Online catalogs give businesses a way to meet generational needs

E-commerce creates a unique scenario for many businesses. The rise of the Internet in the early 1990s has divided generations and given way to various expectations, values and skepticism with regards to the online shopping experience.

The Pew Research Center discovered 77 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones. But when divided by age group, the data shows a much clearer picture. For instance, 92 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone, compared to 74 percent when looking at U.S. adults ages 50-64. How U.S. adults interact with those devices, especially with regards to e-commerce, can help explain shopping trends among different generations.

E-commerce is at a crossroads where consumers who grew up in the Internet era and those who were introduced to it in a later stage in their lives share a space within the online market. Studies conducted by BigCommerce, an e-commerce software development company, have revealed online shopping and e-commerce takes up varying degrees of shopping per generation. For instance, Millennials do 67 percent of their shopping online whereas Baby Boomers do 59 percent of their shopping in-store.

Despite this, across all generations, certain trends remain consistent. Large retailers make up a greater majority of the places U.S. adults shop (73 percent on average). What each generation considers “influential” in deciding to make online purchases follows the same pattern. With a commanding average of 71 percent, reviews have the biggest influence on a consumer’s decision to purchase, followed by friends and family and then advertisements.

In order to capture the attention and trust of customers across all generations, businesses have realized a strong and trustworthy online presence is key to meeting the values and expectations of each customer. Dirxion’s online catalog services provide a strong complimentary product to any business’s e-commerce site. Capitalizing on a familiar layout and easy-to-use format, the online catalogs create a hassle-free experience for any Generation X or Baby Boomer customer. Similarly, the fast-loading, integrated shopping technology meets the needs of Millennial shoppers.

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Google changing online advertising landscape through ad blocking

Following a released study conducted by the Coalition for Better Ads, Google announced a new feature coming to their popular browser Chrome that will block certain types of online advertisements. The study concluded that pop-up ads, flashing animated ads and auto-play ads with sound “fall beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability.”

“Tens of thousands of consumers have made their opinions clear through this robust research,” said Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers. “Consumers in North America and Europe have similar views on online ad experiences they find annoying and disruptive.”

The research conducted by the Coalition for Better Ads was intended to identify which methods of online advertising push consumers to adopt third-party ad blockers to their browser. Business Insider estimates 236 million desktop devices and 380 million mobile devices have some form of an ad blocking software downloaded.

Ad Block

 

Websites have tried to combat ad blocks before by locking out content from people who have ad blocking software installed and active. According to the official AdBlock “Solutions” web page, a website usually tries to download a resource commonly used to serve an ad, and if that resource is blocked or hidden, the site detects an ad blocker is present. However, most ad block users prefer to simply move onto another site rather than “white list” a site or completely disable their software.

Alternative solutions have been varied across different sites. The Guardian displays a pop-up at the bottom of their webpages asking ad block users to donate to the site directly, whereas Forbes waits until users click on articles to lock out their content. In response, software called “Ad-blocker blockers” has surfaced, tricking websites into thinking a user doesn’t have any ad blocking software active when they actually do.

 

Google’s filtering tool, which is scheduled to be implemented in early 2018, will automatically block the top 12 ad formats that are deemed below the standards of the Coalition for Better Ads. Google is attempting to push third-party ad blocking software companies out of the picture who run varying degrees of white listing programs. For instance, AdBlock Plus has an “Acceptable Ad” program that allows advertisers to pay extra fees to pass through the AdBlock Plus filter. Because of Chrome’s dominance in the browser market share (59 percent on desktop computers, according to NetMarketShare), advertising companies that use any of the 12 threatened advertising forms will have to reconfigure or lose access to almost half of the potential online market.

Dirxion’s advertising widgets have typically passed online advertising standards in order to ensure they’re displayed properly. The alterations to Chrome’s rules will require attention and potential changes to the way Dirxion delivers advertisements to its interface. Consequently, this is being monitored closely by Dirxion’s development team.

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Washington Post shows online newspaper subscriptions can be lucrative

Since the rise of the Internet and it’s evolving role in journalism and news delivery, newspapers across the country have heard the same story: ad revenue and circulation is declining, staff sizes need to be cut, papers need to do more with less. However, The Washington Post has been an exception to the rule in recent years.

The Washington Post was featured in The New York Times in a recent article, highlighting its success and resurgence through online newspaper subscriptions. The two key factors are a $250 million acquisition by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the hiring of former Boston Globe editor-in-chief Martin Baron in 2013. In the following four years, The Washington Post has shown newspapers can sustain a profitable online presence, having hired hundreds of staffers and almost tripling its technology staff, as reported by the article. According to comScore, an American media measurement and analytics company, The Washington Post now ranks third in digital page views (811 million in April), sitting only below The New York Times and CNN among news websites.

“Our digital ad revenue is in the solid nine figures,” said Jed Hartman, chief revenue officer of The Washington Post. “We’ll have our third straight year of double-digit revenue growth.”

The boom in revenue is partly thanks to the newspaper’s decision to move to a metered subscription model in June of 2013. As explained by an FAQ posted on The Washington Post’s website, all readers are allowed to read 20 online articles a month or can access unlimited content for $9.99 a month. Many other papers are following suit. According to a study published by the American Press Institute, 78 percent of U.S. newspapers with circulations over 50,000 are using a digital subscription model and 62 percent use a metered model like The Washington Post.

Rising digital subscriptions haven’t been an unusual trend though, with many large publications receiving boosts following the coverage of the most recent election. Year-over-year, The New York Times gained 500,000 (a 47 percent increase).

Local newspapers have taken strides to combine their print and online presence using Dirxion’s e-Edition services. These digital replicas of the print publication are a transition tool for many local newspapers, as they venture further onto the Internet and look for ways to promote their core product. Dirxion allows customers to lock their e-Editions behind a subscription login, allowing only subscribers to access the print pages. The e-Edition navigation features, such as custom table of contents, thumbnail page images and cross-reference linking, ensure that the e-Editions are easy to read and use.

 

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Consumers shifting toward mobile e-commerce

Mobile e-commerce has grown at such a fast rate that economists have given the specific brand of online shopping its own name: m-commerce. According to an article recently published by Forbes, m-commerce spending is projected to reach $284 billion by 2020 and account for nearly half of all e-commerce.

Because of this boom, however, m-commerce has encountered hardware and software limitations that can potentially break the shopping experience for consumers. As reported by Business Insider, in Q2 2015, U.S. adults spent 59 percent of their time on mobile devices but spent only 15 percent of their money there. The mobile conversion rate for U.S. citizens shopping on their smartphones in Q4 2016 was 1.55 percent as compared to 4.14 percent for desktops. Smaller screen sizes can make for a frustrating shopping experience, sometimes getting in the way of browsing or entering payment options. Many companies don’t have optimized websites for mobile viewing.

Conversion rates and time spent on a particular device don’t necessarily paint the entire picture though. According to comScore, items bought online are “weighted” differently depending on the means of purchase. For instance, 57 percent of items categorized as “Toys & Hobbies” are bought on a mobile device, and 89 percent of “Consumer Electronics” are bought on a desktop (as of Q1 2017).

Digital Commerce Spending

 

Despite this division of the m-commerce market, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to use dedicated apps as opposed to using a browser on their mobile devices. According to Flurry Analytics, a mobile apps analytics tool owned by Yahoo!, 90 percent of the time a person spends on their phone is within apps. Companies like Amazon have taken the lead on m-commerce app development. Amazon revealed 72 percent of their customers shopped using a mobile device during the holiday season, a 56 percent growth worldwide. Amazon has taken into account the cramped nature of some smartphones by developing augmented reality features and allowing customers to shop via Alexa-based hardware.

To meet the growing demand of the m-commerce market, Dirxion offers custom app development for the Google Play and iTunes stores. Within the apps, customers are able to view a business’s online catalogs or download them for offline viewing. The catalogs, when accessed while the phone is online, are completely interactive and optimized with HTML5. Dirxion can also integrate online catalogs into an existing application. Such is the case for Dirxion customer Ulta Beauty, where eflyers published with Dirxion have been integrated into their shopping app to create a streamlined and seamless buying experience.
Ulta Beauty App

 

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Rise in e-commerce exemplifies change in consumer habits

In this year’s first quarter, U.S. consumers spent a collective $106 billion and drove e-commerce sales up 14.7 percent from a year ago, according to a recent article published in U.S. News. The article includes the Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales report for Q1 2017, as published by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The study includes data from 2007, wherein retail e-commerce sales made up only 3.5 percent of all retail sales, having now increased to 8.5 percent in 2017.

Tim Stringfellow, president and chief investment officer of Frost Investment Advisors, is quoted in the U.S. News article: “the big winner (and more indicative of the health and mindset of the consumer) was the online retailing category.” Statista, a statistics and studies gathering website, estimates total retail e-commerce sales will reach roughly $354 billion dollars in the U.S. in 2017.

 

The article suggests consumers are changing the ways in which they spend their money. For many companies, this required a replanning of how much time and money they spend on the physical aspects of their businesses. In April of 2016, Victoria’s Secret announced it would discontinue producing its physical catalog, once used as a means for customers to buy items from the catalog via a phone call. Arnie Preston, the investor relations officer of the parent company L Brands, estimated Victoria’s Secret spent between $125-$150 million annually on the catalog.

As both retail and B2B companies cut back on print, Dirxion continues to be called upon to create a strong online catalogs experience. Dirxion’s online catalog services allow retailers to stay alongside consumer’s evolving online habits while delivering a seamless and on-brand shopping experience. This is done by integrating existing programming from e-commerce sites and hosting a catalog on a dedicated URL. This allows the catalog to live within the customer’s website.

A good example of this is through Dirxion customer David’s Bridal. Dirxion integrates programming developed by David’s Bridal’s website. When customers interact with linked products throughout the catalog, an iFrame opens within the catalog that is pointed directly at the URL where a product is hosted. This allows customers to look at available sizes, colors and even add that particular item to their shopping cart, all without breaking the shopping experience. Such practices allow for the publisher’s e-commerce strategies to take hold within the online catalogs, creating a common user experience and easier path to purchase.Davids Bridal Online Catalog

 

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New minimal user interface offers online catalogs a clean look

Online catalogs publishers looking for a simple but complete interface can switch to Dirxion’s new minimal UI. The interface design stores its tools and features within a menu that opens and closes with one click.

The interface was designed with online catalogs in mind, in order to give greater focus on the catalog pages and the product images published within. Publishers with an emphasis on image quality and art direction have shown the greatest interest.

A recent example is retail apparel company American Giant. Its online catalog interface uses Dirxion’s new minimal UI with a menu in the bottom-left corner. When the online catalog loads, only the catalog pages, side-panel page arrows and bottom-left menu can be seen. Products throughout the catalog are linked to American Giant’s corresponding e-commerce pages, in order to drive sales.

American Giant Online Catalog

 

Once the menu button is clicked, American Giant’s custom interface design is displayed. They chose to have a toolbar set at the bottom of the interface — for basic navigation features, a high-res thumbnail strip and a link out to the consumer’s shopping cart. American Giant also has three tabs on the left panel of the interface, where users can access previous catalogs, a table of contents and search results that can be requested through the search field below.

Dirxion is currently showcasing its minimal UI to new and existing customers to accommodate a variety of preferences. In addition to the minimal UI, customers can explore other custom designs, like Restoration Hardware’s modern look, Brady Corporation’s content library or Uline’s toolbar header.

Dirxion’s goal is to provide unique branding and interface design to all of its customers, through the manipulation and addition of templates that are built with HTML5, CSS and Javascript. No two online catalogs interfaces should look exactly the same.

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Browser market shares show online catalogs where compatibility matters

In a world of devices that often creates a digital bubble, wherein users grow comfortable with specific browsers and operating systems, two specific players are managing to separate themselves from the pack. Chrome continues to grow its web browser market share (now 61.2 percent), and Android is even more dominant among mobile operating systems than before (65.19 percent).

Web developers pay close attention to market shares among browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions, in order to make the right compromises when two competing platforms can’t both be optimized. The browsers and operating systems come out with frequent updates that can change some of the compatibility that had already been established. This means features in web products like online catalogs might now need tweaking to function properly.

These discrepancies are often referred to as “bugs,” which can be easily created by browser and operating system updates. For the most part, however, a strong backbone to the developer code and the use of widely-accepted development language, like HTML5, can mitigate a majority of these potential problems. Developers who still rely on software like Adobe Flash run the risk of stumbling into significant problems with these updates because the code isn’t as flexible and browsers are not as concerned with its functionality.

Nonetheless, choices must be made and lines must be drawn as to where a web product claims it is compatible and where it is not. Dirxion’s online catalogs, for example, focus on the four major web browsers — Chrome (61.2 percent), Safari (15.9), Internet Explorer & Edge (8.2) and Firefox (6.3). This means that its product testing and QA teams check out the online publications performance and corresponding features on a variety of versions of Chrome, Safari, IE/Edge and Firefox. Dirxion’s products could still work fine on Opera (2.9 percent); however, that won’t be guaranteed.

Browser Market Share

 

A similar methodology is given to mobile operating systems. With Android and iOS comprising 96.25 percent of the market share, and Windows Phone only holding 1.59 percent, Dirxion’s QA team gets their hands on a variety of Apple and Samsung devices but does not test on Microsoft phones. Similar strategies are used by web developers throughout the Internet.

Operating System Market Share

 

Dirxion uses a mixture of HTML5, Javascript and CSS to create its online publications. This is the result of a full move away from Adobe Flash about five years ago. There will be some concern though for online publications companies who still rely on Flash for their browser versions. Chrome, whose market share is a significant majority, seems to be on the brink of disabling Flash entirely. This will break Flash-based online publications and leave HTML5 as the primary solution to Flash’s problems.

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Even online retailers are using the print catalog to attract consumers

For some catalog printers, Internet commerce is actually helping to create new business, a recent article in the Portland Press Herald points out. The story focuses on a major printer in Freeport, Maine — The Dingley Press — who now prints catalogs for many online retailers.

The message of the article is clear, that despite not having brick-and-mortar stores, online retailers still rely on print material to drive consumers to their digital storefronts. The influx of print catalogers has even encouraged The Dingley Press to expand, investing $17 million in a new press, robotics and other equipment.

The company’s president, Eric Lane, does consider the overall demand for printed catalogs to have declined over the past decade or so, but it is the new print catalogers entering the market that are dictating some growth.

Lane is quoted in the Press Herald article stating that, “in order to reach prospects, to bring them to your website, you need a tool for that.”

For many catalog publishers, not just printing but also postage can be a major cost in fulfilling the campaign, especially for companies who want their catalogs mailed directly to consumers (like many retailers demand). The article goes on to describe methods that printers have developed over the years to streamline postage and shipping and drive costs to a bare minimum. The technology employed is an impressive display of automation and organization that delivers pallets of catalogs to specific post offices, meaning only the mail carrier has to touch the catalogs in process of delivery.

Dirxion and other online publications companies offer an additional method of delivery, this method being via email, website links and advertising campaigns that link out to online catalogs. Some of Dirxion’s customers use this alternative method to mitigate some of the costs of printing and shipping, as well. Of course, Dirxion’s business is largely centered on the online publication of printed material. This creates a synergy between printers and online publishers.

A good example of this is the work Dirxion does with high-end furniture retailer Restoration Hardware. The print team works with its e-commerce team to find a balance between printing, shipping and online delivery. Today, RH’s online catalogs reach millions of consumers each year, providing a boost to its impressive print run for their large collection of source books. RH’s stock is up nearly 87 percent since the beginning of the year, and the company continues to focus on the production, printing and online publishing of its source book collection as it prepares for future releases.

RH Online Catalogs

 

Perhaps it is companies like RH, who is well known for placing high-praise and importance on its printed source books, that have inspired online retailers like Wayfair LLC, a Boston-based online retailer that sells furniture, housewares and other items, to embrace printed catalogs. In the Press Herald article, Paul Miller, vice president and deputy director of American Catalog Mailers Association, acknowledges that Wayfair has “gotten into catalogs quite heavily.”

“The catalog used to be much more of a self-standing mechanism than it is today, (whereas now it) serves as a springboard to get the customer to buy from that company,” Miller said in the article.

“The catalog still carries the identity of the company, of the retailer.”Dirxion Contact Us

Studies show manufacturers favor distributors with strong e-commerce

The message from manufacturers to distributors is to get your e-commerce up to snuff, according to recent surveys conducted by Modern Distribution Management (MDM). A post earlier this month summarized some of the findings and analyses that pointed toward the importance of online transaction practices.

Dean Mueller and Jonathan Bein of Real Results Marketing are quoted in the MDM article, and they believe manufacturers understand that “the path to sales growth includes offering products in multiple channels, with e-commerce at the forefront.”

Mueller and Bein state that manufactures want to partner with distributors who have a more-established e-commerce channel because they “don’t have time to nurture distributors without solid e-commerce options.” MDM supports this claim with statistics that show manufacturers are actually further along in their e-commerce development than distributors. According to MDM, the percentage of manufacturers who report e-commerce as less than 10 percent of total revenue is lowering (from 57 percent in 2015 to 41 percent in 2016); meanwhile, the number of manufacturers reporting 10-30 percent e-commerce revenue is growing (15 percent increase from 2015-2016).

Distributors, on the other hand, haven’t been as quick to shift from the nascent (fewer than 10 percent revenue) to the mature (10-30 percent of revenue) stage. There has been only a 7 percent drop in the nascent stage and a corresponding 5-percent gain in the mature stage. In other words, distributors aren’t growing their e-commerce revenue as quickly as manufacturers.

MDM also claims that manufacturers are deliberately looking for distributors that will help develop markets and drive traffic to online channels. “They want partners that will help sell product benefits through the online channel, such as adding short videos about the products to their websites,” the article states.

Dirxion has seen an emphasis placed on rich media among its online catalogs customers. This emphasis has resulted in new developments like the “Videos” tab that stores a library of videos within the online catalogs interface. HD Supply showcases 14 different categories in its online catalogs videos tab, which can be found on the left-hand side of its interface.

HD Supply Catalog

In linking product numbers to e-commerce pages, Dirxion plays a vital role in strengthening the distributor’s e-commerce results. One of the most notable examples of this is MSC, whose e-commerce revenues continue to climb. Please visit the previous link for more information on Dirxion’s work with MSC.

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B2B Online convention teaches us more about what online catalogs need

This week, B2B Online is taking place in Chicago, where leading manufacturers and distributors are meeting to learn digital strategies. Dirxion’s Mark Thomas, sales, is attending the convention to meet with prospects and customers while learning more about what online catalogs might need.

Thomas says that, overall, there is a lot of talk about using data to understand how buyers are interacting with your website. Specifically, B2B websites are tracking visitors using their analytics software and then combining that with CRM data. In turn, for example, Caterpillar can assign unique website experiences based on user types. Rather than leading with products, Caterpillar determines whether the user is in road construction, farming or, perhaps, building construction, and depending on their selection, serves up a more-specific set of products.

He also noted that B2B Online recognizes a fundamental shift in the way people buy. Both retail and B2B customers are doing their own research much earlier in the process. They want to figure out what features they want to buy, why they are good for them and will engage with chat or reach out to sales if the information they find is compelling.

Ryan Jenkins touched on similar points during his presentation, which addressed the different approaches generations tend to take when making a purchase. The following picture shows a chart that he displayed during his session:

 

Jenkins points out that each generation evaluates a pitch differently. Whereas Builders value recommendations, Millenials value co-creation; whereas Boomers consider credibility, Gen X’ers consider value (from a financial perspective) to be most important.

Ultimately, B2B Online places emphasis on high quality website content — videos, eBooks, white papers, blog posts, customer feedback — so that buyers can continue to do research themselves. Without this information, buyers are beginning to look elsewhere first before considering a sales call from your company.

As a distribution platform, Dirxion’s online catalogs can be a one-stop page for a lot of research to help inform buyers before making a purchase. Most of Dirxion’s clients are Boomers or Gen X’ers, and they do appreciate a consistent product that performs steadily as well as a platform that provides good ROI. Because of this, most customers require Dirxion to integrate e-commerce product pages directly into the online catalogs through iFrames, Quick Views or custom dialogues.

Overall, B2B Online affirmed some of the recent developments Dirxion has pursued, like MSC’s tab pull-out that provides instant access to the Big Book on every page of MSC’s website. The convention has also provided a few new ideas, like user-based content distribution, that could take online catalogs to the next generation.

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