Friday, November 28, 2014

#blackfridayfail - eCommerce sites struggle under high volumes

So, Black Friday fever really looks to be kicking in, as a number of websites seem to either be having issues or are down entirely.


As of writing, the multi-channel catalogue-based retailer claims to be "experiencing a very high volume of visitors"

River Island
Apparently failing to cope with the pressure of the pre-Christmas bargain hunters, the fashion retailer seems to be having a few issues delivering a homepage.


Although this site is up right now, at certain points late last night the UK's biggest retailer was only able to display a waiting page

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What does Black Friday mean to the UK?

It seems to me that the use of 'Black Friday' as a retail promotional tool is now everywhere in the UK. From Glasgow to Manchester and Plymouth to London it seems to have sprung up from almost nowhere just few years ago into a few days of serious high street and online discounting.

But why is it especially this year that a lot of UK retailers have embraced an American holiday?

Here's a few suggestions:

1. The high street needs to stimulate sales
Following a mild autumn, a lot of people have not raced out to the shops in September and October to buy items such as a new Winter wardrobe (if you don't believe me, ask your peers if many have bought a big coat recently).Consequently year on year takings are down across a number of sectors, including clothing.
2. Autumn sales aren't a new thing
Discounting around this time isn't a new concept and many stores have been having 'mid-season sales' for decades. Yes, a lot of retailers have been dropping prices of specific products and ranges in mid-to-late November, it's just that...

3. Black Friday sounds cool
It's good to give something a catchy name and it seems that yes black is indeed the new black.  I suggest the fact that it refers to the day after the US commemorate a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621 is pretty irrelevant to the average Brit.

4. The UK is becoming more and more American-ized
As reflected in: the recent growth in Halloween over this side of the pond, the increase in Seattle style coffee shops that sell huge capacity cups of caffeine and the gradual use of "Tuxedo" (an American club that adopted the use of the black suit and tie) over the "Dinner Jacket".

5. The Internet is reducing cultural barriers
I first noticed the use of 'Black Friday' on about a decade ago, when just like today, I couldn't find anything interesting to buy on the site. The increasing use of global eCommere sites like Amazon, eBay and the like have created a boundary-less society that is only too happy to embrace different retailing concepts.

Which leads me to a slightly cynical further idea... Could it be that Black Friday is just another ploy adopted by savvy retailers across the globe to get rid stuff that would never have shifted at full price anyway?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What does Direct Traffic actually mean?

Website Analytics (e.g. Google Analytics) provide a lot of insight into digital user behaviour, including what keywords they are typing into search engines, what pages they are arriving on and the locations they are coming from.

However all too often I have seen visitors coming into a site as Direct Traffic pretty much ignored or understated as a source. For example if all other digital marketing sources come to 80% and analytics says Direct is 30%, I've heard clients say “Oh, let’s just make Direct 20% and show how good my paid for efforts are"… rather than looking at why a site is showing 110% inbound traffic.

But I think we all need to stop and reconsider this approach, take another look at direct sources of visitors and assess the value that they bring.

Although we tend to take this as "the visitors who type the URL direct into the browser" - this is not the full picture. It is also includes:
- bookmarked visits
- those campaigns that are incorrectly tagged
- those visits where the referrer data is not available (e.g. those coming from an https source, such as a secure site - which may even be your own site itself )

Note: There is even the suggestion on some forums that Google Images has been a source of direct traffic because it creates visits from links that are not traceable.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Stupid things said in October

Since it is the end of October (and a Friday),  I thought I'd let you all read some of the daft, incorrect and just plain wrong things I have heard people say this month:
  1. Our contact centre isn't 3D Secure right now
  2. Why are we building our site so blind people can read it?
  3. We need a business case written for something that won't happen.
  4. If I could go forward in time and see what I needed to do, then I would come back and tell myself not to do it. (Oh hang on, it was me that said that!)
  5. If you build it, they will come back again
  6. I know the figures haven't changed... But can you send me the latest version?
I can't wait for November....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Google Wallet or Apple Pay - the UK is waiting

I moved away from using Apple and the iTunes ecosystem a year & a half ago and I went back to Android. I thought the devices and flexibility offered by Google's open operating system and Play Store was a better choice than the locked down offering from Cupertino. 

The only thing the whole Google ecosystem was missing in the UK was a decent mobile payment solution. It's been a gap in the British eCommerce chain since the retirement of Google's Checkout product was announced 18 moths ago and Google Wallet was described as the successor.
But since then we have been teased and tantalised.

According to the Google Wallet website:
"Google Wallet is an easier way to pay in stores, pay your friends and pay online.
Shop in stores with all your loyalty, offers and gift cards in one place. Send money to friends and they can spend it instantly with the Google Wallet Card."
But I'm still waiting for Google's payment offering to extend beyond North America.

So, with the recent announcement of Apple Pay, I have to admit I felt a twinge of jealousy... 
as it looked like UK Apple users were going to get a mobile payment system before UK Google users. But it looks like this could be another year away, despite Steve Perry, Chief Digital Officer of Visa Europe, going on record as stating  "We are working closely with Apple and with other member banks to bring this new service to market in Europe."

In short.. neither payment service looks like they will step out out of their comfort zone (the USA) for some while... despite other services such as Zapp, Pingit (by Barclays), PayPal and others marching forward.

Or maybe that's both Apple & Google's strategy... To see which product or vendor looks like winning out in Europe and further afield... then to swoop down and buy them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

British consumers spend more online

According to respondents to The 2014 Parcel Deliveries Usage and Attitude Survey carried out by consumer delivery specialist Hermes, British consumers are now spending substantially more online than those in France and Germany.

Apparently twice as many Brits (27%) have shopped online in the last three months compared to the French (14%) and the Germans (10%).

This confidence in online retailing is also refelected in a greater proportion of each nation planning to use eCommerce channels next year than they did this year. With 42% of British consumers now planning to shop online over the next 10 months compared to 30% of French and 28% of Germans consumers.

One of the more facinating insights in the report is that us British customers are using mobile devices far more to buy items online... 23% compared to 9% and 11% for French and Germans respectively.

However, the most interesting fact from an International eCommerce perspective (something that I've been increasingly focusing on for my own consulting clients) is that home-grown sites are doing a Stirling (pun intended) job of attracting foreign custom, with over a third of German and French shoppers stating they have now bought from a UK online retailer... even beating American and Chinese sites to claim the top spot.

More information is available here:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

5 questions to ask your new SEO agency

So let's imagine you've recently hired a new search engine optimisation agency to improve your organic position in the popular search engines.

Before you actually engage with them, here are a few important questions you should ask:

1. Does the SEO agency understand my business?
Or again more specifically, do the people actually working on my account understand what my organisation does, its products or services and what it's unique proposition or selling point is?
There will almost certainly be some initial familiarisation with your offering or processes, but first check that this agency gets what you do and has a firm understanding of who your competitors are.
Note: The counter to this issue however is when you hire an SEO agency that knows your industry very well and already has a number of your competitors as clients in this market sector... are they really able to provide you with a unique and perhaps innovative approach to on-page and off-site optimisation?

2. How much of my monthly retainer is for actual work?
Or more specifically, how much of what you pay for is agency 'padding' in the form of 'Project Management', 'Account Management' or even worse... 'Administration & Reporting'?
(Note, most SEO tools these days have quite decent automated reporting functions. So sending out a regular report is just a case of configuring the reporting service once).
In one situation I saw last year, where my agency won the SEO business, The outgoing agency managed to fill over 60% of its monthly SEO retainer with non-specialist staff. Nice work if you can get it....

3. Who is actually doing the work?
It's a pretty good bet that you had a smart(ish) new business person put together the proposal that you accepted. Or if the agency is a smaller one, then it may well be the owner or other senior person that wrote the document that won them the work. But will this person be the one actually working on your account day-to-day or will it be a junior person they may not even have mentioned in their credentials? My guess is that in most SEO agencies it will be the latter that does the hard graft most of the time (not the 'Head of Search' or 'Head of SEM Services' you were promised)
Note: If it is someone you never get to speak to, then reconsider hiring them. And if it's 'someone in their [not this country] office' then get concerned quickly, really quick....

4. What tools & techniques do you use?
Some SEO agencies like to keep the tools and techniques they use a secret to their clients. I guess they feel it adds an air of mystery to the complex art of search engine optimisation. As far as tools go, there are a few good ones out there that the majority of agencies use for most of their clients. Also make sure that you are not being charged extra for these tools, the costs for them should be included in your retainer.
Note: Some of these tools use propriety indexing technology to work, whereas others need to link to your own site's Webmaster Tools accounts. Neither is wrong, but be prepared to grant them access in the same sort of ways you've granted them access to your website analytics package.
As for the techniques used... you should have full transparency about what they are doing and the rationale for doing it. However, if they mention the act of buying links... run a mile!

5. What do you want me to do next?
Getting started with a new agency is usually a process of learning, testing, evaluating and refining. Expect the agency to ask to speak with other stakeholders or 3rd parties in your business (e.g. PR company, website development agency and product / catalogue managers if you have an eCommerce site). Having an SEO firm that is not just technically competent, but has decent organisational skills can be a rare find. Also make sure that you have regular review sessions booked in the diaries. Even if these are done over the phone / Skype or webex... your business, the competition and most definitely the search engines change all the time.