Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011: A Digital E-commerce Retrospective

December 29, 2011 by Elan Sherbill.

Another year come and gone and the e-commerce world continues to expand.

2011 saw the untimely and much mourned death of Steve Jobs, a new congressional bill called SOPA stirred up vigorous debate about the future of the internet, Netflix spent the year running around like a chicken with its head cut off and of course, you can’t step anywhere anymore with hearing about the rise of mobile and cloud computing.

Here at Building Keystones, we want to end the year with a look at some of our top posts and reflect on the eclectic e-commerce tips and tricks we spent our year investigating:

Yes! You Need A Facebook Strategy Now – Everyone from Lady Gaga to 1-800-Flowers are sporting Facebook stores. This post highlights the reasons why companies in the digital product space need to seriously consider developing their presence on various social media networks and how doing so affects their customer relations.

How Do You Handle Subscription Renewals? – With the maturation of SaaS products, digital content paywalls and downloadable software products, there is even more demand for improved multi-period subscription billing. So how do you handle subscription renewals?

Four Tips For Increasing E-mail Deliverability – As we noted in last week’s post, e-mail is far from dead. Check out this post from earlier in the year and make sure your email marketing campaigns are as effective as they can be.

Is SaaS Right For Your Business? – The cloud is the hot topic right now in the e-commerce world. Use this post as a guide line for jump starting the conversation in your company about whether a SaaS solution is right for you. BONUS: This post contains a free download to the in-depth Forrester report sponsored by cleverbridge – Software Vendors: The Shift to SaaS

Let Your Customer’s Voice Be Heard- A personal favorite. This was my first original contribution to Building Keystones based upon several years experience in customer service and the blog’s first post about the topic. A must read for anyone in any line of business, for as Kevin Stirtz said, “The first step to success in any business is to ask your customers what they want.”

As we look forward to another year of providing exceptional e-commerce know-how, we wanted to thank you, our dear readers, for your time, your engagement, and most of all your feedback. We hope that 2011 was one of constant success and lasting improvement for you and your e-commerce business and that 2012 continues along the same path.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

You can always received new Building Keystones posts directly to your inbox by subscribing here.

And we are still offering our free download of the Gartner Magic Quadrant Report for E-commerce 2011.

Email Marketing Update: A Practical Guide For 2012

December 22, 2011 by Caitlin Marco.

The continued triumph of email over the past twelve months is forcing us to revisit our email marketing strategies for 2012. In this post, we highlight the top trends in email marketing and what they mean for your email program.

Email is Dead. Not!

Despite the hullabaloo last year about how Mark Zuckerberg supposedly declared the death of email (he never really did), setting up email campaigns is still one of the more mature strategies in online marketing. But as advancements in technology progress, we continue developing new ways to view email. More importantly, as online marketing trends come and go, email proves its staying power by being accessible at any time.

In a blog post called Three Mistakes To Avoid In Email Newsletters, we talked about the importance of relevancy; knowing how your subscribers are reading your emails is just as important as the content you provide. With the rise in popularity of iPads and sundry tablets, your emails must adapt to a format that didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

“How” Is Important

According to a recent Return Path Study webmail makes up 44% of the overall views, desktop comprises 33% and mobile follows closely at 23%.

Though Webmail is the current leader in email use, mobile views have increased 34% from April to September this year when compared to the previous six months. Meanwhile, both webmail and desktop mail views have declined by 9-11% and we expect to see continued growth of mobile engagement in 2012.

The Return Path study also broke down how email is read by industry. The table below presents the findings for the software and shopping industries:

Views Shopping Software
Webmail 48% 35%
Desktop 32% 48%
Mobile 20% 17%

These figures allow us to determine the type of content we should be sending. Keep in mind that many people have more than one email account. What they use that account for tends to determine the type of content they want to receive on it.

To help get the brain juices flowing, here are some tips for your 2012 email marketing campaigns:

  • Survey your subscriber base to find out what devices they use for email.
  • Create content adaptable to your readers’ devices.
  • Code for mobile: HTML5 is replacing flash. Steve Jobs was prepared, are you?
  • Don’t forget about tablets! iPad views are up 15% vs iPhone useage and has increased 12% with the launch of the iPad 2.

“When” Is Important

One question I frequently receive as an email marketer is “What day of the week is best for sending?” This year has been no different, but with the emergence of mobile popularity, it’s something we need to take a closer look at because there is no single correct answer. We prefer to read different types of emails at different times.

Webmail usage spikes over the weekend, desktop viewing takes a dip, but mobile remains consistent throughout the week with an extra pop from Friday through Sunday.

As I mentioned before, every industry has their own audience who behaves differently, so here are some things to test for what works best for your subscribers:

  • Gather email campaign data that will help define your audience behavior (which devices they use for email and when they use them).
  • Use a campaign that has a benchmark to test engagement for each day to minimize the variables.
  • Select a percentage of your subscriber list to send the test to and monitor each day’s performance.

It’s All About The Reader

On the user-end of email, there have been a few trends that popped up to combat spam and unwanted email. My favorite tactic that I’ve seen this year is filtering the word “Unsubscribe” to go straight into your junk mail. Obviously, this tactic is extreme considering that by law marketers have to put an unsubscribe link in the email. However, if you have a list full of tech nerds you can try different phrases to avoid this trend.

Filtering is becoming a big business due to the fact that CAN-SPAM is relaxed. Gmail and Hotmail have both gotten ahead of the game with their release of inbox management tools as well as companies like Boxbe.

As you battle your way for reader attention, you’ll want to consider how these tools are affecting your subscriber’s engagement in 2012:

Gmail: Priority Inbox : Automatically identifies emails that you frequently open and reply to.

Hotmail: One-click Unsubscribe: List-unsubscribe headers within the email that don’t work will be permanently sent to the junk mail folder.

BoxBe: A free service that can be applied to the major webmail providers like AOL, Gmail and Yahoo that will organize your emails so that only specified emails will make it to your inbox.

Keystone: Mobile email is trending and your campaigns must adapt to that fact. Testing viewership times is still going to be key to successful campaigns, but so is understanding your readership’s filtering practices.

Wishing everyone a wonderfully joyous Holiday Season!

E-commerce Fraud Prevention: An Overview

December 15, 2011 by Craig Vodnik.

Fraud prevention has always been an important part of the strategy of any e-business, but simply preventing as much fraud as possibly may be detrimental to your bottom line and your customers’ satisfaction.

We all know the obvious cost of fraud: A payment is processed, the product is delivered and the charge is disputed. However, maximizing accepted orders is just as important as minimizing fraud. If you only have your eye on minimizing fraud you may be leaving a lot of money on the table.

There are also other hidden costs to anti-fraud such as the cost of anti-fraud employees, the cost of decreased customer satisfaction by delaying orders in manual review (especially if they expect instant electronic delivery), the cost of rejecting a valid customer who seems suspicious but is in fact valid, and the direct and indirect costs of lost chargebacks.

This can be particularly insidious, because rates over 1% can result in large fines from Visa or Mastercard in the short term, and lost merchant accounts in the long term.

Different Anti-Fraud Strategies for Different Delivery Methods

Fraudulent orders for physically delivered products incur additional costs associated with the loss of the product and the price of shipping, along with the somewhat higher tendency towards “friendly fraud” (customers claiming the product never arrived in the mail).

This leads to the next important point: creating an anti-fraud strategy to minimize cost and maximize revenue depends on the type of product you sell. Products delivered electronically tend to have different fraud than products delivered physically.

E-commerce merchants who deal mostly in electronic delivery may tolerate somewhat more fraud because there are minimal shipping losses while physical merchants with expensive products may be more risk-averse by necessity.

In terms of preventing fraud, SaaS products fall somewhere between electronic and physical products. While there are no shipping costs, there still may be costs involved in making the product available to the end-customer. For example, an e-commerce business that sells domains must pay to register the domain.

Best Practices for E-commerce Fraud Prevention

With all this in mind, we bring you some best practices that cover all three types of products and are essential for successfully preventing fraud.

One basic, yet often overlooked best practice is to avoid “black and white rules” for your manual review team.

For example, less than a decade ago, a customer ordering in Malaysia with an American credit card was a sure recipe for a chargeback. But now the world is becoming a smaller place and Malaysia tends to be a reliable country.

A good anti-fraud specialist tries to find a plausible story for such “inconsistencies” in the data rather than memorizing and reacting to patterns such as “no American cards on orders with Malaysian IPs.”

Additionally, all e-commerce businesses with in-house anti-fraud solutions should be analyzing, modifying and re-analyzing. While there are some fraud issues that hit all merchants, many issues will be specific to your business.

A specialist that looks directly at which aspects of an order lead most often to reports of fraud or chargebacks and takes action against future orders of those types will do the most to optimize your bottom line. Of course, after any changes, be sure to follow up and measure how effective your changes were on both your fraud rate and false positive rate.

Lastly, all e-commerce businesses that deliver electronically should cut off access to the product as soon as they are notified of the fraud.

Companies that deactivate licenses / products / access rights immediately are a lot less attractive to thieves because they will only profit for a maximum of a few weeks before the fraud is reported. This will drive your fraudsters to competitor products that are less protected and keep them from coming back to you repeatedly for the long-term.

In-House vs. Outsourced

With all the different kinds of costs related to anti-fraud, the difficulty of maintaining state-of-the-art fraud tools and the necessity of an up-to-date anti-fraud team, many e-commerce businesses opt to outsource their anti-fraud.

However, all anti-fraud providers are not created equal. If you are thinking about outsourcing your anti-fraud you have some important questions to ask.

Firstly, what kind of experience in e-commerce and anti-fraud do the team members have? It is vital that team members have a year’s experience in e-commerce and/or anti-fraud at the bare minimum. Some companies employ fraud specialists with no previous experience in the e-commerce or fraud industries. This is critical because these people make the decisions about your money.

Secondly, what kind of transparency do they provide if you have questions about an anti-fraud decision? Of course, trade secrets for anti-fraud are highly confidential to ensure their continued effectiveness, but your partner should be able to answer questions to a level that it inspires your trust in their decisions.

Some anti-fraud teams will also answer fraud and manual review related questions directly from customers. This saves you time and ensures that customers are as satisfied as possible without feeling as if they are being accused of a wrong-doing.

Some questions you should include a checklist when researching an anti-fraud team include:

  • Does the provider have a wide range of anti-fraud tools and negative lists?
  • How often do they update their tools?
  • Do they actively analyze their chargebacks and fraud notifications to keep up with the growing sophistication in fraud techniques?


Whether you do your e-commerce fraud prevention in-house or outsource it, there are many things to consider. But an effective anti-fraud strategy will increase your bottom line and your customer satisfaction.

Questions? Comments? Critiques? Let us know what you think in the comment section below. Or engage the Building Keystones team on Twitter or Facebook. We look forward to hearing from you!

Tabitha Stang contributed to this week’s post

Web Analytics: Focus On Climate, Not Weather (But Carry An Umbrella)

December 7, 2011 by Melinda Byerley.

We are pleased to have Melinda Byerley as a guest blogger for Building Keystones.

Melinda is an e-commerce marketing and general management veteran, having held roles at eBay, PayPal, Check Point Software, and Linden Lab (Second Life). Most recently, she was the VP Marketing and Product for PlantSense, an internet device startup in the gardening space. She holds an MBA from Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management. 

You can follow Melinda on Twitter at @melindabyerley; or visit her LinkedIn profile.

There’s a saying, “Climate is the contents of your wardrobe; but weather is what you put on today.” When it comes to web analytics, long term trends represent the “climate” and daily performances represent the “weather”.

Now, we all love launching new products, testing their performance, improving marketing efficiency and staying on top of our numbers. We don’t have to wait weeks for market data; we get it immediately, almost  in real time.

So, which side of this situation have you been on?

Big VP: (sending email at 6 AM on Monday morning):  “Hi! I’m on a flight to New York this morning and preparing for exec staff; and was checking our web analytics dashboard. Why is traffic down 10% today? What’s wrong? Need to know ASAP!!!”

Web Analyst: (pre coffee, checking email from bed, muttering to self): “Oh no! I was planning on spending this morning with the weekly dashboard and fixing some tags on marketing’s landing pages. Crap. Looks like another long day at work. Better get going early!”

Web analytics providers make it easy to monitor your metrics from anywhere, even from your mobile phone in bed (admit it, you do it too!) They can send automated alerts that would make a derivatives trader envious. The graphics are crisp, clear and gorgeous. It’s like a real world video game.

But, in many instances, the web analytics data that looks so credible is inaccurate. And even when it is accurate, focusing too narrowly on data can be an utter distraction from your company’s long term strategic goals.


Because all web analytics data is wrong.

You’ve probably spent hours QAing web analytics code, training, reading blogs and becoming an expert in the nuances of advanced implementation.

Unfortunately, the data you are collecting will never be 100% accurate. Here’s the reason why: Web analytics software is based on cookies placed on a user’s computer. According to a comScore report from January:

  • ~30% of users delete 1st party cookies every month
  • 47% of users delete 3rd party cookies in a month
  • 4% of users accept no cookies at all
  • At least some of your users get a new computer in a given month
  • 30%+ of users use multiple computers (think home, work and mobile)
  • Small sample sizes for day parts or markets/zipcodes lead to lower statistical validity. If you are sampling your web analytics data, it’s even more an issue.

So, your analytics provider cannot provide performance data on those who delete their cookies.

Additionally, there are some weather issues that may fool you or your business unit into thinking there’s climate change:

  • In your test market there was a power outage yesterday so many people couldn’t get online. But you are 1500 miles away and have no idea. In this case the marketing may be just fine. No action may be required.
  • A celebrity dominates the news. During the days following Steve Jobs’ death there was likely an increase of traffic to Apple’s website (and correspondingly perhaps less to Microsoft’s). Does that mean Apple’s strategy is better?
  • You got a great write up in TechCrunch. Congratulations! But it shouldn’t change your business strategy.
  • Your competitor launched a price promotion. Good to know; but again it should not impact your daily life until there’s a strategic direction change to be made.
  • You had a site outage.
  • Your web analytics tools broke in the last release.

All of these factors are going to impact your traffic but none are indicative of the success of your business strategy.

Make sure your managers and business executives understand this BEFORE you get that call from your VP or CFO. Managers: be realistic about this data and don’t over promise on it.

Meanwhile, get over it. Wrong data is still useful. 

No, it’s not time to ignore your web analytics tools. Once you’ve made sure that you’re collecting the best data you can (It’s worth hiring consulting help to get this right. Knowing which data to collect is neither intuitive nor easy to check and there are literally thousands of edge cases), then it’s time to think about how to help your company take action from that data.

Climate change is real (but it still gets cold).

To get the most out of your web analytics package, encourage your business unit to spend more time focusing on the climate of your business:

  • Year over Year changes (measured by week at least, but also eventually by day). This helps adjust for seasonality.
  • Trends: Measure rolling 90 day and 180 day averages to spot anomalies quickly and even out spikes caused by holidays, weather, promotions, product launches, competitor movements and other one time events.
  • Strategic objectives should be focused on the long term. Removing daily fire drills allows teams to stay focused on those critical things that must be done (you DO have a strategic plan that everyone can communicate, right?)

The fact that the Earth is warming doesn’t mean you won’t need an umbrella on some days. So too in business, there are times when daily weather is worth paying attention to:

  • Launch of marketing campaigns/ROI in marketing: Pretty much anything the marketing team wants will need benchmarking and testing. Fast turnaround in measurement equals few dollars wasted.
  • New product issues – positive and negative: Did that new checkout screen break your conversion rate? Did that new feature drive a higher conversion rate? Don’t wait a year to find out.
  • Major news events that drive your business: When I was in the security business, we always saw an uptick in sales when virus or hacking outbreaks were in the news.
  • Competitor launches a splashy new product: The folks at Amazon are definitely watching Kindle page traffic more closely every time a new iPad ships.

Keystone: The ideal focus of web analytics is long term trending and evaluation of business strategy effectiveness (climate), with a splash of daily color (weather) to provide insight into smaller scale movements.

What other “weather” and “climate” issues do you grapple with?  Does your business lend itself to a different approach?  Let’s discuss in the comments!

November Blogger’s Digest

December 1, 2011 by Elan Sherbill.

The online shopping extravaganza that occurred on Cyber Monday reconfirms e-commerce as a lucrative, growing field. Since Building Keystones is passionate about empowering people to succeed in this ever growing industry, we continue our mission to bring you digital e-commerce expertise on a wide range of topics with the November Blogger’s Digest.

This past month we gave advice about optimizing shopping carts for customers across the globe, provided tips for guiding traffic with domain name portfolios, shared some best practices in analyzing business performance, and highlighted the benefits of social media for special holidays.

Additionally, we are currently offering you the Gartner Magic Quadrant report for e-commerce, so go ahead and click that link to receive your free download.

As always, we encourage you to take part by asking questions or sharing your experiences in the comment section.

Occam’s Razor – Smarter Data Analysis: This is a complicated read that requires some active participation, but it is well worth it. Google’s recent changes to their Analytics service now lists a significant amount of your keyword traffic as (not provided). Although we cannot determine what keywords comprise this new group of traffic sources, Avinash Kaushik has provided a few handy custom reports to help us understand how that traffic is performing.

Practical Ecommerce – Google + Launches Pages for Business: Earlier this month, Google opened their social networking  site to businesses. This post examines the benefits this change brings to message segmentation and SEO, as well as the challenges of monitoring and updating yet another social networking site.

Personal Dividends – Are You Pricing your Products TOO Low: Here is some food for thought about the value of partnering with daily deal sites versus offering your own coupons. This post also discusses the importance of matching the price of your product with your brand image.

Hubspot – Why YOU Are Your Business’ Most Qualified SEO Expert: Don’t assume the keywords you target are optimal just because they seem natural to you. As with many business decisions, you must test your hypothesis against actual results to ensure they are correct. One key take away from this article is that even similar keywords can yield vastly different search results, so go ahead and start googling yourself.

GigaOM – With Friends Like SOPA, Who Needs DMCA & IdeaLab – Why Backers of SOPA Say It Should Pass: Without taking a stance on either side of this debate, I felt it was important to draw everyone’s attention to an important piece of legislature that is currently being debated in the US Congress. If this bill passes, it will certainly change the way individuals and companies interact online, so we encourage you to take the time to research this issue and formulate your own opinions.

We hope you all had a terrific Black Friday / Cyber Monday week and that your successes carry on into the holiday season and beyond!

Go ahead and “Like” our Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter. We’re going to be offering more e-commerce news, trends, tips and tricks throughout the coming weeks and months.