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Amazon’s New “Exclusives” Shop Showcases Up-And-Coming Brands And “Shark Tank” Products

March 11, 2015

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Interesting to see Amazon getting in on the Etsy/Quirky/kickstarter creative, individualist, inventor scene. It’s good to see the increased opportunity for entrepreneurs to get the exposure.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Amazon this morning rolled out a new store called Amazon Exclusives which will introduce “up-and-coming” brands and other new inventions across a variety of categories, including products that have been previously featured on the TV show Shark Tank. The idea here is that Amazon wants to capitalize on the attention these new products receive when they hit the market (or the TV airwaves), and then give the online retailer a piece of the action.

The name “Exclusives” refers to the fact that outside of being sold on the creators’ own websites or in their own physical stores, the only other destination where you’ll be able to buy these items is on Amazon.

Some of the products are kind of odd but interesting – like the Zackees LED Turn Signal Gloves that allow cyclists to communicate with others on the road, or the customized Mary Jane shoes with tie dye designs. From

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Trust, but verify

March 8, 2015

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Googling. How great it is that we can find a recipe, resolve a difference of opinion, or learn the meaning of a word- in two seconds online. It’s immediate gratification. Love it.

But of course, just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s true.  I recently tried to find the source for a Wordsworth quote I liked on Pinterest: “To Begin, begin”. It was all over Pinterest, all over Google and Yahoo answers- in chat rooms, images, and inspirational quote sites.

to begin, begin

I thought it was a wonderfully simple philosophy to get past the blocked feeling we sometimes get when embarking on a difficult or challenging project. I was going to start a post with it, but first- I looked for the source. No google reference I found could identify one. I found a poetry site with all of his works, and got a ‘not found’ result when I searched the text. So I asked a professor- a Wordsworth expert, who said not only does it not sound like him- there’s no reference she knew of that he ever said it.

So could he have said it? Who knows. I’m not going to quote if I can’t verify it. Maybe someone distilled something he said down to that- and it became attributed to him over time.  It was a small thing, but surprising. A good reminder that in all things, we should know our sources before we take action on information. Trust- but verify.

Spotless

February 25, 2015

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If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy.

Recently I had some work done in my home, and every day, I knew the contractor was finishing up when I heard the vacuum cleaner running. Every day, I’d go inspect the progress, and the area would be spotless. The result was that the focus was always on the work that had been done- the progress made.

It was remarkable.

Partly because it exceeded my expectations, but mostly because the daily clean-up meant I could see and get excited about the product, instead of focusing on the mess of a work in progress. When the opposite holds true- a mess left behind, dust all over everything, debris scattered about- we can’t help but focus on the debris, and that shapes our opinion about the quality of the work.

This is a good way to think about our work- any work, whether it’s customer facing or internal business. If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy. If there’s too much information or it’s not clearly organized, it won’t be abundantly clear what your message is, or what you want people to DO with it.

This holds true whether you’re planning a website page, a presentation, or a company communication. Edit vigorously. Keep it clean.

If you want to be heard, do the hard work to make it simple.

What story do you want to tell?

February 3, 2015

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Campaigns are tricky.

People don’t remember your intentions, or your mission. They remember what you said. And how you said it. Communicating what you mean to communicate- telling the story you want to tell, is what matters. Making it powerful. Making it resonate. Retailers use shock value to create a memorable message. But what about when it’s the wrong message?

Nationwide’s Super Bowl commercial is a good example of good intentions gone awry. The “Make Safe Happen” campaign is a great idea. An honorable mission: to raise awareness and reduce the occurrence of ‘preventable accidents’, which are the #1 leading cause of death for children.  But the story they told was awful. Dark. Shockingly grim. They took what could have been an opportunity for hope, inspiration- and tear jerking happiness (think the Budweiser puppy getting saved by the Clydesdales), and they killed the kid.

You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY

A good idea- with a bad message. Because in the story they tell, the kid dies. Not inspiring. Not hopeful. Not warm & fuzzy. It ruins the story. They WANT to tell us that preventable accidents are just that- preventable. And together, we can save so many lives. But that’s not the story they told.  The story they told is that if we’re careless, kids die. See what they did there?

In interviews, Nationwide says they were surprised by the level of negative feedback they got- but they meant to be shocking. They wanted to raise awareness for this important issue- not sell insurance (read the interview in the WSL’s CMO Today section, by Nathalie Tadena). From the article:

Nationwide was mentioned more than 238,000 times on social media but only 12% of those conversations were positive, according to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence.

“The intention of the ad was actually not to sell insurance,” Mr. Jauchius said. “It was to raise awareness of a cause that we’ve been championing for decades at Nationwide, which is to keep kids safe from preventable accidental injuries.”

Ok, then. That’s not what we all heard. We heard- the kid dies.

Why did they take that dismal path?  This just makes me, as a viewer, angry, upset and bitter about Nationwide (me and thousands of others in the universe). Why couldn’t they turn that message around and show how working together to prevent these accidents could save thousands of lives, and show how because of our efforts together, this boy lives to achieve his dreams- because at the critical moment- his mom ignored the phone call and stayed with him in the bathtub instead…? Why not turn it around? Let the boy live. Let us cry and choke up with happiness instead of grief.

Let’s take a look at a retailer that took the opposite path. The most inspiring commercial from the Super Bowl was the #likeagirl campaign, from Always.

You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3GpXgFwWmk

This, like Nationwide, is a commercial with a message that isn’t about selling a product. Like Nationwide, the product doesn’t make an appearance until the final moment- isn’t even relevant to the story. But after watching it- I want to support the product. Why? Because it’s inspirational. It made me feel good. It’s about empowering children. Empowering our girls. Taking a persistent slur, ‘like a girl’, and turning it around into something GREAT. It’s not the first time this has been used this way- ‘fight like a girl’ has been used to support Breast cancer research. Why? Because it works. It gives us power. It doesn’t threaten to kill our children if we’re dumb.

Thinking about powerful messages in advertising, it’s the ones that give us something that make a lasting impression. Power. Hope. Inspiration.

Which story would you want to tell?

Deliver on it.

August 4, 2014

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Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you add functionality to your site, you have to know what the customer expectation will be- and deliver on it. Getting it ALMOST right is the same as getting it wrong.

Here’s an example: one day, I was shopping on one of my favorite flash-sale sites- amazing brands and products at unusually great deals. What’s not to love? But there are so many items, and I have limited time and patience. That’s why I was so glad to see a refine-by-size feature that allows me to sort by just the product that would work for me- good! That’s a best practice, especially for a sale in which quantities are limited.

navigation & refinements

Refine by size feature- a best practice.

 

The rub? When the refine-by-size feature doesn’t deliver real-time information, it’s worse than having no refinements at all- because you’ve set my expectations for a personalized result, but then let me down on the delivery. Advice? Turn the refinements off until you can get it right. It’s not a value-add if it’s only right sometimes (like a faulty clock: it’s right at LEAST twice a day…).

refine by size & navigation

Refine by size gone bad

I realize there are reasons these things happen- someone made a business decision based on a technical limitation or a tradeoff on site speed vs. accuracy…there are always drivers for things like this. But the bottom line is the customer experience you deliver. If you make a promise (showing a refinement by size)- then you have to deliver on it well or there’s no point. A bad experience actually detracts  from the perception of your brand (they don’t deliver!). Customers will bail on your site a lot faster when frustrated with the functionality.

This is just one tiny example of the many decisions brands make every day that impact customer experience. Make sure you understand the impact when you make the business decision. If it’s not worth doing right- it may not be worth doing at all.

If you need me to sign in, remember where I was.

June 14, 2014

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This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always the case.

If you want customers to interact with your site, you have to make it really easy. Really, really easy. If you make me sign-in or register to write a review, save to my wish list, or respond to a poll- I get it- you need to make sure I have a stake in what I’m putting on your site, that I’m not anonymous, and may therefore think a little more carefully about what I say or do. So I’ll do it. But do your part: remember where I was, and take me back. 

A good experience: I click ‘submit a review’. The site asks me to sign-in or register. I do it. After I sign-in, the site takes me to the next logical page in the path I was trying to take to begin with: the ‘submit a review’ form for the item I was looking at.

A bad experience: leaving me on the My Account page after I sign-in. Why am I here?

This isn’t one of those things that will give you an instant bump in conversion- but it IS one of the things that will enable your customer to easily connect with you, potentially stay on the site a little longer, and feel better about it, too.

The quickest way to lose a customer’s interest is to make it a chore to get involved. If I’m trying to interact with you, and you leave me on your “My Account” page after I sign in, am I going to go back and navigate to that product again? Maybe. Or maybe not. I would have to be pretty motivated. I can’t see wanting to submit my review that badly.

People don’t necessarily notice when you have a seamless site experience. But they notice when you don’t.

Do now for Holiday

October 23, 2013

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Free Shipping at Drugstore.com

Free Shipping is still one of the top reasons customers decide to shop on one site vs. another.  Yet most sites mention it in a minimal way, if all all. Why? It’s not a new message. It’s not sexy. Those who offer it know it’s a customer expectation. Many seem to think offering it is enough, but don’t see it as an important message at the start of the shopping process. That would be wrong.

The latest report from Forrester research shows that low prices and delivery costs are still the top 2 reasons consumers will revisit a site. As it turns out, fast shipping is much less important (#14 on the list of consumer priorities).  While many retailers have downplayed free shipping to explore how to compete with Amazon’s popular Prime service, it has not taken taken the place of simple, free shipping in the consumer’s mind.

While over 92% of retailers online offer free shipping, only 78% actually say so on the homepage, and 22% don’t talk about shipping at all. Those that do promote it, for the most part, are not showing it prominently on the homepage. For more details on the data, see the free summary of Forrester’s report on Internet Retailer:  Free Shipping Trumps Fast Shipping For Web Shoppers.

The do-now: Offer Free Shipping. Devote space to it. Make it prominent, persistent and legible on your homepage.

Some good examples:

Zappos has a prominent homepage message with a rotating message for Free Shipping, Free Returns, and First Class Customer Service. Also promoting a special offer above the nav for fast, free shipping on clothing.

Zappos has a rotating message for Free Shipping, Free Returns, and First Class Customer Service, while also promoting an offer above the navigation for Free next day shipping on clothing.

Neiman Marcus- free shipping and free returns

Neiman Marcus now offers Free Shipping and Free Returns, always.

Quidsy sites like Wag.com, Soap.com and more, offer a prominent free shipping offer above the navigation.

Quidsy sites including Wag.com and Soap.com offer a prominent Free 2-day Shipping offer above the navigation.

Macy's has a banner showing Free Shipping every day

Macy’s has a banner showing Free Shipping every day

Drugstore.com everyday Free Shipping

Drugstore.com offers a prominent Everyday Free Shipping message

These are just a few of the best I’ve seen lately. There are a surprising number of major retail brands who don’t show a free shipping offer at all.

The do-now is to make shipping FREE- if it’s not already. Make it prominent. Make it global. It’s an easy “to-do” that will make a difference. With a minimum purchase, you can ensure it’s paying for itself with the volume it drives. And you can test to see where the sweet spot is, for both volume and AOV.  Forrester also recommends that retailers promote it throughout the shopping path- not just on the homepage itself. Doing this gives customers reassurance as they browse thumbnail pages, product pages- and most importantly, the shopping cart. The important thing now is to start with the main message.

Do it now, before the holiday races begin.

Trunk Club: guys, you’ll never have to shop again.

October 6, 2013

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Trunk Club

Trunk Club is a personalized online shopping service for men.

If you’re a man that hates to shop, struggles with fashion sense, or is extremely limited on time-Trunk Club may be the best thing that ever happened to your wardrobe.

Trunk Club- a personalized shopping service for men

Ready for your next shipment? Just text your Personal Shopper, and you’re done.

Trunk Club is a personalized service that handpicks clothing for you- everything from shirts and jeans, to shoes and belts.  The best thing is how the service is designed: It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s tailored to your preferences. Each client is assigned a personal shopper, who will communicate with you as little or as much as you like. You can call, email, text- or even skype.  You can specify what you do or don’t want (more black shoes! Only pants…need everything…and so on).

The free service starts with a quick style survey, in which you select your style type  (clueless, confident or aficionado), choose from a range of looks and brands that reflect your style, add your measurements- and you’ll be matched with a personal shopper that puts together your first ‘trunk’.  The survey takes less than a few minutes.

Trunk Club for men

Shopping just got easier for men: Trunk Club sends you a selection, you choose what to keep.

When you get your trunk, you have 10 days to decide what you want to keep. You can keep it all, or just a portion, and send the rest back.

There are no automatic shipments. You simply call, email or text, when you’re ready for the next shipment.

CEO Brian Spaly started the service because he felt the experience of shopping for most men was too frustrating, overwhelming and time consuming. Before founding Trunk Club, he also founded a company named Bonobos, to create stylish clothing with a superior fit.  In solving the problems of fit and shopping, he’s made it easy for men everywhere to avoid the dreaded trip to the mall.

Guys- if you like the idea of never having to shop again, give Trunk Club a try.

ios7 graphics: a step forward?

September 30, 2013

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apple ios7 upgrade

ios7 home screen

ios7 was a long time in the making- and a big move for Apple.  It’s the first major break from the iconic visual design driven by Steve Jobs and the warm, homey graphics that made the techie device feel familiar:  to-do lists that looked like lined paper, a bookshelf that looked like wood, and most importantly, easy to read text, links and buttons.

In this update, the new flattened design takes flat too far. The text is a pretty pale grey and the links a pretty pale blue, making both hard to read. All links are treated equally, so that “skip this step” and “next” links, for example,  look exactly the same. The new tool icons are flat and colorless, which combined with the pale blue outlines- make them hard to distinguish. They just don’t pop off the page. The one that’s highlighted is great- if they were all treated that way, they’d seem less diminutive and more actionable.

Simple line drawn icons are hard to distinguish at a quick glance.

I like the idea of modernizing the graphics, but this fails in the execution. The graphics are reminiscent of early web design that was less well attuned to customer experience mandates such as legibility, clear calls-to-action and ease of use. The newstand is still a newstand, and I can’t pull my New York Times out of it, so it continues to be two clicks away. The bookshelf design looks like something you might find in a windows app, with books floating on varying shades of blue. The safari icon looks like a compass. And I can’t find the new ‘easier’ to find spotlight search no matter what I do.

The critical issue: The text and link treatments are too pale. Too subtle. These are key elements of the design- and they need to be made legible.

The good stuff:

ios 7 control panel

Swiping up opens the control panel- for easy access to itunes, sleep, airplane, bluetooth, and other modes.

On the upside, ios7 seems stable and has some great new features. The new control panel is fantastic- it puts key functionality one swipe away, instead of multiple clicks- you can now access sleep, do not disturb, airplane mode- and even a flashlight with a quick swipe. Love that.

The camera is noticably better- with easy controls, and more accessible controls for a panoramic shot, square or video.

And the new App scrolling feature is cool- with two clicks, you get mini screens you can scroll through to see what apps are open and click directly in. Very nice.

There’s lots to like about the new OS release. Though I’m not a fan of how far they took the flattened design, I believe it’s easily fixable. The critical need is to fix the oversimplified text and link treatments.  I hope that Apple will recognize the need to do this quickly  in upcoming releases. The rest is just a matter of taste.

You’re being followed.

August 12, 2013

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Your shopping mall just got a little smarter. Now there’s technology that allows stores to track customers movements through a store- where they stop, where they try on, when they buy- or what they look at before they walk out. It’s the same, in concept, to what retailers look at online: the customer path from the time  a customer arrives, until the time they leave- what they add to cart, what they look at and for how long, and where they are when they decide to leave.  Now stores can mine the same kind of measurable data: conversion (of those who come in, what percentage buys) and abandonment, and a glimpse into what’s generating interest as they walk through the store.

What could be controversial is that this tracking happens via your cellphone signal. If your wireless is on, the store software can ping your phone to keep track of where you are and what you’re doing. Is it an invasion of privacy? While it seems a little unnerving to be followed around like this, it’s really no different than what virtually every website does when you browse a site. And to be fair, we all know that there are abundant video cameras in stores and malls, so it’s not as if we couldn’t be watched before. As with website cookies, if you don’t like the tracking, you can turn it off- in this case, by turning off your phone’s wifi setting.

This technology gives stores the opportunity to better learn from what customers are doing- which, in concept- gives them the opportunity to improve the presentation to better serve customers. If they see that no one stops at the first sets of tables, or that certain racks get missed altogether, it might give them better ideas about how to re-configure the displays.  By simply making what people want easier to find, they could sell more. So that could be a win-win.

The problem, as with web analytics, is that the data alone doesn’t give you the whole picture: now you know WHAT people are doing, but you don’t know WHY they’re doing it, or how they’re feeling while they’re doing it. This is still an important problem to solve- the things that make it hard to shop, like too tightly packed racks, or hard-to-find size labels, or a limited size range- these are things that affect my abandonment rate- but tracking my wifi will not reveal that.  There’s no substitution for asking your customers what they think- not just the ones that buy- but the ones who don’t buy, too.

Next, we need to develop more sophistication in how we get that data. Surveys are okay for online shopping- but they are often long and tedious. Net-promoter surveys are great, because they ask just two questions: Would you recommend us to a friend? Why or why not?

What I want to see happen is the equivalent to the tapping a word on my kindle to see what it means: I want to see a way to provide feedback in context, in the moment- as it’s happening. That’s going to  be the most meaningful information to get. Now that I think of it, when I notice a typo in a Kindle book, I wish there were a simple way to highlight it and send an alert, in the moment, in context. Amazon, take note.

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