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The Favorite 50

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With revenues exceeding $61 billion and top-line growth of 27 percent in 2012, Amazon.com is an online retail juggernaut. Since it burst onto the playing field 19 years ago, the one-time bookseller has consistently brought innovation to the market, including Amazon Prime, Amazon Web Services and the Kindle tablet. Last month Amazon Art debuted, offering access to 40,000 works from more than 150 galleries. While financial pundits and industry experts continue to scrutinize Amazon’s actual level of “success” — most recently pointing to a slim 1 percent operating margin and chiding CEO Jeff Bezos for a business strategy that invests heavily in growth, trading away short-term returns for a long-term upside — it’s clear that none of that really matters to shoppers. For the seventh consecutive year, consumers have chosen Amazon.com as their favorite online retailer. More than half of the 5,600 consumers surveyed — 58 percent — cite Amazon.com as the “most preferred online merchant” for both apparel and non-apparel items. The survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, indicates that the online retailer is the hands down favorite; it was chosen three times as often as No. 2 Walmart.com (18 percent). “There are a number of things that resonate with shoppers — from the breadth of the assortment to the efficiencies built into the purchasing process, the cross-sell and up-sell merchandising tactics and the value proposition,” says Kim Ann King, chief marketing officer for SiteSpect. “Amazon makes it easy for shoppers to return to the site again and again,” says Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director at Prosper. “The Subscribe & Save program is a good example of that. There’s one-click ordering, and ship-to addresses are stored for shoppers. When something is convenient, shoppers gravitate to it.” Rounding out the top five are eBay.com, Kohls.com and BestBuy.com — the latter two switching spots from a year earlier. Walmart has invested millions over the last few years acquiring online companies and polishing its web expertise. Likewise, others that have built their businesses in the bricks-and-mortar realm are deploying technology with the intent of better meeting — if not exceeding — the expectations of consumers who want the same brand experience across all platforms. While the top 10 online retailers have remained relatively constant since 2010 — a testimony to consistently delivering on e-commerce essentials — a handful have risen appreciably since 2012. The biggest movers are BedBathandBeyond.com, which moved from No. 44 a year ago to No. 27, and Hollisterco.com (a division of Abercrombie & Fitch), which jumped to No. 33 from No. 45 in 2012. Newcomers to the list include Belk.com, which debuted at No. 39, and HotTopic.com (43). Five companies specializing in plus-size apparel appear among the most preferred online retailers, suggesting that these shoppers may be under-served in the bricks-and-mortar realm — or prefer the privacy shopping from a device affords.

Online shopping behavior
P rosper also delved into the behavior of online shoppers: What triggers consumers to start an online search, how they research items before purchasing and how frequently they pull out their smartphone or tablet while shopping in a store to compare prices — and maybe even purchase elsewhere.

“As could be expected, Millennials are more savvy when it comes to mobile/online, but Gen X follows right with them — or even exceeds them in some merchandise categories or activities,” Goodfellow says.

For big-ticket purchases like appliances, electronics and furniture, Gen X shoppers “are more inclined to research on a laptop or desktop computer,” she says. “It’s likely they’re at a point in their lives where they’re setting up a first home and doing more in-depth research for larger ticket items. It can be challenging to review product specs on a smartphone.”

Mobile devices continue to influence purchasing behavior: 20 percent of shoppers say they regularly compare prices and purchase from another retailer while shopping in a store. Among Gen X consumers, that figure climbs to 24 percent. Add the fact that 36 percent of this demographic “occasionally” engages in that behavior, and the potential for physical retailers to lose a sale to a competitor jumps to nearly two-thirds.

Of Millennials, 27 percent regularly compare prices and purchase from another retailer’s website using their device; 37 percent occasionally engage in that scenario; and 67 percent leave the physical store empty-handed, only to compare prices and purchase from another retailer using a laptop or desktop computer.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s with silver-haired shoppers. Most boomers and consumers who make up the “silent generation” (those born between 1925 and 1942) say they “never” engage in in-store pricing and purchase hijinks; 37 percent of boomers and 26 percent of the “silents” admit they occasionally compare prices while shopping in a stores, but still purchase from the same retailer they visited.

The industry attention paid to shopper activities — requesting a price match, “checking in” for a discount or scanning a QR code — pans out with younger shoppers to a degree, but the over-40 crowd has yet to engage. About 15 percent of both Millennials and Gen Xers regularly request a price match, 17 percent of each check-in for a discount and 13 percent will scan a QR code. The generation gap narrows when survey respondents are asked if they read product reviews to decide between products: Overall, 52 percent of adults 18 and older use product reviews to aid purchase decision-making.

What triggers an online search? Half of all adults 18 and older say it’s face-to-face communication, 38 percent say it’s coupons and 32 percent attribute their online search to TV/broadcast.

Some interesting findings emerge when the data is parsed by demographics or retailer: 32 percent of Millennials launch an online search based on Internet advertising; 28 percent are prompted by online communities and social media and 26 percent by text messaging.

Boomers are more likely to be compelled to search online by TV/broadcast (35 percent), reading an article (33 percent) or looking at a newspaper (32 percent). Macy’s shoppers are more inclined than others to be drawn to the web by a magazine (42 percent) or by e-mail advertising (40 percent). A commanding 46 percent of Sears.com shoppers are lured online by newspapers, and more than half of Old Navy shoppers (52 percent) say coupons are a top trigger.

E-mail optimization
The data compiled by Prosper is derived from research conducted with online consumers. The recent “State of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing and Merchandising” report, compiled by Forrester Research analysts in partnership with Shop.org, springs from data gathered from a survey of retailers that sell online. Consumers and retailers are not far apart in their perceptions, particularly as it relates to the role of e-mail as a marketing tool and opportunities related to mobile merchandising and marketing.

“Paid search and e-mail are enormously important, and retailers are allocating more of their capital spend to those initiatives,” says Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. “E-mail continues to be an incredible customer retention tool — now merchants are working to optimize e-mail for different devices.”

E-mail has been around for a long time but it continues to have its place in marketing efforts “in part because it’s asynchronous,” she says. “You can open it when you want — on your time. Texting is intrusive. Retailers are doing some really innovative things with e-mail.”

The report found that 55 percent of online retailers’ interactive marketing spend is dedicated to paid search and e-mail, and search engine marketing continues to be the most effective customer acquisition tactic. Nearly nine in 10 online retailers (87 percent) surveyed either have already implemented or are planning to implement mobile e-mail optimization in 2013; seven in 10 will optimize paid search for smartphones and tablets (71 percent and 73 percent, respectively).

The study found that, on average, 28 percent of e-mails sent to customers are first opened on a smartphone. The stakes are even higher for small retailers — 42 percent of their e-mails are first opened on a smartphone.

Other key findings: Product detail page improvements, particularly video offerings, will be a top focus this year. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of retailers will invest in integrating video on their sites. Another 62 percent indicate that recommendations and personalization features will be a priority, including integrating capabilities to create unique pages for their customers based on purchase history.

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