Shopping at Target.com

I haven’t been to Target.com in a while, but decided to revisit. Target clearly doesn’t lack the brand recognition or marketing muscle to make this site great, but it seems like it has some shortcomings compared to online competitors. For example, I looked at Kitchen Gadgets. The #5 best selling kitchen gadget on their site today was a 1-quart measuring cup:

1-quart measuring cup from Anchor Hocking

This product is a best seller, yet has only five reviews. Two of the five reviews were 1-star, stating that the markers wash off in the first use. Another one said it takes two years for the markers to wear off. And two people loved it. A measuring cup without markers isn’t particularly useful, eh? With only 5 reviews, it’s hard to say whether the experiences of 60% of reviewers are the norm. An online competitor to target.com, Amazon.com, offers a comparable product from Pyrex that has an average of 4.5 stars and 387 reviews. Personally, I would have more confidence in purchasing the Pyrex product based on reviews alone. Yes, it’s $4 more expensive, but measuring cups last forever (unless the markers wear off).

But, when ordering stuff online, the cost isn’t just the cost but the cost plus tax and shipping. Inconveniently, Target.com doesn’t offer a fully loaded cost on their property description pages, or hint at what shipping may be, or how one may be able to avoid shipping costs. Instead, I had to start the checkout process to figure out what it would cost to purchase this item:

Target.com Checkout

Notice on the right where it says:

Shipping: not yet calculated
Tax: not yet calculated

As in, we demand that you tell us who you are, where you live, and your email address before we’ll tell you what it would cost to purchase something from us.

I complied, assuming that once Target.com knew my address they’d be able to calculate relevant taxes and shipping. But, I was wrong:

Target Checkout

Here I am at the checkout screen and Target still hasn’t told me what I’ll be charged to purchase this item. They did accurately calculate the 7.775% sales tax rate I’d need to pay to subsidize the Vikings stadium, but didn’t tell me what it would cost to ship the product to my door.

I chose PayPal for checkout because I figured PayPal would probably give me an option to see the full price before Target charged me their mystery figure. Here’s what I found out:

PayPal Checkout

The mystery shipping cost for the $5.54 item: $6.72. That hurts.

What’s even more strange about this is the sale taxes more than doubled from 7.775% to 17.148%. That makes no sense to me. Anyone know what that’s all about?

Between best seller products on a major retail site having only 5 reviews, 60% of reviews of a best seller product being negative, no transparency on shipping or tax before checkout, and jumping sales tax prices, it’s tough to have much confidence in the site.

Now, compare that to Amazon. Here’s Amazon’s most popular 1-quart glass measuring cup:

1-quart measuring cup

It’s $3.95 more expensive than Target’s best selling 1-quart glass measuring cup. But:

It has 22 images while Target offers one. Perhaps Target’s customers could benefit from a few pictures of measuring cups with missing lines so they could make more informed decisions?

Amazon’s 1-quart measuring cup has been reviewed 387 times with an average review of 4.5 stars:

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 8.36.14 PM

Target’s reviews appear to be sorted by date, while Amazon’s are sorted by usefulness based on up/down votes from other Amazon users. The top review of this 1-quart measuring cup has received 154/162 useful votes. It’s more than 500 words long. In a nutshell, it says that it’s a nice measuring cup but not as nice as they used to be.

Amazon makes it clear that you can get this shipped for free if you’re willing to spend at least $25:

Free Shipping on $25 Orders

They also show that a 3rd party seller is willing to sell this product for $10.95 with free shipping.

Amazon Free Shipping Upsell

Amazon also makes their upsell to Amazon Prime membership ($79 annual fee for free 2-day shipping on most purchases, plus unlimited movie streaming and other stuff) impossible to miss.

I skipped the Prime membership (I’m a Prime member, but I logged out for this demonstration) and took a look at my shopping cart. It turns out that Amazon lets me calculate the shipping/total cost for purchasing this item before I tell Amazon who I am:

Price from Amazon with Shipping

A rational person wouldn’t spend $15.98 or $13.21 with shipping on a measuring cup. Especially when Amazon makes it blatantly clear that you’ll get nearly half off on the next $15 worth of stuff you add to the cart to round up to $25 and avoid shipping.

Target does offer free shipping to certain customers, and a 5% discount. All you have to do is ding your credit applying for their credit card, which carried a 22.9% APR:

Target RedCard Fees

Amazon also offers a credit card with a lower APR, and points for purchases not only at Amazon, but for anything purchased with the card including bonus points for certain popular categories like gas stations, restaurants, and drug stores.

And, if we’re comparing shipping based on membership, Target’s RedCard users are eligible for free Standard Shipping (3-5 days) while Amazon Prime members ($79 annual fee) receive free 2 day shipping. If I order something on a Tuesday night and it may not show up until the following Monday, it may be free but it’s not exactly awesome compared to having it before the weekend for free.

So, it looks like Target’s a bit behind on reviews, reviews of reviews, transparency on shipping, calculating sales tax, free shipping offers, delivery speed for free shipping offers, and benefits offered to members.

Personally, I think shipping policies can make or break online retailers. If e-commerce sites can’t satisfy the:

– I need something for a birthday party this weekend
– I plan to cook something this weekend
– I’m running low on diapers
– Christmas is almost here

crowds with cost-effective, reliable shipping, there are companies that do it on a daily basis and are winning a lot of loyalty through shipping that traditional marketing can’t touch.

When is the Right time to Start Marketing a Website?

As soon as a website launches, the new owners start to ask, “Is anyone looking at it?” and “What can I do to get more traffic?” Psychologically, it’s time to make the change from building to marketing.

Or is it?

More likely, it’s time to switch from building a site to building out a site. You probably have a good design but little content on your site on the day of launch, so it may not be the best time to introduce a ton of visitors.

Also, your site most likely hasn’t been tested against real-world users, so there may be things that were overlooked in the design phase that you’d prefer to address before a ton of people visit.

In some cases, sites could start rolling out marketing efforts in stages as certain personas are handled well, or certain types of pages reach acceptible quality standards. For example, an online retailer could start testing pay per click ads for products as the pages reach a certain quality standard (assuming the checkout functionality is also ready for prime time).

For PR and other link building efforts, make sure you have an easy to understand, professional, offering that seems link-worthy. Clearly, day-1 after launch may not be the time when that standard is hit.

Web Marketing Tip: Try Being Human

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to write an online bio . . . try being human.

If you’re trying to decide whether it’s a good idea to swap links with a casino site that’s completely unrelated to your business . . .

If customers need to be able to find your address in order to visit your store or restaurant . . .

If you don’t need a prospective customer’s fax number, home phone number or blood type in order to start a relationship . . .

If you’d find it rude if someone walked into your cube and start playing music for no good reason . . .

If you think making your logo spin will convince people to do business with you . . .

. . . try being human.

Is Keyword Conversion Rate a Worthy Statistic?

Rohit Bhargava list of most overused web metrics for 2007 includes one that doesn’t seem appropriate for the list: Keyword Conversion Rate:

The Top 10 Most Overused Metrics of 2007 – Part I

Keyword Conversion Rate – When running search marketing, keyword conversion rates are great metrics to point to … particularly when the percentage conversion is high (10% or more). The problem is, these rates are usually on low volume niche search terms. It is a misleading metric that some marketers love to employ to inflate the success of a keyword marketing program.

While it’s certainly true that a marketer could use the success of low search volume terms with high conversion rates to mislead about the success of an online marketing campaign, the fact of the matter is that long-tail search terms do tend to convert at very high rates.

And this isn’t something that should be ignored. Ideally, trends should be mined out of this data. For example, if a company like Amazon wasn’t consistently including SKUs on their product description pages, they may pick up on the fact that very low search terms for long numbers are converting extremely well on their site. With a bit more digging, they may realize that SKUs are driving high conversion rate traffic (which would make sense since someone’s likely pretty close to buying if they’re searching for something that specific).

A smart company would learn from that and immediately build upon that success by making sure to include SKUs on all product description pages, leading to an increase in a small amount of extremely valuable (yet free) traffic to thousands and thousands of pages.

When I hear “low volume niche search terms” I hear “high conversion rate, easy to rank high for, or cheap to PPC advertise on terms.”

Rohit, you stick to the high volume, general, short tail terms that tend to convert poorly. I’ll cover everything else. 🙂

Marketing Online Without Advertising

Anne Zelenka over at Web Worker Daily raises some interesting points about how the web would change if everyone installed ad blocking software in their browsers. Here analysis looks at how this would effect content publishers and consumers of published content:

Ad Blocking: A Market or a Moral Issue?

On the other hand, if so many people find ads annoying rather than helpful, maybe we won’t be worse off with less advertising and different online business models. More direct payment mechanisms like subscription fees or per-article micropayments might become common. And those who make their work freely available anyway on the theory that attention is a form of currency will continue to make it freely available.

She raises some great points. If publishers couldn’t rely on advertising to pay the bills, surely things like subscriptions would grow. And an increase in pay per post advertising would probably happen too.

But let’s take a look at a different angle here. What about companies who aren’t in the online media business? What if your company uses the web to advertise a service or product where the transactions really happen offline? If ad blocking gained a ton of traction, would you be able to get your message in front of prospective customers?

I imagine this comes down to how dependent your business in on online advertising. But the point here is to take a step back and figure out how you can become less dependent on online ads to drive traffic to your website where you can share your message with prospects.

How would you do it? Here are a few ideas to get things started:

1. Create remarkable products or services. People will share your company’s story on your behalf for free if you’ve delivered for them.

2. PR: Create stories around your product that make for interesting news. Bloggers and online news sites are always looking for something interesting to write about. Feed them interesting stuff to write about, but don’t waste their time with stories only a CEO could love.

3. SEO: Rank high for search terms prospective customers are typing into search engines.

What else would you include on this list?

Yahoo Search Marketing’s New Look – A Rough Transition

An analysis of Yahoo Search Marketing’s transition to 70 character character limits on ad descriptions.

Can you imagine an army general telling his troops during a battle that they’re changing course, but some will stay on the same course, and he may change his mind about the new course at any time? It’s inconsistent and doesn’t give the troops a vision they can rally behind. That’s the kind of message Yahoo Search Marketing sent today to their 100,000+ advertisers when they announced that they’re changing the display of their ads.

Yahoo has announced plans to shorten the number of characters they display on pay per click ads within search results. Is this because shorter is better? That’s not entirely clear.

From today’s Yahoo Search Marketing’s newsletter to advertisers:

A new look is coming to the Yahoo! search results pages that will translate into more clicks for your listings. On January 18th, Yahoo! will debut a streamlined design that will make the search results displayed on Yahoo! even easier for consumers to read. Our research has shown that by improving the search experience in this way, advertisers can generally expect to see an increase in clicks, while maintaining their conversion rates.


Great opening, but things get muddy in the details:

  1. Yahoo states that their syndication partners plan to continue displaying full ad descriptions. If shorter descriptions receive more clicks, thus revenue, why would their syndication partners stick with the status quo?
  2. Should advertisers now write 70 character descriptions, followed by bonus copy for Yahoo’s partner sites?
  3. Transitioning thousands of ads to the new 70 character limit could be a tedious task for advertisers. Should they let Yahoo crop their current ads or spend the time rewriting their ads?
  4. Complicating things further, Yahoo states that they will, “fine tune the exact character count that we believe works best for advertisers and search users.” How is an advertiser supposed to write creatives for a moving target?


Takeaways:

I think Yahoo Search Marketing is moving in the right direction, but the transition announcement lacked the leadership and decisiveness I’d expect from a company of Yahoo’s stature. Yahoo’s advertisers are their troops, and are looking for direction on how they – in partnership with Yahoo – can reap the best return on their ad spend. Tell them what works. They’ll do it.

Questions:

Is Yahoo Search Marketing really doing this to make their system compatible with Google Adwords? As more advertisers use the Google Adwords API to manage their campaigns, wouldn’t it make sense for Yahoo to make it as easy as possible for advertisers to push the same ad copy to both ad networks? Does Yahoo consider accommodating Google AdWords advertisers a winning business strategy?

What do you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Google Local Search is Broken, and It’s Not Their Fault

Takes a look at local searches on Google, and why the quality of results is sorely lacking.

I have found myself becoming increasingly underwhelmed with the quality of search results I encounter while running searches for local businesses and services on Google. For example, try running a search for [Minneapolis plumber] or [Minneapolis electrician] to get a feel for what I’m seeing. When I run searches like this, I’m expecting to find results from local businesses. However, I tend to encounter a search results page dominated by national lead aggregation services who provide little to no information about the local services I’m trying to research.

In my perfect search world, searches like this would bring back links to actual local businesses who will explain their services on their own web sites so I can decide who’s an appropriate fit for me.

I don’t want to see yellow page results at the top of the rankings that provide nothing more than a list of phone numbers. If that’s what I wanted, I’d just grab a YP book, or go directly to a YP site.

I’m not looking for leads aggregator sites like respond.com, servicemagic.com, or findaplumber.com that simply want to sell my name to the highest bidder rather than letting me select the business that’s the best fit for my needs

I don’t want to link to the homepage of national chain companies, only to be asked for my zip code after clicking from a geo-qualified search result.

Should Google be blamed for poor local search?

I’m been giving this some thought, and I think the answer is no. In my opinion, the biggest reason we see poor local results is the poor job local businesses have done marketing themselves online. Because of this, national companies who understand the web – but don’t necessarily know a thing about plumbing or electricity – are becoming gatekeepers for online leads. I’m convinced that Google would love to show more interesting results for local search than they tend to do today, but it’s up to local businesses to provide quality relevant content, and take at least some basic steps needed to make sure their sites can be found.

What do you think?

Are local businesses missing the boat? How satisfied are you with local search results on Google today? Why do you think more local businesses haven’t realized the value of web marketing?

Cyber Monday One Week Later

A look at Cyber Monday a week after the fact.

A week ago, I wrote a post called, “Does Cyber Monday Exist?” where I said revenue for an online retailer I’m familiar with does, “as much as 2-3 times more revenue per day over the 2-3 weeks following Cyber Monday.” What’s happen?

Here’s a graph of daily online revenue from November 1st through Monday, December 5th:


Monday over Cyber Monday results: 25% increase in online sales. Not 2-3 times Cyber Monday, but significant enough to show that the Monday following Thanksgiving is not the peak of the online holiday shopping season.

What is the biggest concern online holiday shoppers have over the next two weeks? Will my order arrive on time?

Smart retailers find smart ways to address customer concerns. Amazon is one of the best at this. Here is a message currently running on their product pages:

Clicking on the holiday shipping link takes consumers to a table outlining what shipping options are appropriate for each day of the holiday shopping season:

And they reinforce their delivery promise during checkout by displaying the following message:

 

Amazon has done a great job addressing their customer’s main concern both when customers are considering adding a product to their cart and at checkout.

What concerns do your web site users have when using your site?

  1. Are they afraid you’re going to spam them?
  2. Do you address their shipping concerns?
  3. Do they understand your products?

The more concerns you can identify and address, the higher your conversion rate (percentage of visitors who “convert” to a sale/lead/subscription, etc.) will go.

Takeaways:

  • Cyber Monday isn’t the Monday following Thanksgiving.
  • Increase transactions by addressing your customer’s concerns throughout your site’s work flow.

Have you made any changes to your web site that have helped increase transactions? If so, please share an example in the comments field below.

Does Cyber Monday Exist?

Cyber Monday refers to the first Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend in the United States. This is supposedly the biggest online shopping day of the year. But is it?
Here’s a graph of an online retailer’s 2005 daily revenue through yesterday’s ‘Cyber Monday’:

Wow! That’s one heck of a spike! So Cyber Monday really exists?
That graph doesn’t tell the whole story: It turns out that this particular retailer historically has done as much as 2-3 times more revenue per day over the 2-3 weeks following Cyber Monday.
BusinessWeek breaks it down in an online column today, called Cyber Monday, Marketing Myth:

Contrary to what the recent blitz of media coverage implies, Cyber Monday isn’t nearly the biggest online shopping or spending day of the year. It ranks only as the 12th-biggest day historically, according to market researcher comScore Networks. It’s not even the first big day of the season.
For most online retailers, the bigger spending day of the season to date was way back on Nov. 22, three days before Black Friday. What’s more, most e-tailers say the season’s top spending day comes much later, between around Dec. 5 and Dec. 15.

Why the December 5th to the 15th?
1. We procrastinate,
2. But we realize online orders have to be shipped.
What can you do to take some stress out of your online holiday shopping?
1. Make sure you’re ordering products that are in stock.
2. Choose expedited shipping
3. Work with retailers who provide shipping tracking numbers, so you can pick up on any shipping snafus.
4. Work with credible retailers. Merchant ratings on sites like Shopping.com could help you determine who’s credible in addition to the major online retailers.
5. Don’t procrastinate.

Amazon.com’s Product Wiki: Customers Rule

Amazon.com has long been a leader in customer participation among retail web sites. If you haven’t been to Amazon in a while, take a quick look at the page for Freakonomics to get a feel for what Amazon is doing now.
Product pages include tons of user contributed information, including:
Customer Reviews
Customer Ratings
Ratings of Customer reviews
Customers who bought this also bought ______
Customers who views this also viewed ______
Listmania (customer generated lists of items that include this item)
And now they have new features, including tagging:
Customers tagged this item with ______
Customers who tagged this item are ______
And now the ProductWiki ( Customer-editable product information).
What the heck is a product Wiki?

Wikis are collections of information that are editable by all. For example, maybe you know something about the book Freakonomics that isn’t already mentioned on Amazon. Now you can share that knowledge with all future visitors to that page of Amazon’s site with a couple clicks. The wiki evolves over time as people add their two cents, ideally improving the content.
Why is Amazon getting into Wikis?

Amazon is in the business of selling products. A lot of products. Their expertise is in managing inventories and making good use of customer data. They do not know, or pretend to know, anything about the individual products they carry on their web site. That expertise comes from a combination of customer behavior (people who bought this also bought ___) and user contributed data in the form of reviews, ratings, and now Wikis.
How does Amazon benefit from this?

Anything that increases the odds of an Amazon customer having a good buying experience is a good thing. What are the odds that you’ll find a given book you buy on Amazon memorable? Those odds go up as Amazon provides more guidance through aggregated consumer behavior, and now wikis. Descriptive product content coming from genuine experts (people who’ve read the books, used the kitchen gadgets, bought the plasma TV) increases consumer confidence, increases the odds that Amazon will have a satisfied customer, thus increases Amazon.com’s bottom line.
What do you think? Will Amazon’s ProductWiki catch on? Do you think the success of Amazon’s wiki will correlate with future sales? Does Amazon already provide enough information for consumers without a Wiki?