In the ecommerce business, there are innovators and trendsetters, those companies and individuals who think ahead and anticipate changes. We’ve asked an expert ecommerce observer to help us identify some of these companies and individuals. The observer is Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer with Shopify, the hosted shopping cart. His installment of “Innovators and Trendsetters” this month revolves around seasonality, and how merchants can capitalize on seasonal trends.
Practical eCommerce: Our first installment of “Innovators and Trendsetters” is on the topic of seasonality. You have some thoughts on seasonality, how merchants can take advantage of seasonal topics.
Harley Finkelstein: “A lot of online retailers are searching for new ways and new tactics to not only get eyeballs to their site, but also to get some general attention. Something that I’ve been noticing over the last couple of years is that there are two categories of ecommerce sites that utilize seasonality almost as a competitive advantage.
“First, some sites are built around seasonality entirely. That is their entire business model. They’re up for Mother’s Day, perhaps they’re down until Christmas, and then maybe Halloween they come back up, and then they’re back up Valentine’s Day.
“Second, other sites are there throughout the year and they time a lot of their marketing pieces and a lot of their campaigns with a certain event — whether it’s the Super Bowl or it’s Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. We’re seeing a lot of great success from stores that are utilizing the timing and the seasonality.”
PEC: Have you actually seen sites that have launched around a specific seasonal event or a specific special event and then the sites go down?
Finkelstein: “No. In my experience, if a site is built around, for example, Valentine’s Day and all it sells are goods or services related to Valentine’s Day, a week after Valentine’s Day, the owners might not pull the site down. They may simply leave it there dormant and people can do the buy on it. But the truth they do very little business [after Valentine’s Day].”
PEC: You have three examples of sites that use seasonality well. Let’s discuss those.
Finkelstein: “The first is a really interesting site, Ice.com. They’re one of the largest online jewelers. It’s a very compelling site, one I’ve been looking at for quite a while.
“What Ice.com did very early in its existence, when something like Valentine’s Day was coming around, Pinny Gniwisch [chief marketing officer] himself would grab a camera and hit the streets in New York City, for example, and would ask people different questions about Valentine’s Day, such as ‘Who’s your Valentine?’ ‘What are you doing for your Valentine?’ ‘Can you tell us a funny Valentine’s Day story?’
“He was able to generate some amazing content. They had this really amazing marketing push not just from other sites talking about Pinny’s interviews — which helped from an SEO perspective — but they really created a lot of energy around Valentine’s Day. Even if you go to Ice.com today, one of the first things you see is it says ‘Get more face time with Dad’ — the current campaign with Father’s Day. When Father’s Day passes, they’ll be looking for something else. Maybe it’s the 4th of July, maybe it’s Labor Day, and maybe it’s even going to Halloween or to Christmas. But this is a really amazing store; they view seasonality in a very compelling marketing sense. It’s a great example of a strong retailer that uses seasonality more so in their marketing.”
PEC: Another example involves the British Royal Wedding. Tell us about that.
Finkelstein: “If you go to Royalbreakfast.com, you can see a very funny site. A lot of humor. What these guys did was, it says, ‘The Royal Breakfast Company proudly presents special Kate’s and Will’s Royal O’s,’ and they actually took Cheerios-like cereal and corn flakes or similar cereal and have branded the cereal box around the Royal Wedding.
“This is different than Ice.com, in that seasonality isn’t just a marketing piece for them. It is the core. It is their business model. They look for particular events like the Royal Wedding and they created a product around that. The benefits are, one, a lot of people are talking about this. A lot of news outlets and a lot of blogs and a lot of industry experts are looking for clever and cool things happening around the Royal Wedding. This is something that’s very unique and so immediately these guys got a lot of attention because they were doing something different.
“Second, in the days preceding the Royal Wedding, they had a tremendous amount of sales because people were Googling ‘Royal Wedding,’ looking for clips and news articles. This site came up time again to the extent they were able to gather hundreds of Facebook Likes around this.
“Now, after the wedding, I guess the question you would ask yourself is, ‘What happens now?’ The Royal Wedding is over. It isn’t headline news any more. But this site is still up and my assumption is that they’ll probably leave it set up for quite some time. Sites like the Royal Breakfast Company, they’ve made seasonality their entire business model and have done so in a very compelling way.”
PEC: Listening to you describe that site, Royalbreakfast.com, the owners of it were able to spread the word fairly quickly.
Finkelstein: “I agree. Right on the front page of Royalbreakfast.com, you see how many Facebook Likes, how many tweets. Social media certainly plays a large role, but not just social media. Websites that cover interesting stores, interesting products will pick up and talk about Royalbreakfast.com. You almost create an affiliate model for yourself. If I’m sending a tweet out about Royalbreakfast.com and my followers and people that check me out online see that, they may then go ahead and check out the site as well.”
PEC: Let’s move on to the third example.
Finkelstein: “The third example [is a game site], Angry Birds. I think it’s the number one grossing iPhone iOS app or game. There’s a huge cult following around Angry Birds. It’s difficult to win, but very easy to play. I’m a big fan of the guys over at Rovio and Angry Birds.
“One of the things I thought was really neat, is they created something called ‘Angry Birds Seasons’. What it does is when you download your updates, you’re notified that there’s a new Angry Birds update, and you download it. Let’s say it’s a couple of weeks before Easter, you’ll actually get Angry Birds Easter Edition and if it’s a couple of weeks before another holiday, you’ll get the holiday edition and a couple of weeks before Halloween, you’ll get the Halloween edition.
“So, now, what I have on my iPhone, I have Angry Birds Halloween version. I have Angry Birds Easter version. By pushing out new and compelling levels and tying them to seasonality has been very, very effective for Angry Birds. What Angry Birds has done by providing different seasons or different levels and different elements of their game based around seasons and seasonality and holidays is every time I see that there’s an Angry Birds update, for example, I’m going to download it. I’m really excited to see what the 4th of July version, for example, of Angry Birds looks like.”
PEC: Some of the changes that you’re referring to involve development time to make those changes or to alter a site to capture a seasonal trend or a seasonal event. How is a smaller merchant supposed to do that?
Finkelstein: “You don’t need to be Ice.com and have a huge payroll and have a huge staff and a lot of money to have great-looking sites. The barriers to entry have been decreased in ecommerce, to the extent that you can buy one theme, for example, on a hosted platform that allows you to change products and change headers and change images. You’d be very surprised as to how easy it is to modify and move from one season to the next.”
PEC: You have some tips for our readers for capitalizing on seasonality trends.
Finkelstein: “One of the things that is interesting is novelty. Just changing your banner, changing the color, is very cheap and easy to do. By making very small modifications, changing a color, can add a lot of novelty and add more engagement from customers.
“The second thing is getting ready [for holidays and special events] far in advance. If Valentine’s Day is February 14th, by January 1st you should have a site up and running. You should have your Valentine’s Day site up there.
“The third thing that I think is really important is adjusting your website or creating sort of something custom. So, again, the Royal Wedding. The world’s attention was on the Royal Wedding and The Royal Breakfast Company created something so different, so custom. They took a totally different take to the Royal Wedding and they created cereal that had sort of the Royal Wedding theme. That’s very powerful.”