Monthly Archives: July 2016
Most consumers likely aren’t even ready for Halloween yet, but in the retail world, early fall means holiday prep time. The days following Thanksgiving referred to as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are widely accepted as the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the year, and though they may seem far away now, they’ll be here sooner than you think.
The key to ensuring a successful holiday sales season is early planning and consistent marketing, especially as a small business competing against retail giants like Walmart and Target. Experts offered their advice to help you make 2015 your best holiday season yet.
Shopping day guide
Not sure which days you should focus on for your post-Thanksgiving sales? Here’s a quick rundown of each sale day, its history and which businesses it best suits.
Black Friday. According to Visual Thesaurus, the day after Thanksgiving came to be known as “Black Friday” in the early 1960s, when Philadelphia police officers used it as a negative term to describe the city’s holiday shopping traffic jams. The name stuck and spread to other cities, and in the ’80s, businesses began put a positive spin on Black Friday by rebranding it as a day for stores to “get back in the black.” While larger merchants usually rule Black Friday with midnight (or earlier) openings and storewide sales throughout the day, many small businesses get in on the action with their own in-store and online discounts. Read our Black Friday tips here.
Small Business Saturday. As the name implies, Small Business Saturday is all about celebrating local merchants. Started by American Express during the 2010 holiday season, this sale day encourages consumers to “shop small,” and give independent retailers a fighting chance in between the huge Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of larger competitors. Small Business Saturday is typically geared toward promoting brick-and-mortar retailers, and continues to grow in consumer recognition and spending each year. Read our Small Business Saturday tips here.
Cyber Monday. The days after Thanksgiving are typically associated with in-store shopping and trips to the mall. About a decade ago, e-commerce businesses began noticing that sales increased on the Monday after, when most Americans are back at work after the long weekend. A press release issued in 2005 by the National Retail Federation officially coined the term “Cyber Monday,” and by 2010, it had become the biggest online shopping day of the year, the Washington Post reported. Retailers who sell exclusively online love to run sales on Cyber Monday, but those who have brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations can also take advantage of this shopping day. Read our Cyber Monday tips here.
Although Giving Tuesday is technically not a holiday shopping day, it’s worth noting that businesses are starting to get involved in this recent movement, which was started in 2012 as a way to give back to the community. Consumers are still very focused on corporate social responsibility, so it might not be a bad idea to add this “holiday” to your business’s calendar and let your customers know about any post-Thanksgiving donations, volunteer work or other charitable initiatives your store is involved in. Read our Giving Tuesday tips here.
What to do right now
Market to loyal customers. Acquiring new customers always requires more time and money than getting repeat customers to come back, and this is especially true during the holiday season. Matt Winn, senior marketing communications manager at e-commerce platform provider Volusion, noted that offering highly personalized discounts and promotions to existing customers can be very effective at encouraging holiday purchases. He also recommended promoting any loyalty programs or newsletters during the holiday shopping weekend to keep customers coming back year-round.
Stay active on social media. Social media has become a great marketing equalizer for businesses of all sizes, and it’s in your best interest to use it to your advantage leading up to the holiday shopping season. Spreading the word about your holiday incentives on social media not only puts you in touch with consumers who may be searching for a business like yours, but it also gives you an opportunity to be interactive with prospective customers looking for holiday recommendations, said John Oechsle, president and CEO of Swiftpage, a provider of business technology solutions.
“Promote early and tailor scheduled communications to your audience,” Oechsle told Business News Daily. “Personalize your communication and offer the type of customer experience — online and offline — that will turn a customer into a long-standing patron long after the holidays are over.”
Get mobile-optimized. Many smaller companies are concerned about boosting their mobile presence, and for good reason: Viswanatha Rachakonda, CEO of digital marketing company iQuanti, said that customers are increasingly more connected via their mobile devices, which is leading to earlier research and longer sales cycles for the holidays.
“The acceleration of app usage … will [lead to] purchases being made on the move on Amazon or other e-tailers,” Rachakonda said. “Ensure that your digital presence is mobile-ready, since the search may be happening on mobile. Your Black Friday sales may [also] be lower than expected. That has been the trend as sales cycles move online and go longer.”
Matt Johnston, chief marketing and strategy officer at app analytics company Applause, noted that push notifications on branded mobile apps can be especially effective, but only if they’re done right.
“A lot of retailers use [push notifications] like a blunt instrument, which does more harm than good,” Johnston said. “Really understand your users and their pace [to] use them effectively.”
Offer in-store pickup. For brick-and-mortar retailers worried about online sales eclipsing their foot traffic this holiday season, a smart tactic (if you don’t already do this) is offering an in-store pickup option for online purchases. Rodney Mason, chief marketing officer of parago, a customer engagement solutions provider, said that “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) promotions will create a better connection between the online and in-store customer experience.
“Getting foot traffic will be crucial to getting many retailers back in the black this holiday season,” Mason said. “The BOPIS promotion should prove to be a helpful one this holiday season. This strategy is a win-win — shoppers get an attractive deal during the holiday season, and retailers gain more in-store foot traffic and increase the likelihood of incremental purchasing.”
Offer additional value. Small businesses often need to charge a bit more than larger retailers for the same items, but that doesn’t mean you’ll lose customers. Freebies that add value beyond the product itself can help sway a customer who’s on the fence.
“Free gift wrapping or an extended warranty for certain items can help mitigate the impact of shoppers comparing the price tag of your products with those on another website,” Winn said.
Self-help guides have been around for centuries, teaching their readers how to solve every problem from weight loss to getting ahead in the workplace. In the business world, “self-help” translates into useful guides and articles that aid customers in navigating issues they might have with a product or service.
It’s easy to see the appeal of self-service from a modern customer standpoint. In an age when Google has become a verb, consumers want instant answers to their queries — they don’t always have time to sit around waiting for a customer service rep to take them off hold or answer their email.
But offering self-service in a way that truly enhances a customer’s experience means more than throwing a quick FAQ page on your company’s website. Here’s how you can help customers help themselves, while still offering the level of support consumers expect.
Why you should — and shouldn’t — provide self-service
Robert Johnson, CEO of B2B customer support software company TeamSupport, said today’s consumers are accustomed to searching for answers online, and as a group are more educated and self-reliant. For simple issues and common questions, it’s much more efficient for both you and your customers to have an easily accessible page with all the answers.
“Companies that provide rich support media online, including visual aids such as images and videos in addition to clear instructions and how-to guides, can help customers get back to business quickly,” Johnson told Business News Daily. “This improves customer satisfaction and frees up support agents, who can then focus on helping customers with more complex issues. It’s a win-win situation.”
Ryan O’Connell, a winemaker at NakedWines.com, agreed that customer self-service can indeed improve the customer experience, but cautioned that the wrong intentions can hurt a company’s reputation in the long run.
“[Some] companies employ self-service tools to cut margins and avoid spending time with their customers,” O’Connell said. “A lot of the time, a good FAQ page or troubleshooting guide accomplishes both of these things. But if you set out with the less noble objective of spending less time with your customers, you’ll often [do so] without … making the customer’s life better.”
Some companies’ self-service tools, for example, make it nearly impossible to contact a human being, O’Connell said. Businesses should embrace the opportunity to speak with customers who want to get in direct contact and fix their problem — not run them around through a troubleshooting guide until they give up.
“If [customers] describe a specific problem and you suggest they look at irrelevant self-service options, you risk rubbing salt in the wound,” O’Connell said. “People also get upset when you don’t listen to them. If a customer writes in and explains that they had a great experience, and you auto-reply with a triggered email that suggests they check the FAQ, troubleshooter, etc., then you risk taking a huge fan and dampening their excitement.”
Self-service do’s and don’ts
Successfully implementing customer self-service requires both an understanding of your customer base and a commitment to making that person’s experience with your business as great as possible. Here are a few basic best practices to follow and mistakes to avoid when setting up self-service tools.
Test your self-service system. Before you roll out your troubleshooting guide or how-to articles to all customers, test them with groups inside and outside your organization to make sure they’ll be accessible and helpful to end users.
“Companies should give a wide variety of people the self-service user experience, from administrative staff to billing personnel, sales managers, salespeople and trusted customers,” Johnson said. “With honest feedback, it will quickly become clear if the self-service tools are too complex, too simplistic or otherwise not ideal for users.”
Enhance your self-help tools with visuals and forums. Depending on what your guides are designed to help, you may want to go beyond the basic text-only FAQ format. Vic Mahadevan, CEO of customer relationship management platform Punchh, advised including screenshots and other visuals to illustrate various troubleshooting scenarios for your users. If you’re able, he also recommended developing a monitored peer-to-peer forum on your site so your customers can help each other.
“Sometimes, the best technician is another customer,” Mahadevan said.
Find the right solution for you. There are a lot of ways to implement customer self-service, and some are more complex than others. If you’re looking for a technology tool that will help you with customer support, Johnson advised looking for one that’s designed for the type of service you deliver (i.e., B2B or B2C).
“[Companies] should look for a solution that enables collaboration so they can leverage the knowledge of the entire team and view up-to-date information across all support platforms, whether online, on the phone, via a chat window, etc.,” Johnson said.
Make your contact information hard to find. Your FAQ page may cover the majority of customer issues, but you need to make yourself available to answer the small percentage of queries that aren’t addressed. Making customers work extra hard to get in touch with you directly will not do you any favors when they finally reach you.
“There are countless times customers get unnecessarily frustrated because they can’t find the answer they’re looking for, need to contact someone, and again, can’t find the information they need,” Mahadevan said. “A seamless user experience is vital to customer satisfaction.”
Forget to update self-service materials. The self-service guides you publish are based on your business’s current circumstances and operations, and any changes that inevitably occur along the way should be reflected in that content. Johnson noted that it’s important to keep customer service materials up to date at all times so customers can always find what they need.
“Customers will quickly lose trust if they visit a self-service portal and don’t find material that addresses their specific product,” he said.
Ignore customer feedback. As mentioned above, self-service shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid contact with customers. When you incorporate self-help guides and tools, be sure that those elements are serving your ultimate objective of improving customers’ lives — and if customers have something to say about it, you can’t afford not to listen.
“Do customers like the service you introduced?” O’Connell said. “If not, it’s OK to say, ‘We missed the mark on that one and will be discontinuing/rewriting/reinventing based on your feedback.'”
“Be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments, even after the self-service solution goes live online,” Johnson added. “Never be too proud to admit a mistake — the point isn’t to always be right, but instead to consistently provide an excellent customer experience.”
Think shopping for your co-workers is hard? If you’re tasked with finding the perfect holiday gifts for your business clients, you know it’s even more difficult to achieve that perfect mix of thoughtful, unique and affordable. Plus, there’s even more resting on what you buy while a bad gift could turn your clients off to your services, the perfect gift could win their continued loyalty. To keep your best clients coming back in the new year, try sending them one of these cool holiday gifts. Each item is under $20 so you don’t have to break the bank in the process, either.
Tons of people get sent flowers, but not everyone has a vase to put them in, especially at their desks. These collapsible plastic vases can actually be folded up and stored away until your clients need them, and they come in more than a dozen cool designs, patterns and colors. At TheGrommet.com. ($8.95)
What’s better than a gift that’s both whimsical and useful? This Lego brick USB stick is a fun addition to any keychain and will help your clients back up their important files, too. It comes in various colors and memory capacities, from 2GB to 8GB. At Fancy.com. ($9)
It may look like an ordinary pen, but it can do so much more than help your clients jot down notes. The 5-in-1 pen is also a stylus for smartphones and tablets, a red laser pointer, a UV light and a bright-white LED light. At ThinkGeek.com. ($9.99)
The best way to increase your in-store sales is to boost your online messaging, new research finds.
Businesses that are able to best align their marketing strategies to leverage technology that delivers local, shopper-specific, actionable content will see in-store sales increase, according to study from the Altimeter Group and Cofactor.
Many businesses, however, have difficulty developing strategies that do more than just build brand awareness. In order to successfully drive in-store sales using digital marketing, organizations must provide more targeted and personalized messaging, the research reveals.
Rebecca Lieb, the study’s author and an industry analyst for Altimeter Group, said digital marketing strategies should be local, personal and contextually relevant to draw in shoppers.
“‘Local’ must be redefined to include more than mere location,” Lieb wrote in the study. “It now encompasses context and connectivity: who, what and when, in addition to where.”
While sending messages to consumers when they are near a store can help draw them inside, messages that target shoppers based on who they are, and the previous actions they have taken are far more effective in getting them to spend money once they enter, Lieb said.
To often, businesses aren’t doing a good enough job blending all of their digital marketing efforts, the research revealed. The study shows that many organizations have different teams working on mobile marketing, while others work on social media marketing, with still others focusing on Web marketing. [7 Digital Marketing Myths Debunked ]
“The social, Web, mobile and e-commerce teams all operate on their own terms, with their own creative content, budgets and strategies,” Lieb wrote. “However, customers want to be recognized as unique individuals across all touch points with a brand, and the only way to fulfill that demand is to coordinate the efforts of all channel silos with a single, unified strategy.”
Although brands typically craft messages designed to drive shoppers into stores, these companies often lack a clear strategy for doing so effectively, especially when it comes to coordinating all the channels of communication. The research discovered that while 60 percent of the brands surveyed created digital messages to drive in-store purchases, just 37 percent of those organizations had a strategy to provide a unified customer experience in the path from online information to in-store purchase.
According the research, businesses that fail to better unify their digital strategy run the risks not fulfilling the needs of their customers, frustrating loyal customers and seeing in-store foot traffic drop.
To help businesses create a cohesive digital marketing strategy that increases in-store sales, the research outlines several steps that need to be taken:
- Give shoppers a reason to shop in-store: You want to incentivize shoppers to visit your business. This can be done in a myriad of ways, including by offering options to order online and pick up in the store, along with in-store-only coupons and sales.
- Be mobile: When creating your content strategy, you are best served by focusing on the mobile experience. Few channels are better than mobile at reach and right-time-location targeting.
- Online to offline: This type of thinking and planning with your digital strategy is criticalwhen mapping the customer journey.
- Rethink print ads: Print ads today can provide more value when they are used in conjunction with other types of communication. Boost the value of print ads by spreading the content across digital channels in order to reach customers where they are actually gathering information to make purchasing decisions.
- Unify digital efforts: You need to break down the silos between departments and digital channels. Doing so makes it easier to create a unified strategy for the best customer experience.
- Coordinate offline and online: Plan for online content with similar teams and processes that are in place for delivering offline content. This enables a more coordinated strategy.
- Measure what works: It is critical to implement a method of tracking your digital marketing success. Rather than using metrics like impressions, you should focus your measurements on specific customer actions.
- Use loyalty data: Leveraging this information allows you to personalize and contextualize your messaging.
- Define local at every stage: When creating targeted local messaging, think about more than just geographical areas. Consider how local can be applied to who, what and when, in addition to where.
- Be tactful: Although you might have a treasure trove of great digital campaigns you want to launch, you don’t want to turn off customers by constantly bombarding them with personalized messaging.