these functions tie into various backend systems, and it is critical to ensure that the integrations work flawlessly.

These sections pretty much cover the navigation to the site’s content and products by the customer and anything failing here would lead to the customer’s visit dropping off and/or losing the customer from visiting the site again and resulting in bad customer feedback.

The main things to look for here, would be:

  • Making sure that the navigation to the site’s categories, searching of the site’s contents/products, customer support links (live chat, if present), login/sign-up, social media page redirects and newsletter signup work as expected and that there are no show stoppers especially with redirects. For instance, if the visitor is not able to register/login to the site or not able to navigate on the site to the desired category on the site then that’s a critical issue.

 

#3: Category or Product Listing Page (PLP)

This part of the QA tests to see how easy and logical it is for visitors to find products they are interested in. For instance, let us say you have a unisex fashion site. Are your items categorized by gender? If I am in market for a black leather motorcycle jacket, how easy is it for me to find it?

In this scenario, I would want the site to help quickly narrow my search to men → jacket → motorcycle without a lot of clicks. In website functionality terms, the category functions should lead the user to specific product details pages of interest.

Search is a critical part of helping people find the products they want, and we have discovered a lot of issues with it. Auto-fill is important in your search function, because it makes it easy for the user to home in on the category of interest without a lot of effort.

We also test — and recommend if absent — filters, such as those that allow the user to see items priced from low to high, (or vice versa), breadcrumbs (which help in backtracking) and being able to select how many items to see on a page (pagination too).

#4: Product Detail Page

Product detail pages are the pages that provide all of the details about a product, such as its size, dimensions, weight, color options, images, videos, customer reviews and so on. It is also the page from which consumers add the item to their carts.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of products:

  • Simple products, in which there is no choice for the consumer to make, what you see is what you get.
  • Configurable products, in which the consumer must select a size, color, or some other attribute or customization.

 

It is not necessary to test each and every product detail page on your site, but you must test at least one example of every type of product (other product types include- bundled, grouped, virtual and downloadable). Test all aspects of product types. For instance, can you select the size and color you want on a t-shirt’s PDP (configurable product) and add it successfully to the cart?

#5: Shopping Cart

Do not assume that items you place in your cart are actually there. You must verify and validate them. For instance, were all the products added to the cart, actually added? Was the appropriate quantity (i.e. if you add one item to your cart, does only one item appear in it) of the product(s) added to the cart? Are the product size or other configuration attributes that you selected reflected correctly in the cart? Can you edit the product(s) in your cart? Can you remove product(s) from the cart? Can you change the quantity? Does the price update accordingly?

In some cases, the cart would also provide the estimated tax and shipping, as most would want to know the total cost of a order prior to proceeding to the checkout process. If this section is not there, I highly recommend a estimated shipping section, in which the user can enter his or her city and ZIP code (in the specified country) and get the shipping and tax costs.

#6: Checkout

The final step before the consumer makes a purchase is the checkout. The main items to look for here would be, if the customer is a guest, is he/she able to proceed and complete the checkout as a guest? Or if the guest wants to login to their existing account, are they able to? Does the order summary (if there is one) in the checkout create a better user experience?

If the consumers’ shipping addresses are the same as their billing addresses, they should have an option to click a box and have it auto fill. The first thing I look for is a box that allows me to auto-populate the billing address with the shipping address I entered. And of course, I check to see if all of the address components — name, address, city, state, ZIP code, phone number — are transferred correctly.

One of the most important functions in the checkout is the payment method(s), this is the main sales capture/transaction step on the checkout page, and it is critical to ensure that all of the payment gateways – Credit Cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, etc. — are configured and working properly. If not, you may end up shipping products to customers free of charge!

Testing the checkout literally means submitting orders, and charging your payment method the cost of the item, plus tax and shipping. It is important to ensure you are charged the correct amount, and that you receive an order confirmation email, as well as an email that your item has been shipped.

Buying these items in the testing process is also a great way to test the Returns process. Does the site offer an easy way to register a return? Do you clearly state what the customer will be reimbursed for: cost of the item, restocking charge, free returns, etc.? Once you return an item, do you receive an email stating that the item has been received? That your account has been credited?

#7: Account

Finally, we come to the account section. When consumers open an account with your site, you have the opportunity to market to them on an ongoing basis, and nurture a long-term relationship with them. Thus, the account functions are critical to get right.

Once, we were testing a new website deployed to production (live to the public), and I noticed that although everyone on my team had registered for an account on the site and were able to sign-in as expected none of the new accounts were created. The reason? The database to store the new customer information on the site had not been configured correctly in the backend. So, we should make sure to never miss the testing of the sign-up/sign-in feature on the site.

  • Account Registration: Can I sign on in a straightforward manner? Are the username and password requirements clearly stated? Am I able to enter all of the fields without any problems? Do I receive an email welcoming me to the site?
  • Account Login: Once I register, can I actually login to the site using my password? Do the “forgot username/password” links work as anticipated? Do I receive an email with clear instructions as to how to reset my password or retrieve my username? Am I able to login using my new password or username?

 

Apart from these, at the least, we should also look into addresses, order details (of previously placed orders) and Wishlist details of the user on the site to ensure the best user experience.

Have questions about QA testing or the process SD uses? Let us know.

Written by: Yathish Papanna, QA Manager

 

 

What I Learned Becoming a New Relic Certified Performance Pro

I recently became New Relic Certified Performance Pro, and if you are not familiar with New Relic just yet, I would highly encourage you to check it out. When it comes to troubleshooting issues with your application or even just looking for a way to tune up its performance, New Relic can be an invaluable resource to have. There are several types of monitoring that New Relic offers, but for the purpose of this piece and the focus of the certification exam. and we will concentrate on New Relic APM (more on this later).

The certification itself is relatively straightforward. New Relic suggests preparing for the certification by running through just one of their free online courses. However, an additional webinar exists with the sole purpose of preparing you to take the certification exam.  The webinar is quite useful for getting a sense of what questions you will come across. To pass, you will need to score at least an 80%, but considering you will have seen a majority of the questions in the course’s practice tests and webinar, this should not be too difficult for most. Some important aspects of New Relic that you will see on the exam (and will definitely need to understand in order to use New Relic effectively) are: Application Performance Monitoring (APM) at large, Transactions, Error Analytics, Alerts, and Apdex.

First, it is important to understand APM. While New Relic offers all kinds of monitoring, APM is really the core of New Relic. You will need to understand that it truly does monitor the performance of the application, and neither the performance of the hardware the application is running on, nor direct user experience (though an important argument could and should be made that the performance of your application will have a significant impact on user experience).

Transactions are one of my favorite aspects of New Relic. Transactions really refer to an event that took place in a specific part of your application. They become especially useful when trying to track down a part of your application that is taking up a lot of time and/or resources. Transactions can cover anything from a request for an external web resource to slow database queries, though exact queries will likely be obfuscated by default. Understanding how you can effectively drill into the transactions to track down a slow or buggy method in your application is incredibly important.

New Relic’s Error Analytics is another nice feature that is especially useful for fires or other critical issues. Error Analytics combines the powerful granularity of monitoring transactions with the stack traces from reported errors that you may normally have to dig through logs to find. With New Relic’s Error Analytics you have the ability to monitor errors of various levels of criticality and get a sense of their frequency. As previously mentioned, Error Analytics is integrated with transactions such that you have the ability to drill down and see what part of your application is responsible.

As with most aspects of New Relic, alerts can be created with a great deal of granularity and can be especially helpful if you are looking to monitor a specific aspect of your application or simply stay up to date with any major outages. Alerts are a big-ticket item for us at SD, as they allow us to hop on a client’s emergency before they even recognize that something is wrong. One particularly useful feature of Alerts is the ability to assign different groups to notify in the event of a disruption or degradation of service. In most cases our clients prefer to be in the loop when an Alert for an outage comes in, however there may be cases where an Alert is critical for one party and more or less noise for another. Setting up proper notification channels are just one part of the granularity of Alerts. When it comes to taking the certification test, you will want to make sure that you also understand the conditions that are involved with creating Alerts as well as how to set up Alerts for what New Relic calls “key transactions.”

Apdex refers to a generated score that your application receives and represents a numeric value that can be assigned to the health and/or performance of your application. Essentially there are 3 buckets that a request to your application can fall into: Satisfied, Tolerating, and Frustrated. While the exact threshold (T value) that determines which bucket a request falls into is up for you to decide, there is a very specific formula that is used to calculate your application’s Apdex Score. Understanding how your Apdex score is calculated is critical to determine your T value, as this threshold is quite subjective and vary from application to application. If you are considering taking the certification test, make sure you understand how to calculate an application’s Apdex.

Overall, New Relic is an invaluable resource for developers looking to monitor their applications health and/or performance. The certification test is well worth your time if you are looking to get a better understanding of how to get the APM tools to work for you and get the most out of them. If you are looking for additional resources regarding APM, New Relic’s APM documentation is always a great starting place. And do not forget that there is so much more that New Relic can do for you; APM is just the tip of the performance monitoring iceberg!

Written by: Jeremy Dennen, Back End Programmer

Amazon _ You Me And Amazon Graphic

Is Amazon Your Competitor? Not if You Have the Right Strategy in Place

It’s hard to talk about online retail without the conversation winding its way back to Amazon. With 44% of all online sales, and 4% of total retail sales in the US1 , Amazon is the elephant in the room. But that doesn’t mean online retailers are at a disadvantage. It simply means you need to make Amazon’s existence work to your advantage. In fact, Amazon has several programs to help you do just that and more than 40% of Amazon’s total unit sales come from third-parties2.

Product Discovery on Amazon

An Amazon shopper is someone who prefers to shop in one big, online market place where everything from jeans, to s shoes, to a dog bed, to batteries can all be ordered at once and shipped within a day. Fortunately, this type of customer can be yours as well.

For loyal ecommerce customers, product discovery begins on Amazon. It’s the first place they will go whenever there is a need or want.  In turn, Amazon is a great way to grow your business by getting your brand in front of millions of consumers. When an Amazon shopper is looking to fulfill their needs or wants, why not have your best-selling ones included in the Amazon search results?

You don’t need to offer your entire catalog on Amazon. Many brands offer their evergreen and classic styles there in order to build brand awareness.  Rather, they reserve their complete catalog and newest styles for their ecommerce site. For these retailers, Amazon serves as the first point of contact, and they use that sale to promote their own ecommerce sites by inserting marketing materials or special onsite offers in the packaging (more on packaging later).

Tip: Something to keep in mind – Amazon wants to be the place where consumers get a wide selections at lower prices. You can prevent a race to the bottom by establishing a minimum advertised price (MAP), which bars any outlet from selling your products below that minimum.

From Product Discovery to a Holistic Strategy

Let’s start by defining what a holistic strategy for your business, which should be to offer a portion of your products on Amazon. In other words, you’re managing a marketplace channel, just as you would a reseller, wholesaler or brick-and-mortar channel. If you’re new to the Amazon marketplace, you probably fulfill your orders yourself.

Once you begin to gain some traction and begin reaching new customers, it may be time to consider the Amazon customer’s expectations. In the US alone, there are 90 million Amazon Prime subscribers — people who are accustomed to fast delivery of orders. Slow delivery can affect your Amazon Seller Rating, a metric that measures overall customer satisfaction of your buyers, and help you identify customer service improves that can lead to more satisfied buyers. A straightforward way to improve your Seller Rating is to join the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program. This program means that Amazon will warehouse your products and fulfill them on your behalf. There are fees, of course, but you get a lot of advantages. For instance, your products are eligible for Amazon Prime free two-day shipping, and your product listings are displayed with the Prime logo, telling all those diehard Amazon shoppers that Amazon will handle all packing, delivery, customer service and returns.

If you sell products that are common or widely available, you can opt into Multi Channel Fulfillment by FBA – a program where  in which Amazon already warehouses those products, but you serve as the merchant of record. Because the products are already in the Amazon warehouse, this arrangement is a de facto dropshipper relationship. Dropshipping is a retail fulfillment method in which you don’t keep any of the products you sell in stock. When you sell a product, you buy it from a third party — in this case, Amazon — who then ships it directly to the customer. As a result, the merchant on record, you never see or handle the product. This program is intriguing because you can build your store’s brand, get sales, and boost your Seller Rating by relying on Amazon’s incredible fulfillment operations.

Amazon Exclusives Program

As I noted in the beginning of this post, Amazon is keenly interested in promoting product discovery in its marketplace (a self-serving goal, to be sure, but one that also benefits third-parties like you). The Amazon Exclusives Program is one way the marketplace helps you win new eyeballs. 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 let the word “exclusive” scare you. Participating in Amazon Exclusives doesn’t mean you need to abandon your existing ecommerce site. Amazon defines “exclusivity” as “selling through Amazon, your own websites, and your own physical stores.” In other words, the only secondary-channel outside of your direct-to-consumers is Amazon Exclusives.

Mind you, don’t have to expose your entire product catalog; you can sell just one product. What’s interesting about Amazon Exclusives is that Amazon will actively market your products on your behalf. It’s marketing channel is robust, encompassing onsite marketing, email campaigns that include your products, deals, giveaways, branded content and video. It’s very difficult to get your products included in the marketplace email and on-site Deals of the Day recommendation channel because there’s many people playing in there, but this program increases your chances.

Engagement Opportunities

When you sell via the Exclusives or Marketplace programs, you have one opportunity to engage directly with the end consumer, and that’s to request feedback from the customer. This email is your opportunity “to close the deal” and make them loyal to your brand (from a digital perspective).

Asking for Seller Feedback is essentially asking for an review and the amount of positive feedback you receive will have a direct impact on your products appearing in the product recommendation areas and winning the Buy Box (the display on a product detail page with the Add to Cart button that customers can use to add items to their shopping carts).

This means that feedback is important and you should ask for it, but you should also email the customer to introduce them to other areas of your product line. Just take care how you word that introduction, as Amazon frowns on selling products offsite in that feedback message. Think long and hard on the best way to initiate a direct relationship with a consumer who is likely to be a faithful Amazon shopper.

Sellers who do their own fulfillment have a second opportunity to touch the customer: the product packaging. The box your product arrives in is an opportunity to put your brand in a good light, which means you should really consider upping your packaging game.

You can buy short-run custom packaging from numerous suppliers, or at the very least, use a branded packaging tape with your logo, so there’s no reason to throw your product in a USPS box. (I’ve received products in packages the sellers created out of USPS boxes all duct-taped together. It took me a long time to access my product. Never again!)  Remember, first impressions count and effect your seller rating. Amazon shoppers are different from your other customers, and you need to approach them differently. They’re accustomed to an Amazon out-of-box experience, and it’s worth an investment to replicate that.

Finally, offering an in-box incentive is a great way to entice shoppers to your website and to establish a direct relationship with them. Offering a best-in-class, exclusive to Amazon shoppers, is even better. In other words, don’t offer the same promotion you offer to your affiliate channels. Your customer is already your customer, thank them for it.

Once that customer arrives on your website the world of marketing opens up to you. You can engage them via email marketing, retargeting, and make them profitable through the lifetime value of that customer.

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/03/amazon-grabbed-4-percent-of-all-us-retail-sales-in-2017-new-study.html
2 https://services.amazon.com/selling/benefits.htm/ref=asus_soa_hnav

UX Design for Smartphone Conversions

5 UX Optimizations to Improve Smartphone Conversions (Part 1)

Those of you satisfied with your ecommerce smartphone conversion rate, say Y-E-A-H! (chirp, chirp, cricket, cricket) No, seriously though, if you are satisfied you might want to quit being basic and keep reading—there is always room for improvement.

Adobe’s 2016 mobile retail report stated, “while 26% of shopping carts on desktop turn into an order, smartphone carts only see a 16% success rate— conversion rates are nearly 3x higher on a desktop than on a smartphone.”1

adobe analytics conversion trend by device

adobe analytics conversion by deviceWhen it comes to improving your ecommerce site’s smartphone conversion rate the first thing you’ll want to examine is the user experience. You’re probably thinking, “our site is responsive, isn’t that a good thing?”.

Well, yes and no.

“Responsive design is a tool, not a cure-all. While using responsive design has many perks when designing across devices, using the technique does not ensure a usable experience (just as using a gourmet recipe does not ensure the creation of a magnificent meal.) Teams must focus on the details of content, design, and performance in order to support users across all devices.”2

At the minimum, every ecommerce site should utilize a responsive design. However if you really want to improve your conversion rate, custom optimizations to the mobile experience can make all the difference.

Users spend 20x more time on apps than the mobile web3 because apps tend to be more focused and optimized for a smartphone users’ needs.

app vs web usage

Clearly all this data shows that something’s amiss on the smartphone experience and tailoring the experience is key to fixing certain issues.

Therefore, this post series covers a high-level set of user experience (UX) best practices that can help improve smartphone conversion.

Best practices aren’t the end-all be-all of optimization. In fact, they’re best used as a baseline. Start here, but don’t end here – because best practices don’t work for everybody, and best practices are rarely actually the optimal solution.”4

That being said, follow these 5 optimization tips and you’re sure to see some conversion improvement.

1 Focus on what’s important.
2 Think about content.
3 Pay attention to layout.
4 Make it scan-able.
5 Design for speed.

1 Focus on What’s Important

Smartphones naturally have much less screen real estate to work with then desktops. The average desktop view port is 1024×768 pixels or higher5, while a smartphone is closer to 360×640 pixels6. While a couple pixels here and there might not seem like a big deal, they are and the vertical nature of a smartphone only adds to the challenge.

This is why it very important to consider your customers’ needs when it comes to their shopping experience on a smartphone and prioritize your content and functionality accordingly.

Below are several ways you can optimize your the limited real estate available on a smartphone.

Condense the Header

Reduce the height of the site header a much as possible. You can do this by using an alternative logo treatment, implementing a hamburger menu, and labeled icons.

Header before and after

Before / After

Expose the Search Box

“Shoppers who use internal site search converted at a 216% higher rate than those who do not.”7

This is HUGE. Exposing the search field at all times helps bring it to top-of-mind. If exposing the field on all pages isn’t practical for your site, consider doing it for just the homepage and be sure to display a search icon in the header.

Mobile UX search field

 

Highlight Location Specific Information

Is your brand available at brick and mortar stores? If so, prioritize your location information so that it is easily found on a smartphone.

You can do this by featuring a store locator on the homepage or within the header. Also, provide your customers with useful location content such as the store address, hours or operation, one-click link to directions, and if possible wait-times. Both Atheleta and T-Mobile do a good job of this.

Examples of mobile UX - location information

 

Support Navigation in Spite of the Hamburger

The hamburger menu has become the go to solution for mobile navigation because it is a fantastic space saver. However, it has its share of shortcomings.

“On mobile, people were 15% slower when the navigation was hidden.”8

There are several reasons for this, but for the most part customers have to do extra work to figure out what your brand is selling and it’s not a common UX pattern that a typical desktop user is familiar with.

The good news is that you can counter the negative effects of a hamburger menu by including additional navigational links. Old Navy and Sephora do this well by featuring top selling categories either as links of buttons on the homepage.

 

Examples of alternative mobile navigation

 

Optimizing a smartphone user’s experience by focusing on what is important to your customers can help reduce the time they spend looking, ease friction and frustration and in turn improve their path to conversion.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Think About Content

 


 

1. Source: Adobe 2016 Mobile Retail Report  2. Source: Responsive Web Design  3. Source: Comscore 2016 US Mobile App Report  4. Source: Conversionxl Ecommerce UX  5. Source: W3 Schools Browsers Display  6. Source: Device Atlas Mobile Viewport Size Statistics 2017  7. Source: WebLinc – Boost Conversion and AOV with Site Search  8. Source: NNGroup.com Hamburger Menus

Ecommerce Footwear Guide

Ecommerce Footwear Guide: A Something Digital Ebook

U.S. consumers spend nearly $30 billion each year in footwear. and globaly revenue reaches up to $52 billion. Over the past five years, online footwear sales have soared, a trend that is expected to continue. Research firm IBISWorld predicts that online revenue will increase 6.3% year-over-year, reaching $19 billion by 2023.

No doubt it is a good time to be in the footwear business. Venture capitalists are funding niche brands, such as Allbirds, M.Gemi, GREATS, and many others. Reaching broad swaths of consumers out of the gate is now possible, thanks to global marketplaces such as Amazon, Rakuten, and Alibaba.

Over the past 9 years, Something Digital has designed, built and maintained ecommerce sites for numerous footwear companies, including Fuzzy Babba, VILLA, Jack Rogers, Insole Store, Soludos, Marc Fisher, Aetrex and many others. The objective of this ebook is to share our wealth of knowledge around the challenges that are incumbent to delivering a high-performing direct-to-consumer ecommerce site in the footwear space. Our goal is to provide an overview of the challenges, requirements, competitive landscape, and how to define a successful ecommerce strategy.

Pop your email in the box below to get the rest of our Ecommerce Footwear Guide sent straight to your inbox (it’s like magic).

If you run into any issues downloading the ebook let us know so we can help you out.

 

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