Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free Shipping Offers Steady - Week of 12/13/2008

This week the number of companies offering unconditional free shipping held steady at 20% of our top 100 retailers. Overall the number of free shipping offers is down slightly from last week. See chart below (click chart to see bigger version).

We've seen a couple of switches back and forth this week amongst competitors.

Home Depot dropped a conditional free shipping at $149 offer, while competitor Lowes upped their offer from conditional at $49 to unconditional.

Likewise, last week Golfsmith offered free shipping at a $99 threshold, and now offers no shipping offers. But competitor Dick's Sporting Goods who had offered nothing last week now matches Golfsmith's offer from last week - a $99 threshold.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cyber Monday Best Practices - 2008 vs. 2007

Kent Allen from The Research Trust and I have put together an overview of some of the tools and tactics marketers used for Cyber Monday.

Check out the slide show for insights and visuals from 100 top internet retailers, with comparisons to 2007.

If you want to download as a PowerPoint click here then File > Download presentation as > PPT.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Site Down? Bring Them Back with Email

A lot of retail sites experienced problems with high volume on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

When a site puts up their "temporarily unavailable page" why not capture email? I think consumers would find it very convenient to get notified when you site is available. Sure everyone wishes it was never down in the first place, but at least don't make them keep checking if you're up. Tell them with email.

Of course if you do this, you'll want to be clear whether you are asking permission to notify them when the site is available, or to give them a lifetime subscription to your email. I think most consumers will expect the former.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Free Shipping Madness

Free shipping has taken hold at many of the top retailers.

In tracking the E-Tailing Group 100 index, the number of sites offering unconditional free shipping hit a seasonal high this week. Other categories of free shipping increased as well this week.

Some of the retailers who have only recently offered unconditional free shipping include:

Ann Taylor
Office Depot

Sephora Launches Customer Intelligence Test

This week Sephora's free shipping offers

1. Unconditional Free Shipping if you type a promo code (on the left of their home page)

2. Free Shipping if you spend over $50, no promo code required (on the right hand side)

I can just imagine the discussions that led to this strategy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyber Monday & Black Friday Roundup

I haven't had much time to analyze the activity this weekend, but here are some snapshots for you all.

The following slide shows show the home pages for the E-Tailing Group's 100 Index.

Note: If you read this in a feed reader or FeedBurner email, you may not see the presentations below, and will need to go the the live site.

CyberMonday 2008

PowerPoint Download - or GoogleDocs below.

CyberMonday 2008

The Picasa Album below has several hundred more sites. (Click on the image to go to the full album.)


CyberMonday - Compare 2008 to 2007

PowerPoint Download - or GoogleDocs below.

Black Friday 2008

PowerPoint Download - or GoogleDocs below.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Free Shipping Index - 11/22/08

The number of free shipping offers this past week have increased quite a bit with 46% offering free shipping (either unconditional or tied only to what you spend).

I've also looked at comparing department stores to the prior year, and found that there is less free shipping this year (see end of this post).

The threshold spend for free shipping has decreased from last week (see chart below).

Some of the changes for this week (11/22 compared to 11/15):

New Free Shipping Offers This Week with conditions (most have $ threshold)
Armani Exchange - $100
J.C. Penney's $49
Macy's $99
Best Buy - $99
Bed Bath & Beyond - $100 $99
American Girl - unconditional
FAO Schwartz $120
Cabela's $99

Retailers with More Generous Free Shipping Offers
The Avenue - $100 to $75
Sony Style - $100 to unconditional
Staples was $50 now unconditional

Retailers with More Stingy Free Shipping Offers
Ann Taylor was $150 threshold to flat fee shipping $6
J. Crew was $150 threshold to none
PetSmart was threshold $75 now flat fee shipping $6

Several sites are using expedited delivery as a shipping promotion.
Harry & David - free express delivery Thanksgiving
Godiva - 2 day upgrade if over $60

Comparison to Prior Year

Comparing free shipping promotions of the top department stores from prior year, most have less generous free shipping offers than last year. (Note: the year ago period is Thanksgiving weekend, so that could skew results.)

The table below shows that except for Macy's, the department stores have more restrictive promotions this year than last year. (The numbers are threshold spend amounts to get free shipping.)

MERCHANTS | Yr-to-Yr | 11/22/2008 | 11/1/2008 | 11/24/2007
Saksfifthavenue | Poorer 200 150 unconditional
Nordstrom | Same 100 200 100
Neiman Marcus | Poorer 200 None unconditional
Macy's | Richer 99 None Product conditional | Poorer 49 69 25

These sites and several others are visually compared year-over-year in the presentation below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Shipping Index - 11/15/08 Roundup

Overall the number of free shipping offers this past week have leveled off and the value of the free shipping promotions has decreased compared to last week.

The number retailers offering unconditional free shipping dropped from 7 to 4 and a the threshold spend for free shipping has increased over prior weeks (see chart below).

Some of the changes for this week (11/15 compared to 11/8):

New Free Shipping Offers
The Avenue $100 threshold
Ann Taylor $150 threshold
J Crew $150 threshold

Retailers with More Generous Free Shipping Offers
Nordstrom dropped threshold from $200 to $100
Polo kept $195 threshold but for smaller orders reduced flat rate from $10 to $5
Saks dropped threshold from $400 to $200
Fossil had $100 threshold and now is unconditional. (But still hidden at the bottom.)
Dicks was product conditional on limited products now $99 price conditional

Retailers with More Stingy Free Shipping Offers
Neiman Marcus - was unconditional, now $200 threshold
PBS was $60 threshold, now none
Nine West was unconditional to now $25 threshold
Bath & Body - from $50 threshold to $5.95 flat fee
FAO Schwartz was $120 threshold, now none
J.C. Penney was $69 threshold now none (but started a sale)
Tiffany was unconditional, now $150 threshold
Cabellas was $125 threshold, now none

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Expect "Free Shipping" Searches to Double in the Next Two Weeks

If last year is any indication, expect consumer searches on "free shipping" to nearly double in the next two weeks.

Looking at Google's trend data, you can see the clear spikes in consumers searches for free shipping every holiday.

If you overlay the data to compare year-over-year, you can see that this year is on track to beat last year's trends.

Last year the top five weeks for the year were

Nov 18 2007 2.38
Nov 25 2007 2.68
Dec 2 2007 2.68
Dec 9 2007 2.60
Dec 16 2007 2.04

These numbers were up 70% over the early November numbers.

Don't wait for the media to report on it though. If you look at last year, the news reference volume clearly lagged the consumer searches.

Free Shipping - Save This Email

Chad White at the EEC covered an interesting promotion approach to free shipping. Orvis and others are asking subscribers to "save this email" so that they can clickthrough it later and repeatedly. The offer still expires on November 30th, but isn't available on their home page. It's a "members only" benefit of being in the email program.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Retailers Offering Free Shipping Promotions

Retailers Offering Free Shipping Promotions Jumps from 31% to 41% in Two Weeks.

In a recent comScore study, 72% of consumers said that if an e-commerce site eliminated free shipping, they would use another e-commerce site that did offer free shipping. Last week the LA Times reported that this year, nearly 80% of consumers said they were more likely to shop online with a retailer that offers free shipping, compared with 60% who said that last year.

In the last two weeks a lot more retailers are jumping on the free shipping band wagon. This week 7 of the top 100 retail sites offered unconditional free shipping up from just 4 retailers two weeks ago. 34% offered free shipping if you spent a certain amount, up from 27% two weeks ago.

Still, there is a lot of change in free shipping week-to-week.

Compared to the prior week, many retailers raised their free shipping thresholds.

Best Buy eliminated free shipping this week (last week they had a $199 threshold.)
Bliss eliminated their free shipping over $75 offer.
H2O raised from $50 to $100.
GNC went from unconditional free shipping to a $50 spend threshold.

Meanwhile Sears introduced free shipping if you spend $99.

Overall the spending thresholds for free shipping with a spend condition looked like this:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Free Shipping Index - A weekly review of the top 100 retailers shipping promotions

Retailers know that free shipping is one of the most effective ways to entice shoppers to buy during the crucial Christmas season.

This year online retailers are paying more to ship goods to consumers, and many shoppers want to pay little or nothing for shipping.’s 2008 Holiday Strategy & Planning Guide reports that according to consumers the top two promotions that made them shop in 2007 were free shipping offers:

#1 response “Free Standard Shipping without Conditions” 33%
#2 “Free Standard Shipping with Conditions” 28%

In the same study, the retailers response to what promotions were most likely to drive a purchase was again, free shipping

#1 response “Free Standard Shipping with Conditions” 36%
#2 “Free Standard Shipping without Conditions” 25%

This year may be the most competitive holiday season yet.

In order to help you navigate the choppy waters, we’ll be offering a few free tools to help you keep on top of competitors. The first is the “free shipping index”.

We partnered with the e-tailing group to track their e-tailing 100 sites. Each week we'll look at this representative sample of internet retailers for trends in shipping promotions as they happen.

This week only 6 merchants offered unconditional free shipping (i.e., free shipping with no basket threshold or product restrictions) while 27 offered free shipping if you spent above a certain threshold.

This was largely unchanged from the prior week when 4 merchants offered unconditional free shipping.

Three retailers introduced free shipping this week (Nine West, GNC and Road Runner Sports) while one dropped their free shipping promotion (Tiffany). Three that continued to offer free shipping were Zappos, Blue Nile and Famous Footwear.

In addition, 3 merchants reduced their thresholds for free shipping week-over-week.

Best Buy went the other direction, raising it's threshold from $99 to $199 while Circuit City kept their threshold at $24.

Several are experimenting with ~$1 shipping. Overstock offers $1 shipping on all products, while Walmart offers 97 cent shipping on apparel & toys.

Finally, if you are going to offer free shipping this season - don't hide it. Don't do like Fossil and hide it in gray text below the fold.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Black Friday & Cyber Monday - GET READY

The Thanksgiving weekend is less than four weeks away. There are many things you can do to drive increased revenue this holiday season. To see what your competitors did last year see the slide shows at the end of this post.

Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally very promotional - especially on Cyber Monday. Almost all retailers email on Cyber Monday, and most offer a promotion. If you aren’t promotional, you may want to mail on a different day so that you stand out from the crowd. Without an offer on Cyber Monday, your email will get lost. Last year 32% of retailers offered free shipping on all orders for Cyber Monday – in addition to other promotions (according to’s 2008 Holiday Strategy & Planning Guide .)

Use your home page and email to give customers information about offline Thanksgiving weekend shopping in your stores. Even if your online group doesn’t “get credit” for those sales, your customers expect that your website is an information source for ALL channels. Many consumers last year prepared for offline Thanksgiving weekend shopping by first consulting information online. Newspapers and catalogs are still important, but the shift online continues. According to 75% of consumers surveyed consulted the retailer’s Web site to research products and special offers before heading out to shop offline on Black Friday and 61% also consulted emails that they received from retailers for this purpose. Last year retailers missed the boat on their home page promotions to drive offline shopping - 43% sent emails with offline shopping information, but only 20% included messaging on their home page about offline offers and other related information. (See also the home page archive at the bottom of this post.) Get it right this year. Create a dedicated email and home page to specifically feature information for shoppers planning to buy offline – not just the promotions but also critical offline features like store pick up options, store locators, maps, directions and store hours. Try to find the store locator on many websites. It’s nearly impossible. Put a big button for store locators on your Thanksgiving Day site.

Give customers a good reason to shop online while brick and mortar stores are closed on Thanksgiving day.

Want to see what your competitors did last year? Check out these two albums with over 100 of the top internet retailers’ home pages for 2007 Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Black Friday

Black Friday 2007 - Full Album on Picasa

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday 2007 - Full Album on Picasa

Friday, October 17, 2008

Competitor Analysis - Demo Video

I wanted to let you know about a product I built two years ago and am re-launching this holiday. This product, DragonVista, powers the many screenshots on this blog.

The product enables marketers like you to stay on top of their competitors changing promotion and merchandising strategies.

For most marketers the holidays are your busiest time of the year.

It’s hard to keep up with competitors’ websites for changing promotions and merchandise. But, can you afford not to?

It’s hard to stay disciplined about surfing your competitors sites when you have so much else going on. Our application does it for you. For $11 per week we will track your competitors’ home pages and provide you with a weekly summary (sample).

In addition, you get access to our online archive dating back to Fall 2006. Check out our two-minute demo video. (Click on this link for a better resolution video than the Blogger video below.)

At only $99 for the nine week holiday period, if we help you save one sale each week, our tool has paid for itself. We are so confident that you’ll find value, we offer a 7-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back-to-School Specials

The Back-to-School season is in full swing. My daughter starts school next Monday, and this week's Sunday paper was littered with FSIs promoting back to school.

It's striking how different the paper design of an FSI is compared to a web site. I always new this (web vs. catalog for all retailers), but the images are even more contrasted in the office supply space. Staples website looks like a dictionary compared to their jump-out-at-you circular. looks like an indexed binder. I'm sure these sites serve them well, but I expect that the coming years will change how we can interact with sites with an enormous amount of SKUs.

Office Depot's idea of back to school was free pizza.

Wal-Mart added College 08 ad. Target added a text ad on the left navigation and a college tab to their top navigation. The Target FSI focused on college dorm furnishing.

Amazon was another focused a variety of college oriented themes. JC Penney addressed both college (dorm life) and apparel for school. They also have a very interesting video advergame.

The visuals follow. (You can click on any image to see full screen.)

Stores Magazine President's column focused on back-to-school this month.


Advertisement: Free Holiday Snapshot for Retailers
My company is offering a free Holiday Snapshot for qualified retailers. See


OfficeMax FSI

OfficeMax Website

Staples FSI

Staples Website

OfficeDepot Website

Target FSI

Target Website

Wal-Mart Website

Amazon Website

JCPenney Website

JCPenny Advergame Splash Page

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review Your Competitors 2007 Holiday Strategies

I've been on summer holiday, and haven't posted for quite a while. As the holiday season ramps up, I plan to get back to posting every week or so.

For those of you who are interested, I'm making available a piece of our website archive that supports this blog.

As the holiday season approaches, I imagine you have a lot of planning activities going on. An important foundation to this planning is competitive analysis. I believe I can help enhance your planning by giving you insight into your competitors’ web sites from last year’s holiday season.

As part of my software company, DragonVista, I have a compiled an archive of the Top 500 Internet Retailer home pages for the past two years. My gift to you is a 2007 Holiday Snapshot for one of your competitors. Click on Macys-Holiday-Snapshot-2007 for a sample. If you are interested, simply let me know the name of the website you would like to see. If it is in the archive, I will send you a Holiday Snapshot for free.

A review of your competitor's website from Holiday 2007 can provide

- insight into promotion strategies (e.g., when did they start to offer free shipping, and at what threshold?)
- information on their changing merchandising
- inspiration for new ideas of your own

If you are interested in your custom snapshot, just write to me via the "Suggest a Topic" box on the right. Please include the URL of the site you are interested in and your email address so I can send the Snapshot to you.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

One Week Until Mother's Day - Websites from 05/03/08

Macy's & J.C. Penney have prominent Mother's Day sale events. (Screenshot below.)

Another 27 sites are quickly viewable in the Picasa album below or on flickr. Everything from ShopBop "haute mama" celebrity mom inspired theme to sweets and flowers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unsubscribe: You want to break up with me, you HAVE to tell me why

I often advise people to create a dialog as part of the unsubscribe process. Typically, the topics are
1. Frequency Reduction. Ask people if they really want to leave, or if they just want less mail.
2. Survey. Ask them why they are leaving, so that you can get better.

ProFlowers (not someone I've worked with) got it all wrong in my opinion.

I clicked the unsubscribe link. They presented a survey. I was busy, so I didn't feel like answering and just wanted to unsubscribe. But they wouldn't let me. It was early in the morning, and so it took me a while to figure out that unless I answered one of their questions I could never get off their list. It annoyed me and I'm sure it annoys others.

It would be interesting to have a legal perspective on whether this meets the letter of the law and the spirit of the law for CAN-SPAM.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Phone Dead? Send an Email.

I recently canceled one of my phones, and GoDaddy tried to reach me. When they couldn't they sent me an email.

I thought this was simple, clever way to get channels to work together. For how simple it was, I'm surprised I haven't seen more people do it.

A member of our Outbound Support Team recently called to thank you for doing business with, Inc. and to either advise you of an opportunity to save money on products you already have in your account, or because you have a product that is expiring soon. Unfortunately, the phone number we called appears to be incorrect.

For a related tactic, see my earlier post on pop-ups for dead emails.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

AA goes mobile, Hilton caters to groups

A couple interesting events in the travel industry this week.

AA Goes Mobile
American Airlines sent an email on Wednesday announcing their new mobile capabilities.

Hilton Caters To Groups
Hilton launched a website where groups can plan travel.

You can view a demo of what they are calling the Personalized Group Web Page. Click Here for Demo.

Hilton let's you choose from three templates (Business, Wedding, leisure) then allows for some further customization through banners, fonts, and personal photos. One clunky feature is the need to put HTML style tags [bold] to modify fonts. But they will also create the page for you if you don't want to use the Internet to do it yourself.

For a company as big as Hilton, I would expect the demo would include audio.

Overall, a good idea, and something I suspect more will do. Look for others to raise the bar in their execution of the idea. Better tools for greater control and creativity of the website, and integration with email for functionality beyond Evite.

Modern Agent has a brief review of the features of the website.

Hilton Personalized Group Web Page FAQ

BusinessWeek Article

Sunday, March 9, 2008

1397 Retail Websites from March 8, 2008

If you feel like looking at what other retailers are doing right now, check out my flickr album

Click Here for Thumbnail Overview


Click Here for Slide Show

The set has 1397 websites from March 8, 2008.

If you view as a flickr slideshow, put it on "fast". It takes about 3 seconds per website, so this many sites takes about an hour. So hop on your treadmill, pull out your wireless laptop and go.

Or if you want to check for a specific couple of sites, just type it in the search box. For example, if you type "bloomingdales" you'll see the site from March 8th as well as February 9th. I may add more sites over time to develop a comprehensive free archive.

Let me know what you think and what you are interested in. Leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Urban Outfitters on Flickr - Customers in Control

Urban Outfitters is an innovator in using web 2.0 concepts with their brand. YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Blogs. But they take even more "risk" than just the technical. Flickr is a great example.

It's not just about photo sharing. They let the customers take control. Explore their flickr photo pool and you'll see their clothes right alongside their competitors. On real people. Just like us. We don't just wear one brand. How about that?

Home Page Promoting Flickr

Blog Post Directing Customers to Flickr

Flickr Photo Pool
The cool thing is that as you scroll through the pool, you'll find photos with tags and notes that include other brands like Levi's and American Apparel. It takes confidence to let your customers show how your goods compliment what other companies produce. That consumers can love your brand without being monogamous.

USAA Phishing Warning

I usually stick to a retail theme, but I thought this was a particularly good example of a business being proactive. I also think that phishing will matter more to retailers in the future.

Upon logging into USAA, there was a prominent headline announcing a phishing scam targeting USAA members. The link took me to the page below.

1. There are lots of businesses targeted by phishing, and most aren't as forward about telling their customers about the risks.

2. Retail phishing scams aren't that prevalent now, but may be in the future as banks become harder targets and the crooks move onto easier prey.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sharper Image - The Past Year on the Web

Sharper ditched it's CEO after one year in the post. What did he do for their web presence while he was there?

Check out our visual history. The link below will take you to a flickr for Sharper Image home page screenshots - one each week from February 2007 through February 2008.

Click for Flickr Set - Thumbnails

Click for Flickr Set - SlideShow
(If you click on an image in the slide show, it will show you the date of the home page.)

Sharper Image New CEO Is Turnaround Specialist
WSJ 02/15/2008

Sharper Image Corp. hired turnaround specialist Robert Conway to succeed Chief Executive Steven Lightman, hinting it may restructure.

Mr. Lightman, a direct-marketing veteran, held the job less than a year. Sharper Image gave no reason for Mr. Lightman's departure. Reached by phone, Mr. Lightman, 51 years old, said he wasn't in a "position or mood" ...

WSJ Full Article - Subscription Required

AP Story
Troubled Sharper Image Replaces CEO

Friday, February 15, 2008

AA: What were they thinking?

Black text on a blue background? Made me feel like I was in my 90's. I couldn't read a thing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do You YouTube? Most Retailers Say No.

I remember working on Victoria's Secret email program in the late nineties, and it was SUCH a big deal to get video done. Now individuals, and small companies can get in the mix. YouTube has made it easy. So now retailers CAN do video easily & at low cost, but most don't. Here are a couple of examples I've seen lately.

I looked at about 1000 sites (the week of 1/26), and came up with only two sites where YouTube was a visible part of their home page. The sites were:

1-800-Flowers with their "Greatest Love Story" contest and

Urban Outfitters who has used YouTube for several weeks in different capacities.

Most of the DRTV sites use some type of streaming video as part of their user experience. For example see:

Jewelry TV




YouTube in Emails

Shari's Berries used a YouTube video as the prominent feature of their 2/7/08 email. Subject line: "Watch the Video, New Gund Frog Sings My Girl, Save 20% ".

Email (click to enlarge screenshot)

Landing Page
(click to enlarge screenshot)

Here's a live link to the landing page if you want to watch the video.

If you are interested in using YouTube on your site, see also

STORES Magazine: Do YouTube?

YouTube for E-Tailers: Tips, Camcorder Reviews Blog - Look whos's marketing on YouTube!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Valentine's Shipping Deadlines - Tell Me!

If you look at a lot of the websites who cater to Valentine's shoppers (flowers, sweets, jewelry) - you'll see that most make no mention on their home page about shipping deadlines.

Here are a few that are trying.

Hickory Farms is the most clear - they include the date. (An obvious and necessary fact.)

See's, Mrs. Fields, and Harry & David do mention on the home page, but are not as clear about options.

Some of the bigger retailers did a better job in December. Check out my earlier blog posts

Make It Easy for Procrastinators


Emails Create Urgency with Shipping Deadlines

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Site Abandonment Triggered Emails

There is lots of talk among retail email marketers about cart abandonment emails, but what about site abandonment?

The biggest problem with cart abandonment is small volumes. Let's assume
- 10% of visitors put something in the cart
- 50% of carts convert (50% are abandoned)
- 50% of the site visitors can be identified to have an email address

In this case site abandonment emails will target 18 times as many people as cart abandonment.

The Math
Your cart abandonment email will address only 2.5% of all site visitors. It will convert well, but it's impact on overall revenue will be small. (10% * 50% * 50%)

Consider a site abandonment email. If you sent an email to everyone you could address that didn't convert or put something in the cart (this assumes you have both a cart abandonment and site abandonment email), then your site abandonment email would target 45% of site visitors. (90% * 50%).

An Example - ProFlowers

The travel industry has been doing site abandonment (travel search abandonment) emails for years. I helped create one of the first search abandonment emails back in 2003 with Hotwire, which was recognized by both Jupiter Research and the NCDM for it's innovation.

Isn't it time more retailers evaluated site abandonment email's usefulness?