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Dec. 18, 2013

E-Commerce Sites Offer Mobile and Social Experiences This Christmas

Acting upon emerging trends is a critical part of e-commerce. This is especially true during the high-traffic holiday-shopping season, when a switch in strategies could mean the difference between a successful season and a disappointing one.

Lisa Chen, former e-commerce director at both See’s Candies and Simplehuman, says the most significant factor affecting e-commerce sales in 2013 is the shorter shopping season. Retailers lost an extra weekend of sales (six days total) due to Thanksgiving Day falling only two days before the end of the month.

While a loss in potential shopping days could have been harmful in the still-difficult economic environment, Chen says losses will be offset by four major sales incentives that heavily benefit consumers: significant discounts, direct-purchase incentives (like “Gift with Purchase” and “Buy One, Get One Free”), big gift-certificate offerings toward future purchases, and extensions on free delivery. Out of these incentives, free shipping is the most game-changing trend.

A recent survey by Walker Sands found that 80 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase something online if free shipping is offered.

"In the past, offering free shipping and returns was the anomaly; now, it’s required," Chen says.

Consumers Feel Secure About Online Shopping

The high-profile leaks surrounding the Edward Snowden NSA case and the subsequent public outrage over password recoveries were expected to affect consumer trust. Instead, most consumers decided to trust retailers to batten down the hatches and protect their accounts. Point-of-sale security concerns are not much of an issue this year, Chen says.

E-commerce purchases during this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday grew 24 percent over last year, according to Business Insider. But this trust in e-commerce doesn’t mean businesses can rest on their laurels: An estimated $3.5 billion in losses will affect retailers this year and force them to incorporate robust security plans, according to a report from payment processor CyberSource.

Overall, while the holiday season has seen other e-commerce security issues come up, such as authentication errors, they are not expected to affect consumer confidence to a significant degree.

E-Commerce Turns to Mobile

Using a mobile retail strategy to drive business is an important tool and part of a rising long-term trend. Two recent industry announcements point to this fact: eBay Enterprises' huge mobile-sales jump of 88 percent over last year (driven by its Black Friday sales) and PayPal's mobile-sales increase of 93.6 percent over the same period, according to a report from The Next Web.

The increased focus on mobile purchases has led retailers to invest in mobile shoppers. Several companies have created interactive real-world experiences that integrate with a mobile experience.

Among the most visible of these campaigns is one being run by Saks Fifth Avenue. The luxury retailer matched its physical storefront windows with a mobile campaign featuring Yeti, a holiday folklore character “rumored” to be living on the roof of Saks’ flagship store.

“App users, after creating their own Yeti name, have the opportunity to create their customized mobile snowflake and have it become part of the window display. Shoppers are [now] able to also purchase a variety of Yeti merchandise throughout the store,” Chen says.

This kind of experience engages customers on an emotional level and helps familiarize them with the online store.

Online and Social Communications Drive Sales

Chen says there is also a growing trend to engage consumers on social networks and with the applications they most frequent. For example, the frequency of email promotions has gone up nearly tenfold in the last month, with retailers sending email daily, rather than weekly or monthly. Product advertisements on Facebook and Twitter are also thought to be more aggressive.

Unsurprisingly, the visual-focused social site Pinterest is proving to be an important platform for driving purchases. Target recently launched a Pinterest-powered online storefront called “The Awesome Shop,” according to a report from TechCrunch. The store takes data from Target and social networks and then lists its most trendworthy and highest-rated products, creating a visually appealing online store for people to browse.

So far, there is no official data on the click-through rate of the site, but Target officials noted their previous initiatives with Pinterest resulted in a significant increase in traffic.

[image: Massonstock/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Jose is a technology expert with experience in covering cloud computing, startups and enterprise IT.
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