Holiday Road: Boost Q4 Results By Better Understanding The Customer Journey

There’s nothing like the August sunshine to bring out a creative spark to drive your holiday campaigns!

If you’re like most e-commerce marketers, chances are good that you’re already knee-deep in end-of-year planning — and it’s also highly likely that your boss has raised the performance bar yet again. After all, if the past two years are any indication, we can anticipate another lucrative e-commerce holiday season. Below are three reasons why.

online shopping

Image via Shutterstock

  1. E-Commerce holiday shopping continues to break records. According to comScore, the 2011 US holiday season reached an all-time high with spending of $37.2B. This record was shattered in 2012 as retail e-commerce holiday spending reached $42.3B.
  2. The winter days may be shorter, but Black Friday is getting longer. We’re now seeing Black Friday deals start as early as 12:01 a.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
  3. Marketing technology is providing even greater insights into customer behavior across various channels and platforms. Armed with this information, marketers are able to reach the right customer at the right time and on the right device.

Sounds like a marketer’s dream come true, right? You know better. Just as marketers have created even more ways to reach consumers, consumers also have more control over how they interact with brands and products online.

To effectively reach your target audience, engage them, and establish a relationship that goes beyond a one-time transaction, we all need a solid understanding of the customer journey.

However, while every marketer has been touting the importance of the customer journey, the ability to entice consumers down the purchasing path is not an easy feat. This rings especially true when the journey spans multiple channels (email, search, display, social, etc.) and devices. We’re seeing an uptick on mobile and tablet shopping, which further complicates the ability to effectively target customers on their terms.

In fact, eMarketer just reported that this is the first year mobile will surpass the time spent online on desktop and laptop computers. And when it comes to shopping, eMarketer estimates that this year, 15 percent of online retail sales will take place via mobile devices, up from 11 percent in 2012. This equates to nearly $39 billion in 2013, up 56.5 over 2012 and almost triple the amount spent in 2011.

To overcome these challenges and make the most of the upcoming holiday season, here are three convergent paths to enable understanding the customer journey.

Create A 360-Degree View

When you have a comprehensive view of the performance across each channel and on various platforms (including smartphones and tablets), you’ll be able to:

  • Identify overlaps to understand the incremental or duplicative impact of each touchpoint. As examples, you can identify where a combination of touchpoints accelerate purchase decisions, or if you’re overpaying a specific channel for its contribution to the conversion.
  • Understand the impact of frequency across all of your channels. For example, you may have set frequency caps on your display ads, yet your target customers may still be saturated with messages from another channel, such as email. Or, you may gain insight to where the coordination of hits across channels creates lift.
  • Properly allocate budget based on the performance of each channel. With a pay-for-performance model, you can increase or decrease the value of each customer conversion based on variables such as average-order-value, new-to-file customer, and level-of-engagement prior to purchase.

To expedite this, check with your IT team and your tech vendors to find ways to integrate the various tools you’re using, to more seamlessly manage campaigns and see how each channel complements or, in some instances, conflicts with another.

Break Down Marketing Silos

Taking a closer look at the traditional marketing structure, you’ll find that most organizations typically have teams dedicated to search, display, affiliate, lead gen, loyalty and email, for example. Within each of those teams, you’ll find a variety of technology solutions as well as different performance metrics and goals. Yet to get that 360-degree view, you’ll need to break down any existing marketing silos.

While you likely won’t conduct a reorganization of staff, you can assemble a cross-functional holiday campaign team responsible for establishing best practices, analyzing performance and identifying gaps and overlaps. Communication and collaboration are key to creating a consistent message during the time leading up to the holidays.

To make this idea a reality, you’ll need to:

  • Rally a senior management champion to support the initiative and reinforce the importance of the cross-functional team across the organization.
  • Create a dedicated team with specific cross-functional responsibilities and goals. Participation on the team shouldn’t be viewed as an ad hoc role.
  • Share knowledge and collaborate since a better understanding of each other’s roles will help achieve the company’s strategic goals that may be hindered by the silo approach.

Measure Performance Based On The Customer Experience

You surely have an established set of metrics to gauge and evaluate performance. It is common for these to be focused on the campaign’s performance by channel. But smart marketers also consider the effect of each of those channels on the customer experience throughout the path to purchase.

The top twelve factors every marketer should consider when measuring performance based on the customer experience are:

  1. The lag time between exposure and purchase. Of course, this will vary based on the price of the item, competitive offers, time of day, and where the consumer is located. However, if the targeting is done correctly, the lag time will be minimal.
  2. The number of touchpoints on the path from discovery to purchase. How long was the customer journey and how many signposts did they see from you along the path?
  3. The level of engagement with each channel and its impact on the sale. More powerful than clicks, engagement lets you know the consumer is interested and there is a likely intent to purchase based on their level of interaction with an ad or offer.
  4. The online to offline experience. Was it a seamless experience for the consumer to order online and pick up in the store?
  5. The offline to online experience. When the customer logs on, does the retailer “know” them and are they able to pick up where the last interaction left off?
  6. Ease of buying. This includes various payment options, shipping, and in some cases, same day delivery.
  7. Satisfaction rates. Be sure to send a brief follow up asking for feedback on the experience.
  8. Confirmed repeat customer. Is the same customer coming back? Pay especially close attention if they continue to favor your products when there are lower priced alternatives available.
  9. Referrals. Track coupons and offers and whether existing customers are sharing your deals with their friends.
  10. Social media endorsements. Beyond the amorphous “Likes,” do you have regular interactions and comments on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and review sites such as Yelp?
  11. Inquiries to customer support/customer service. Determine how long it takes to resolve issues and the likelihood the customer will return, refer friends and endorse your brand.
  12. Returned merchandise. What are the reasons for returning the goods and how easy was it to return the item and receive the credit or cash back?

Not a light task, for sure. But applying these recommendations to your holiday marketing campaign will give you a better understanding of the customer journey, enabling maximum success as we all work to contribute to a new record high e-commerce spend in 2013.  And, this will establish a strong foundation for 2014 and beyond.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Affiliate Marketing | Channel: Retail | E-Commerce | Marketing Strategies Column


About The Author: As Chief Operating Officer, Liane Dietrich is responsible for the planning and execution of Rakuten LinkShare's vision to deliver world class online marketing solutions. Since joining Rakuten LinkShare in 2003, Liane has contributed to the company's success in the areas of service delivery, strategic direction and international expansion in her roles as Director, Vice President and Managing Director in Chicago, New York, and London.


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  • Sagar

    Enjoyed reading this. As a startup in this space we see everyday how contemporary (read ancient) marketing and customer acquisition practices don’t yield the required results. Still, we find that businesses and organizations are very suspicious of this ‘new age’ practice of customer experience management and want it to be broken down into metrics like CPC.

    The top 12 metrics you have mentioned are a definite step forward for those willing to adopt CEM practices. For what its worth, I think measuring customer experience is the only way to go.

    Sagar (


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