Are you a race horse or a rocking horse?

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
—Alfred A. Montapert

Lately, I’ve read far too many #measure reports (I really should set up an analytics firm that understands the difference between theory and practice) and seen far too many project lists (the perfect cure for insomnia) that are packed with a whole lot of nothing.

I’ve already written about How To Axe 90% of Your Project list so today I thought I’d share a list of some of the things that you might find worth concentrating on for the Fall.

INSTIGATED CHAT:   Late summer/early fall is a great time to test the waters of instigated chat if you don’t already have it.  Start with your shopping cart and/or lead forms and then move on to search results and top exit pages.  It may take a while for you to get live chat down pat so keep playing with it till you get it to work.  It WILL work but if often takes time to perfect your secret formula.  You should give chat at least 9 months before you even start reviewing the results.  (Tip: The best phone reps often suck at chat.  Chat is a different beast and a lot of your success will depend on whether or not your folks can sell/solve via what it basically text messaging.)

REVIEWS:  If you don’t have a review program, now is the perfect time to get one.  There are a lot of companies (from PowerReviews to BazaarVoice) that handle reviews well.  Remember, if you are going to commit to a review program, you need to work it.  Develop solicitation emails and tools on your site (midis and catfishes on return after a purchase work really well) to get your users to rate and review their purchases.   Want to get the biggest bang from your buck out of your user reviews?  Organize them by importance.  A lot of companies organize their reviews by date.  It’s unfortunate.   Reviews typically work a lot better when they’re prioritized by significance.   What’s a good formula?  One fantastic (i.e. 5 stars review) and one not-so-great (i.e., 1 star review) at the top.    On another note, don’t delete or hide negative reviews but do respond to them.  (This is something that a lot of companies forget — if it’s your site, you can – and should – respond to as many reviews as is appropriate.)

THRUST EMAILS:  Deliverability is going to be a big issue this Fall.  (Read: more problematic than ever for a lot of companies.)  So, it’s now more important than ever to seed your list.  Set up 6-10 boxes each at Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and anywhere else you can.   Open half the seed emails and leave the other half unopened/unclicked.  It will give you a good indication as to where your emails are being delivered – inbox, SPAM folder, or the trash.  As an aside, do this in-house, don’t just rely on your provider to do it for you.  (Yes, you can also get a service to do this for you – I am not opposed to using a service but I’ve found that if people do it themselves they actually monitor and manage it.  If it’s just another report?  Not. So. Much.) 

Test pop-ups to capture email addresses.  The Golf Warehouse ( often uses a sweepstakes, Birkenstock Central ( gives away a free gift (socks, for example.) You can test an offer, a sweepstakes, a Deal of the Day, or even just uber-compelling creative.    Pop-ups will work.  If they don’t, it’s likely because your bias against them is keeping you from developing killer creative!

Be sure your phone reps are collecting email addresses (to the tune of 85% at a minimum) as well as mobile text numbers.  Yes, you really should try to obtain mobile numbers even if you don’t know how to use them right now.   It’s also a great time to train your customer service reps on upsell items that your web customers are most likely to buy.

TRIGGER EMAILS:  Triggers should be the MOST successful program in your arsenal.   Don’t have a trigger program? Start with order confirmations and abandoned cart emails.

An abandoned cart program is made up of a series of emails (not just one but a series of 3-5 at least.)  Keep the emails simple (they shouldn’t look like your regular thrust emails); personalize them;  include the items that the user has abandoned; and make sure there are lots of clear action directives (i.e., RETURN TO CART NOW.)

With abandoned carts, you’ll also want to test some kind of pop-under on entrance (reminding the user they have something in their cart) and/or taking them right to the cart when they come back.  Additionally, you should consider internal remarketing banners and plugs (plugs are non-animated banners) and outbound telemarketing.

Your order confirmation program should also be made up of a series of emails.  If you are able to test your confirmations, test your standard “thank you email” versus an immediate thank you letter that allows the user to add anything to their order before it’s shipped – use this space to upsell anything the user should have bought but didn’t.  It may take you a while to figure out this formula – what the user will add to their order – but once you’ve discovered it, it often adds a whopping 15-30% to your average order value, depending on your order size.  You’ll also want to send out a shipping confirmation as well as a “you have your order, now’s the time to order more” and a “please rate and review your order” emails.  A lot of times, companies use generic, written-by-IT-type emails for order confirmations – order confirmations (and any other kind of thank you emails) are great opportunities to sell more stuff.  Use them wisely.

If you’ve mastered both order confirmations and abandoned carts, you should look at EBOPP’s (emails based on past purchases) and reactivation emails.  The holiday seasons is the ideal time to reactive old customers and old inquiries.  Again, these should be personalized triggers.

If you have time to do it now, you may also want to look at ECOA (email change of address), e-append (adds email addresses to your snail mail names), and reverse append (adds snail mail addresses to your email names.)  All of these programs will work as long as you stick to the best practices that your provider recommends.  (They really do know what works best in these type of situations.)

EXTERNAL REMARKETING BANNERS:  The holiday season is a great chance to test remarketing banners.   Your banner success will be largely dependent on your creative so test out a bunch of versions before you roll-out your program.   If you can, be sure to test a version  where you add the picture of the last item the user abandoned to the banner – RBI’s (remarketing banners with items) are typically the most successful by A LOT.

OUTBOUND TELEMARKETING:  Have a lot of abandoned carts?   Test calling the carts with the highest average orders that have been abandoned.  You only need to test a few of these to know if this program will work for you.  (Hint: Chances are it will work like gangbusters.)

MERCHANDISING:  Promote in-stock messaging.  Availability is a big issue for a lot of folks, especially around the holidays.  Look at messaging that showcases your availability and delivery times near your pricing.  (For example: In Stock!  Ships Today!)  If you’re already an availability messaging whiz, test tickers.  Tickers are great because the rolling deadlines emphasize urgency and cause people to focus.  Need it tomorrow?  Order within the next 3 hours and 33 minutes and you’ll get it by noon! (Amazon does a great job at this.) 

Increase the size of your action directives. Keep in mind: the BIGGER the buttons the better and the more, the merrier.  Remember, you should ask for the order (or inquiry if you’re a lead generation business) in every view.   We design pages but users see views – there’s a VERY big difference. 

NAVIGATION AND INTERNAL NAVIGATION:  Internal search is one of the most difficult things to master.  Even with a fancy package, you can’t change the fact that users are often abysmal at finding what they want.   However, you can look at the top 100 searches you’ve had on your site this year and make sure those words (the words and phrases the users searched for) are better represented in your navigation

It’s important to remember that the order in which you present the results is critical to your success in search.  Take the 100 top searches and conduct them yourself, one-by-one.  Review each result.  It’s important that the item you most want to sell is first and the rest are in descending priority. 

Be sure to review your refinements as well.  Due to the onslaught of guided navigation, many companies have gotten really sloppy with their refinements – when someone chooses “sort by bestsellers” from your dropdown, they should get your top selling products and not a hodge podge of garbage.  Same with new – if someone is sorting by new and they get all your items from Fall of 2008, it diminishes your search credibility and makes your search look broken. (One of the top two reasons why users abandon searches.)  Again, if you take your top 50-100 searches, you’ll get a good indication of how you’re  measuring up in this area of your ecommerce business.

Take a quick look at your top navigational bar to make sure that the right items are emphasized.  If you are getting a lot of traffic in a particular area (clearance, sale, or overtock for example), consider making it stand out more – either as a bigger or different colored tab.

Navigation is one of the biggest determinants of your online success so you may also want to do a quick elimination of all the unnecessary/irrelevant items that have gotten added (especially to your top and left hand navigational bars) along the way.  We tend to muck up our top header with all sorts of customer service elements when we really want orders.  We tend to list everything and the kitchen sink in the left when only half of those links ever get clicked on.   Do a quick clean-up.

ANALYTICS:  For many, the holiday season is an extremely busy one both personally and professionally so make your life easier and develop some Read and React reporting.  This one-page report should include ONLY the essentials you need to run your ecommerce business.  The format should be an overview so you can look at it at-a-glance and then delve deeper into areas where you see problems.

Make sure to separate your iPad and tablet traffic from your smart and feature phone traffic.  iPads and other tablets make great shopping devices so you often see twice your regular conversion on them.  You don’t want those results to influence what might be happening on your other mobile results.   You may also want to consider adding a package like Bango to help you with your mobile data as it’s not always well interpreted by some of the other analytics providers.

MOBILE: Speaking of mobile, if nothing else, you should make sure your emails are mobile-friendly.  Less than ¼ of the emails sent out are and it’s a BIG issue for a lot of folks.  Do you need a mobile website or app for the Fall?  Depends on your business and the traffic you are getting from mobile.  With that said, if you are sending out a lot of email, you likely want to add at least a couple mobile jump pages.  And if you do PPC, you may want to test a mobile program.  (PPC keywords for mobile are still A LOT less expensive for the most part.)

Anything else on your list?  Please add it in the comments below.


  1. says

    There you go with the THRUST emails again, Amy. I tease b/c I love.

    As always, super-valuable content.

  2. says

    I say THRUST just for you DJ. Heh.*

    *Credit, but no money, for “heh” goes to @jasonfalls.

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