Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Idea to steal: heat maps

If you watched the Channel 4 documentary on sex-toy retailer Lovehoney in May, you may remember that Ordnance Survey was thanked at the very end of the programme. According to Lovehoney’s head of ecommerce Matt Curry, this was because “they bent over backwards providing me with data for the sex map”. The sex map he’s referring to is the interactive heat map created by Lovehoney.co.uk in 2009, where visitors can find out which towns and cities in the UK spend the most on sex toys. 

Among other news outlets, the sex map was featured in the Sun, demonstrating that creating content like this can provide an online retailer with exclusive data that it can use for blogs, press releases and other SEO-enhancing purposes.

Now, Lovehoney says that to create the sex map it first took an anonymous sample of more than 500,000 orders placed at Lovehoney. Then it aggregated the data into regions that match the population statistics from the UK Census. Finally it divided the amount of money spent in each region by the number of people who live there to give the average spend per head on all sex products.

To steal this idea, you can also simplify it by relying on your order history.

For Halloween, fancy-dress retailer AllFancyDress.com analysed three years of sales data to pinpoint where in the UK spent the most on zombie costumes. It then used the data to create a landing page on its website where people could track the hot spots and choose to stay away or join the throngs of undead roaming the streets on 31st October.

Zombie apocalypse

The product types a heat map could work for is potentially unlimited. Take anti-allergy items, for example. A retailer could create something similar to the Kleenex hay fever map in the summer. By analysing sales of allergy-related products, it could show where in the country is suffering the most.

Another example is the UK Snow map. The Brits love talking about the weather, so perhaps a heat map where most of your umbrella buyers are? Or which city in the UK spends the most on bikinis?

Of course, it’s not all for the benefit of consumers or the media. If you don’t already analyse your sales by geography, this is a great way to really understand your customers’ behaviour and tailor your product offering to their needs as well as promoting your most relevant offers at key times.--MT

Monday, 29 October 2012

Spooktacular opportunities at Halloween

If you are a seller of sweets and treats, fancy dress costumes, food and drink, pumpkins and gifts you can expect an obvious BOOst in consumer spend this Halloween and Bonfire Night, but retailers who think that they will not benefit from the events should think again.

A recent YouGov Sixth Sense study has revealed that people in the UK are expected to spend in excess of £650 million celebrating Bonfire Night and Halloween this year.  But it also found that only 23 percent of UK adults are set to participate in the festivities, spending an estimated £268 million on Halloween alone. A slightly greater percentage of adults (29 percent) expect to participate in activities to celebrate Bonfire Night, held on Monday 5th November, spending an estimated £386 million—mostly on fireworks (12 percent) and food and drink for parties (12 percent).

The results from the YouGov research show that while a significant amount of money is expected to be spent on Halloween and Bonfire Night this year, currently only a small percent of the population is actively spending. What this means for retailers is that there’s scope to convert more consumers into shoppers at this time of year. And you don’t have to sell scary costumes to make a killing either.
An obvious example is a pet store, which could promote products to calm pets who may be distressed by fireworks. Petmeds, for instance, currently has a Bonfire Night landing page promoting its dog-appeasing pheromone products and herbal remedies for relief of anxiety and nervousness in pets.

Another, perhaps not so obvious example is a camera retailer, which could encourage customer engagement by running a competition for the best fireworks photo. The competition could be promoted via email and social media to generate brand awareness—and potentially sales.

For apparel retailers, how about an email to promote winter coats to keep revellers warm at a Bonfire Night party? Even kitchenware retailers could get in on the act by promoting social media campaigns such as vote for the best pumpkin pie recipes. Marie Chantal, an upscale retailer of childrenswear, has joined in with the spirit of things by inviting customers to send in their children’s drawings. All pictures will be featured on the brand’s Facebook and Pinterest pages. The best one wins a prize.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and show that retailers have a big opportunity to get more people spending and make the most of these two new key dates in the calendar.--JD

Friday, 26 October 2012

No tricks, just treats

Halloween sales from British customers are going to be scarily good this year according to Alibaba.com, an ecommerce platform for small businesses.

Last year it’s estimated that sales for Halloween-related merchandise hit £315 million in the UK, up from £280 million in 2010. No doubt retailers are hoping to smash that target this year and with UK consumers now the second-biggest buyers of fancy dress costumes in the world, there should be plenty of scope to do so.

Looking more closely at the research, what I found of note in Alibaba’s study is that the UK is the only country that the Professional/Uniforms category had more searches than the Animals/Insects category. Clearly Brits like more realistic role play, or they find animals too childish a choice? As one fifth of costume searches for babies and kids in the UK were for animal or insect outfits, this could be the case. Add to the mix the recent animal-related film releases of Finding Nemo 3D and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which have no doubt had an impact on what children want to dress up as this Halloween.

It also seems that as a nation we’re ditching scary and opting for funny this Halloween. Alibaba says it’s seen a 19 percent year-on-year increase in online searches of zentai/morph suits, while other popular fancy dress suits in the UK include sexy costumes, cartoon mascot suits and TV and movie costumes.

In the battle for the costume and mask crown, it is the queen that is crowned the winner, accounting for 39 percent of enquiries, while witch (32 percent), princess (26 percent), king (3 percent) and prince (no searches) were much less popular—highly surprising, considering a certain Prince’s dressing up antics.

And if you don’t sell fancy dress? Never fear. Alibaba says it’s seen a 20 percent rise in online searches for event and party supplies, meaning that even if you don’t specialise in novelty clothing, you can still make the most of Halloween by selling seasonal gifts and party supplies.--JD

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Catalogue we love: Graham & Green

I’ve heaped praise on Graham & Green before, a couple of years ago the furniture and gifts marketer sent me the best Valentine’s Day email of the bunch. This time, however, it’s the catalogue that’s getting the thumbs up.
Graham & Green, interiors and gifts

Why I love it
The cover is a trendy matt paper, but inside Graham & Green uses a silky paper stock. From a subjective point of view, this makes a HUGE difference. Graham & Green sells products that demand a closer look, the range is full of texture, pattern and colour and a matt paper stock would completely dilute all of that. So many catalogues make the mistake (in my opinion) of using a matt stock to show off homewares and fashion. I’ve noted several new entrants to mail order (I received one catalogue recently that used such a thick stock the paper wouldn't lie flat when turning the page) as well as established brands doing so. Little details are lost in the matt paper—just look at the image below from the Jack Wills catalogue.

Jack Wills
Another reason I love the Graham & Green catalogue is because it’s immediately obvious from the cover what’s on offer. I even like that the zebra rug is a bit wonky, it fits in well with the quirkiness of the brand. The additional bonus of 10 percent off is always an added incentive to look inside.

Now contrast this with Anthropologie’s “Introducing Autumn” mailer (below). A dark grey cover, with barely legible text. How is this representative of the brand? What would make people open this?
Although the Graham & Green layout is quite uniform—one full-page image, two or three smaller images on the opposite page, each catalogue spread looks different. That’s testament not only to the design team, but also to the buyers, who have put together a wonderfully eclectic range.

If you're looking for an idea to steal, it's the way Graham & Green presents the more “boring”, but absolutely necessary, details. On the inside back cover, it uses its signature pink colour to list opening hours, delivery charges and returns information so that everything is accessible at a glance. The result is a page that contains all the details I need, but that isn’t cluttered with terms and conditions.

Finally, the back cover works hard too. I’ve blogged before about how annoyed I get when sent on a wild goose chase to find products, so I was glad when Graham & Green avoided the issue by directing me from the front to the back cover, where all the products featured on page 1 were listed.

One suggestion I’d make is bringing more of Jamie and Louise Graham into the catalogue. In their letter on the inside front cover, Jamie writes “Louise and I work hard to uphold our reputation and family name, as patrons of the kooky, unique and eccentric”. I would really like to see what they look like, what their house is like and what their favourite products are. Perhaps the centre spread could be dedicated to a recent buying trip, or a project Louise and Jamie are working on. For a catalogue and brand that’s all about self-expression through colour and design, it would be great to find out about the personalities of its owners.--MT

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

September Catalogue Log

Whereas August is traditionally a low volume month, September is one of the year’s best performers and 2012 didn’t disappoint. We received a whopping 204 catalogues last month, eclipsing August’s haul of 85. What’s more, 204 is the second-highest number we’ve tracked to date; September 2009 still holds the record with 212 catalogues received in one month.

To put it in context with the rest of 2012, in March, the month with the second greatest volume, we'd received 157 catalogues. Or, if you look at it another way, of the 957 catalogues logged during the first nine months of 2012, more than one-fifth (21 percent) were received in September.

I have to make an admission here, more than a third of the catalogues we tracked did not come through the post. We picked up 10 catalogues in-store, 22 inserts in the national and local press or magazines, and 39 catalogues were collected at the Autumn Fair or GLEE trade shows. The addition of those 39 trade catalogues contributed to the highest number of b-to-b catalogues we’ve tracked this year, 58 in total. In fact, 58 is the highest number of business-to-business catalogues to cross my desk in a one-month period since we began logging the catalogues for the purposes of this blog. The previous highest number was 49, received in July 2009 (When we received seven different versions of the Viking catalogue and eight versions of the Neat Ideas, now Staples, catalogue—make of that what you will).
Offers promoted on September covers
While the number of catalogues received in September 2012 soared, the percentage promoting sales and discounts dropped dramatically, from 34.1 percent in August to 23.3 percent in September. Again, that’s a record-breaking figure—the lowest ever. Among those offering a discount were Ashridge Nurseries (5 percent off online orders), Elderberry (10 percent off a £40 spend) and Pia jewellery (15 percent).

Discounts are out, free delivery is in
In contrast to the significant drop in discounting—which has happened for the third month on the trot—the offer of free delivery was on par with the previous month, 18.1 percent in September, compared with 18.8 percent in August. B-to-b mailers Slingsby and Nisbets and b-to-c catalogues Peter Christian and Mint Velvet were among those offering free delivery. Apparel retailer Mint Velvet also teamed up the offer with a 15 percent discount to celebrate the launch of its first catalogue.
Mint Velvet
The percentage of catalogues offering a gift with purchase was a meagre 5.9 percent in September. That’s down from August’s 10.6 percent and the high, in April, of 14 percent. Among September’s gifts-with-purchase were 40 free Narcissus Hawera bulbs with any bulb order at Unwins, a digital radio alarm clock from Fashion World and a cornucopia of gifts at Fishtec, including a filleting set or a tackle and bait bag.

After tracking declines in our each one of the cover lines we monitor, we also noted that almost 61 percent of the catalogues we received featured no offer whatsoever. As we get closer to Christmas it would be interesting to keep an eye on whether the percentage of catalogues offering a discount on the front cover will rise again, or whether cataloguers will continue their shift away from low prices to other special offers, such as free gifts or free delivery.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of the catalogues we track now put their special offers on a separate insert, this is presumably so they can test a variety of offers but print only one version of the catalogue—a money-saving tactic. This was something online tea shop Bettys (free delivery on orders over £30), apparel marketer Cashmere Centre (free £10 gift voucher), art-inspired gifts catalogue Culture Vulture (10 percent off orders of £40 or more) and Myakka (free elephant wall hook or woollen scarf) all did. I would wager that the trend will continue. Perhaps it's time to add another column to the Catalogue Log spreadsheet.--MT

Monday, 1 October 2012

Compare and contrast: Wayfair

It’s been said that US online retailer Wayfair has its sights set on being the “Amazon of homewares”. To achieve its ambition, the company has embarked on aggressive international expansion, and now has international offices in Ireland, the UK, Germany and Australia.

The business, which is on track to beat last year’s turnover of $500 million, has recently signed a deal with UK-based supermarket Tesco that will see it extend Wayfair’s reach into the UK by offering an expanded range of home goods through Tesco Direct. This, says Wayfair cofounder and chief executive Niraj Shah, offers the Boston, MA-based company “an unparalleled global channel to reach millions of new households in the UK”. Wayfair currently offers 20,000 products on Tesco Direct and plans to increase that number to 60,000 by end of the year.

In addition to its presence on the Tesco marketplace, Wayfair also operates the UK website Wayfair.co.uk, which the company says is seeing “rapid growth”. Although the websites of the UK and US operations look similar, there are some subtle—and not-so-subtle differences. Let’s start with the homepage.
Wayfair UK homepage
The first thing I noticed on the UK homepage (above) is that it is static. The largest box in the centre displays a take on the company’s strapline “zillions of possibilities”, with an image of a woman looking at what appears to be a chandelier. The call to action is to shop now, which when clicked on turns into a search bar—a nice touch. Below the main image are nine smaller boxes labelled bedroom, dining, lighting, bathroom, garden, cookware, living room, children, office, which when clicked on take the user to a dedicated landing page.
Wayfair US
Now contrast this with the Wayfair US homepage (above). Here the retailer uses a rotating main banner that shifts between four images: the Angelo home collection, “Welcome Home”, 45 percent off kitchen carts and islands, and things we love. Although I prefer this to the UK approach, in my opinion the banner moves far too quickly to really take in all the information.

Below the main banner is another dynamic image next to the “shop by category” section designed to show the breadth of the range. Moving further down the page is a gallery of recent press, with Wayfair showcasing its coverage in Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful. Both sites have a similar space for company information such as about, my account and “info & policies”. Notably though, the US site features more social media than the UK website with a link to its Facebook page, Twitter stream, Pinterest page and Google+, as well as the Wayfair blog. The UK site only mentions Facebook and a measly 938 fans, compared with the US website’s 50,993 likes.

Both sites operate a dropdown menu from the main horizontal navigation on the home page, but I noticed the menu is divvied up slightly differently on each site. Mirroring the boxes below the main image, the UK site repeats most of the categories along the top nav bar, adding more and special offers at the end. The US site has the same number of categories along the top, but when a user hovers across the site, it’s evident that the product choice on the US website is much, much broader.

Let’s go shopping
To start my shopping journey I headed for the search bar, placed above the main nav bar on both pages. Both sites make use of predictive search, bringing up options as I type (towel rails in bathroom; towels in bathroom; paper towel holders in kitchen, and so on). Reassuringly, both sites have plenty of options to filter down the search even further on the left-hand side.

UK product page
The product pages were also very similar. The free shipping offer was very prominent and customers can earn Wayfair rewards—the company’s loyalty points programme—on both sides of the Atlantic. At first I completely missed the social networking icons, but eventually located them at the top right of the product description. I would normally look for these in the same area as the price, or nearer the image, so the placement of the social links threw me. I wonder whether this affects others too, and whether Wayfair could boost social sharing, but trying out new positions for the icons.
US product page
After adding to basket, the US could take some tips from the UK website. Whereas the US site takes me to the basket, where I can either pay for my order, go back to the home page, or click “save for later”, which takes me to my wish list. None of the options allow me to go back to the towel section where I started my shopping journey. The UK site (below) handles the “add to basket” move a lot better.

Add to basket
Upon clicking to purchase an item, I am taken to a page that shows what I had just placed in my basket, and on the right-hand side I’m explained all the costs. Below the item is the cross-sell and upsell of “Also In This Collection” and “Customers Also Bought”. Best of all, if I click continue shopping, just under the price, I am taken to the exact page where I left off, so no hunting around to find what I was previously looking at.

Where the UK site falters is in the copy—especially for higher value items.  Here’s the copy for the “Julian Bowen Supra Sofa Bed in Black”, priced at £222.98:

• Supra range
• Black fabric
• Closed sitting position: 79cm H x 197cm W x 88cm D
• Open sleeping position: 38cm H x 197cm W x 99cm D

Followed by:
Supra Sofa Bed in Black,    79cm H x 197cm W x 88cm D,    Weight: Unavailable
Colour: Black
Product Category:  Sofas
Style: Modern
Type: Sofa Beds, Sofas
Upholstery:  All Fabric

Now compare it with the US approach, here for the “Ave Six Mainstreet Sofa”, which costs $302.99:
Make an eye-catching change to your home with this classic Mainstreet Sofa in Seaweed. The Mainstreet Collection from Avenue Six brings us a contemporary line inspired by a classic design. This sofa brings fashion and elegance including solid wood legs and plush foam filled cushions. With its durable fabric detailed design, and sturdy arms this sofa is up to par with the fanciest of rooms. Its combination of style and price make this piece a great option to complement the current d├ęcor of any home or office.

•    Available in Woven Seaweed and Cream fabric
•    Stylish solid wood legs made to match the most elegant of room setups
•    Covered in a high performance, easy care fabric
•    RTA design for convenience and easy shipping
•    Frame constructed of a sturdy kiln dried hardwood
•    Dacron wrapped foam cushions for ultimate comfort
•    Tools included for quick and easy assembly
•    Dimensions: 32" H x 49" W x 29" D
•    Avenue Six Limited Warranty (for details click here)

While it’s accepted that there is no one-size-fit-all answer to how much copy is the right amount, I think we can all agree that the way the US site describes the item is more likely to educate, reassure and convince potential customers to part with their cash.

Overall, while the UK site still has some catching up to do—certainly when it comes to product description and depth of range—Wayfair UK is on the right tracks to overtake its home-grown rivals with a site that ticks many boxes.--MT

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