Now that we’ve hit 2020, there will no doubt be many metaphor-infused mentions of vision, sight, and awareness.
In the world of advertising, foresight is just as important as hindsight. Being able to predict future innovations and consumer behaviors means keeping on top of not only late-breaking industry news and cutting-edge innovations, but also knowing what lies further ahead in the digital advertising space.
We’ve taken the pulse of the industry and identified five things that every retail advertiser should know this year.
Eye exam not required.
1. Gray Markets
A gray market is the legal sale of a product outside of the manufacturer’s preferred distribution channel—as just one example, a retailer selling to other retailers. This is in contrast to a black market, where a product’s very creation is outright illegal.
While the sale of gray market products isn’t prohibited, as a retailer, you’d probably like to ensure that your competition’s playing fair and according to industry customs and standards.
Furthermore, gray markets are simply bad for retailers, for a few main reasons:
- Lost revenue
- Lack of full oversight and control over who sells your products
- They can drive prices down in different regions (i.e., no pricing control)
- They can affect your brand image—if there’s a product issue you’re not aware of, you can’t fix it, which can lead to loss of consumer trust
Although completely eliminating global gray markets is an ongoing battle, you can take certain steps—outside of costly and timely litigation—to minimize the impact of gray market sellers.
Follow the rules
Determine the rules for your region. Also make sure you know the local, international laws so that you’re not breaching them.
Implement smart tracking practices
Assign different model numbers to the same item in different countries, even though the functions of the item are identical. This way, you can more easily pinpoint when something’s being sold on the gray market.
As an additional tracking measure, use supplier codes. (Note that in the U.S., you must use supplier codes; not using them is illegal.)
Understand publisher options
Google, eBay, and other platforms allow you to submit a request to remove ads for a gray market product that violate copyright or trademark laws. Act quickly to ensure the gray product is on the market for as short a time as possible.
Other things you can do to minimize gray versions of your products:
- Have a single cost policy for your product catalog.
- Increase distribution channels to make gray markets less attractive.
- Inform your sales teams and retail partners of gray market practices.
For more information, check out the work of The Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement (AGMA), a California-based non-profit group of IT companies on a mission to raise organizational and governmental awareness of gray markets.
2. Reviews and Ratings
Most businesses know that online reviews are important. What’s a bit more challenging is how to maximize the number of positive reviews and ratings, and to keep them once you have them.
How to increase positive reviews
Soliciting feedback isn’t just a way to boost your business—it’s an opportunity to create a human connection with someone who could eventually be a big fan of your brand. To encourage positive reviews, be sure to:
- Know where the reviews are. The big players include Yelp, eBay, Facebook, and Amazon, but burgeoning sites like G2 Crowd (for B2B companies) offer an important niche for greater visibility. Make sure you have a presence on all of the sites that are relevant to your business and monitor them regularly. Also be sure your profiles are continually up to date.
- Ask your existing customers. There’s a reason they bought what you’re selling. Be direct and create a campaign designed to generate positive feedback. Include a tracked link to the review page to make it easy for them to find you and so you know where the clicks are coming from.
- Incentivize it. Offer a gift card, a cup of coffee, or company swag. Use season-appropriate messaging to sway them with the possibility of extra funds for their holiday gift-giving.
- Share positive reviews to social media. Social proof is business cachet. Positive feedback is a great way of boosting brand awareness and presenting your company in a good light. If possible, tag the reviewer and encourage them to share, too.
- Quickly respond to negative reviews. You may be inclined to ignore the haters. But, getting back to them with a positive message shows them (and anyone looking at your response) that you take customer satisfaction seriously. Answering with understanding and compassion can often calm an irate customer, and they may even delete their negative post. According to Google, responding to reviews—whether positive or negative—also improves your local SEO.
- Test to see what works. As with all things in digital marketing, test, improve, and repeat. Whether you’re requesting reviews via email or social ads, A/B test subject lines, email copy, images, and any other variable that could lead to increased open rates, clicks, and responses.
How to maintain high review numbers
To ensure your reviews are timely, relevant, positive, and plentiful, be sure to maintain regular contact with your customers and continually provide top-notch service. This may seem like a no-brainer—but how often can you boast of nailing all of the below?
- You provide your customers with same-day assistance.
- You approach everything you do with a “customer first” attitude.
- You regularly reach out to your customers to ask for a review.
- You measure, test, and continually improve to maintain customers and attract new ones (and you have the data to prove it).
Given today’s many product choices and much more discerning consumers, your brand is a reflection of how focused you are on the customer.
3. Your Cross-Channel Strategy
Once you have a solid plan of attack against gray markets and your positive reviews are flowing in, it’s time to implement or rethink your cross-channel advertising strategy.
There are three basic components to stellar cross-channel ad campaigns:
- The when: Determine the best time to launch a product. You’ll definitely want to create ad campaigns around a product that’s new to market, but also be sure to consider seasonality, your competition, and any news about a similar product that may have been negative. Should you hold off or be more aggressive against your competitors?
- The what: Make sure your product listing is a good, strong one. Be explicit and concise about your product’s specifications and pricing, and include a clear set of images with a few different angles. Write a great product description, including attributes such as color, gender (or unisex), and how many are in left in stock. In short: Be clear, concise, complete, and captivating!
- The how: Create a strategy that has your ads appearing on all platforms where your existing and potential customers are searching and shopping—Google, Facebook, Amazon, and eCommerce websites.
By setting up your ad campaigns to work in tandem and across channels, you’ll see a “multiplier effect” that will bring you significantly more consumers who are not only more likely to convert, but also likely to spend more.
4. Your Delivery Practices
When Veruca Salt said, “I want it now,” she was onto something.
With Amazon and Walmart under pressure to deliver products in one day, and the sharing economy expected to grow by an astronomical 2292% by 2025, “fast” for consumers is no longer an expectation but a given.
With 88% of consumers willing to pay for it, is your business set up to provide next-day or same-day shipping? Are you on board with BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store)?
To complement your delivery practices, be aware and constantly attuned to price wars. Do you know “how low can you go”? To ensure the price is right, consider freebies and VIP incentives such as loyalty programs, special promotions, and cost adjustments for new or “veteran” customers. Highlight your premier products, or add features to a lagging product to make it more enticing.
5. The Latest Innovations
As we start the New Year, retailers continue to question whether voice commerce will be the “next big thing.” Our take is that “next” is “now.” As eMarketer reports, the vast majority of voice assistant users are already speaking up and researching products. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to take this technology seriously.
We’re also having an “all wrists on deck” moment. Wearables are making some noise, and if Facebook’s recent acquisition of CTRL-Labs is any indication, this space will only get louder.
Retail—and especially eCommerce—is also rapidly growing, with more and more consumers flocking to sites like Amazon, Walmart, and others. Each Amazon Prime subscriber alone places 60 orders a year.
Automated solutions for dayparting, reporting, and other tools can improve your eCommerce advertising performance, and allow you to more easily adapt to the latest eCommerce innovations.
Stay aware of the latest technologies and breakthroughs, assess what works for your business, and flex accordingly.
If there’s a maxim retailers can live by, it’s, “With great innovation comes great responsibility.” Every year—or, every month—brings a new way of doing business or a novel way a competitor has to gain an edge. As a result, retailers and eCommerce advertisers must stay several steps ahead.
Use these tips to spruce up your product feed, crank up the volume on your products’ time to market, and bravely venture forth to discover and try out potentially lucrative opportunities.
May your vision be 2020 this year.