Preparing Your Brand for Google Analytics 4

Implications for Your Brand 

Google Analytics is so omnipresent (not to mention, free) that most brands will follow suit and migrate to GA4. According to a survey of 250 marketers by Search Engine Land, most will “tough out” the switch. 70 percent will handle the migration internally, 14 percent will hire outside consultants and 12 percent will explore other platforms, like Adobe Analytics, at a cost.  

While many GA implementations are complex, and migration can be challenging, we believe that GA4 is well worth the effort for a number of reasons:  

Steps to Take Today

  1. Start now. Plan to have GA4 implemented by June 2022 to ensure year-over-year historical GA4 data.
  2. Concurrently use UA. Continue using UA, concurrently with GA4, until the July 2023 cutoff. There will be a learning curve for GA4; use the next year to test and learn and get comfortable with GA4 while preserving your current reports and insights in UA.
  3. Re-evaluate your analytics approach. What does your brand want to know about conversion paths and audiences? What other data sets can you integrate with GA4 data? How can you visualize this data to produce actionable insights? GA4 provides more tools and flexibility to power perpetually optimized media, content, and commerce experiences. The GA4 migration gives brands an opportunity to rethink their approaches to analytics on their owned platforms, and beyond.

If you have any questions, need help implementing GA4, or re-evaluating your analytics approach, please get in touch.  

Astound Launches New Value Exchange Index Dashboard

The short answer: Astound Commerce’s new Value Exchange Index (VEI) tool. This single-page application displays critical audit data through an easily navigated, always-on dashboard, revealing current brand experience delivery across an established set of digital commerce touchpoints via web and mobile channels. Through VEI, Astound evaluates the full buying cycle for dozens of top brands monthly, from initial product search to post-purchase, so that the full commerce process may be evaluated and the complete customer journey analyzed and understood—and the value that brands must deliver is realized.

Astound’s VEI marks a new era in the measurement and analysis of digital data. While consumer journey research is an established component of digital commerce marketing, Astound’s VEI takes it to another much more granular—and far more accurate—level. By considering the buying cycle from the buyer’s point of view, through a wide range of purchased products and applied metrics, Astound can unequivocally pinpoint where brands are succeeding, or more importantly, where they still have work to do. The scores reflect brand and industry strengths and weaknesses, assuring an accurate portrayal of the present while simultaneously pointing to future probabilities.

Evaluations are performed by Astound’s expert digital commerce analysts and are assured through a binary approach, with all queries presented in a yes/no format, avoiding the subjective responses that can distort audit results. 

To embody the modern commerce experience, 100 metrics were identified as core to the customer journey. From there, each metric is categorized into six unique, primary indicators, representative of top-line, universal consumer expectations:

Additionally, a number of metrics deemed fundamental contribute to what VEI analysts internally call the Baseline Indicator. These particular metrics address the minimum capabilities that a brand must encompass to maintain a nominally functional digital commerce site. A brand should score high on this indicator to assure its site experience measures up to acceptable consumer standards—a score of 65 percent, for example, would be cause for concern. Of brands currently assessed, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ralph Lauren currently hold top honors when it comes to providing the best digital commerce experience. Knowing how your brand experience rates in this hyper-competitive digital jungle can mean the difference between a one-and-done shopper and a lifelong advocate for your brand.

Metrics are further assigned to one of three main touchpoints: Messaging, Shopping, and Service. This provides quick overviews of each brand’s digital strengths and deficiencies. The sum total of the touchpoints determines the brand’s overall score. As such, a brand could have an overall score consisting of 93 percent, with Messaging being 27 percent based on the average number of “yes” metrics accrued in the group, a Shopping score of 42 percent, and a Service score of 24 percent—leaving little doubt where the brand should deploy additional digital assets and developer talent.

Always On and Ever-Evolving 

While Astound’s VEI is unique for the depth and detail of its analytical capabilities, the data and expert insights are presented in an elegant, intuitive, and dynamic interface. Page navigation is provided by a “Select Vertical” sliding menu, allowing users to easily transition from singular to cumulative on all data sets. Example: the aforementioned touchpoint scores can be viewed for the Aggregated Verticals, or for Fitness & Sporting Goods, Footwear, Jewelry & Accessories, and so on individually. 

The commerce sector is evolving constantly, changing as new technologies appear and consumer tastes shift. Any functional analytical tool must likewise evolve, and Astound has built flexibility into VEI in response. Newer elements will become integrated into VEI on an iterative basis. One feature now under development is Pivotal Moments, a set of metrics focused on specific slices or groupings of touchpoints that identify the precise points in the customer journey that affect behavior. Astound is also refining a weighting system for its metrics, given that metrics vary in their relative value to the buying cycle. 

Astound’s VEI data is never dated, accommodating the protean, shifting—and fickle—nature of the digital marketplace. Brands have always endeavored to obtain relevant data. While the challenge was significant during the uncontested reign of brick-and-mortar, the expansion of the digital marketplace has made the accumulation and application of data sine qua non. And that extends to the measurement of data—whether they are assessed correctly, and whether incoming information is useful and timely. VEI’s sound methodology covers all the bases—its competitive intelligence is an immeasurable asset to brand managers in the digital commerce space. 

At Your Service

Good customer service and support, in fact, are foundational to the entire ecommerce structure. Consumers have made this explicit: 

It’s well known that it’s easier to retain customers than attract new ones—but that’s true only if consumer needs are being met with care. We recognize this fact at Astound Commerce, and we’ve defined our company mission accordingly. Spectacular customer service and support are integral to every solution we develop. Case in point: our work with AdvoCare, a US-based single-level direct-sales company with 100,000 direct-sales representatives across the US and Canada, and a wide range of offerings, including energy, weight management, sports performance, and wellness products. With a growing distributor base, AdvoCare needed an ecommerce site that would showcase its products and allow for personalized customer service and support.

To transform AdvoCare’s evolving digital presence and support its customer-first approach, we migrated their existing site to Salesforce Commerce Cloud (SFCC), implemented Salesforce Order Management system (OMS), and integrated Salesforce Service Cloud (SFSC). 

Through migration of the order and fulfillment processes to AdvoCare’s new OMS, orders from all channels can be tracked and optimized, and the company can better respond to customer demand and avoid out-of-stocks, which surged 172 percent in the US between pre-pandemic and August 2021.

In addition to providing excellent customer service, retailers must be prepared to respond to increases in customer service queries and demands. Smart Insights reports that 53 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with a company they can message, a fact that emphasizes the need for exceptional support software like SFSC.

Integrated into many Astound solutions due to its powerful features, SFSC provides AdvoCare’s customer service representatives with a complete view of each customer, enabling them to track support issues and communicate directly with customers, effectively reducing average call times, streamlining service team processes, and improving customer satisfaction. Although AdvoCare is currently in the foundational stage, future setup will allow it to layer in chat, omnichannel assignments, and other automations as needed. Other powerful features of SFSC include the following: 

All these properties make Salesforce Service Cloud a potent addition for many ecommerce solutions. Astound implemented SFSC when it undertook a digital asset rebuild and relaunch for SNIPES, one of Europe’s leading sneaker and streetwear retailers. Though SNIPES was a cutting-edge brand in the hip-hop clothing and footwear sphere, its ecommerce presence lagged behind its image. A patchwork of legacy platforms undermined its online expansion and eroded customer support. By integrating SFSC across all SNIPES brands, Astound greatly facilitated agent response to customer questions and requests across multiple digital channels. Customer satisfaction and retention increased dramatically as a result. 

SFSC was also integral in Astound’s solutions for two other companies: Toys”R”Us Canada and Sporting Life, Canada’s top fashion sportswear retailer. For Toys”R”Us, SFSC was integrated with KeyTree, allowing customers to submit questions directly to in-store personnel. Associates reply via email, and the interactions are logged as cases in Service Cloud.

For Sporting Life, SFSC was implemented as the main ticketing/case system and served as a data unifier for an existing CRM, a homegrown order management system, an SFCC commerce site, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Customer service was enabled to manage cases through multiple channels—the Contact Us form, email, telephony integration, chat, and social media. Cases and chat threads were assigned using Salesforce Service Cloud Omni-Channel assignment. 

Good customer service and support has always been central to successful brick-and-mortar retail: the quicker the response, the more personalized the service, the happier the customer. Online retailers must compensate for a lack of real-world tactility by assuring all platform features—including service and support—are bulletproof. Add to that the fact that ecommerce has accelerated the shopping experience, with shoppers wanting to view options, make their choices, and proceed to purchase now. They expect that same responsiveness when it comes to service support, and brands ignore this expectation at their peril.

Shoptalk Takeaway: Live commerce is the new imperative no brand can afford to ignore

Against this backdrop, one might think the Shoptalk scene in Las Vegas was a jarring disconnect. In reality, it provided an invaluable opportunity to meet with some of our clients in person and talk about these dualities and the very powerful need we’re all feeling right now for a shared human experience. And when you’re having that conversation with the top brands in the business, one topic comes up time and again: live commerce. 

Live commerce, or active interaction with your customers via live video, encompasses live feeds on platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram Live, and it can consist of a one-to-many interaction with an unlimited audience size or a one-to-one concierge-style session with an individual customer. Livestreamed customer service also falls in this category, and all aspects of live commerce—customer service included—dovetail nicely with the growing force of the metaverse, which brings with it an unprecedented opportunity to give consumers a true in-store experience from a distance. The live commerce experience is equally suited to all levels of retail, from warehouse stores to luxury brands alike. 

The clients we talked to at Shoptalk were emphatic about the importance of this trend, and recent data supports them. IDC’s 2022 retail predictions report holds that by 2023, 40 percent of retailers will be engaged in livestreaming as a sales tool, and those brands can expect to see a 10 percent increase in conversion rates. eMarketer predicts that the live commerce segment of retail will have a value of US$25 billion by 2023 (more than doubling this year’s figure). From influencers to store employees, brands need human beings who can talk to their customers directly, in real time, and guide their experience. 

The metaverse in particular is a veritable playground for this, and if you’re a retailer, it behooves you to host the same kind of events and offer the same services in that space that you would in a physical store. Think virtual presale events, help desks, and of course the opportunity to walk the store, shop, and even try things on. 

These suggestions are a natural extension of a carefully crafted omnichannel strategy—which competitive brands should already have firmly in place and be executing on daily. In fact, in Astound’s own 2022 omnichannel report titled Online Meets In-Store: 7 Top Tips for Bridging the Gap Between Online and Offline Commerce, we report on how augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3-D visualization tools help bridge the online-offline gap through the creation of vibrant, almost tactile product analogues, allowing customer interaction to a deep and satisfying degree. In addition, by allowing customers to discover and test products in a virtual environment that is shockingly similar to physical reality, these tools can slash customer dissatisfaction and product returns, bolstering retailer revenues. 

Our report also notes that immersive digital solutions can replicate the social value of in-store shopping by enabling users to invite friends to shop and chat while browsing. All these digital options help break down the walls between online and offline, allowing customers to view shopping as a unified experience with multiple access points.

Of course there are still metaverse skeptics—“Utopia or Anti-Social Dystopia?” read one recent headline. But perhaps for those of us embracing duality these days, the answer to that headline is “Yes.” Duality is a fact of our current collective human experience. We are living with the reality of unbearable tragedy, and still we get up and get to work every day because that’s what gives us purpose and ultimately helps those around us. We come together even when it’s difficult, and even if it’s virtual, because human connection matters. Connecting with our clients matters. Connecting with your customers matters. The live experience matters.

The vast potential the metaverse holds for retail makes it clear that when it comes to live commerce, what’s important isn’t so much the where but rather the why and the how. Those are questions we at Astound are well-equipped to answer, so let’s talk. We’re ready to make a human connection. 

The Astound Commerce Difference

At Astound Commerce, we specialize in helping iconic and innovative brands build and enhance their online relationships with consumers. We have a proven track record of successful, award-winning project implementations and we’re privileged to have been selected as the platform partner of choice for global brands like Skechers, Revolution Beauty, rag & bone, and Halfords—a legacy we consistently work to uphold. We have forged solid partnerships with industry-leading technology providers including Salesforce, Adobe Commerce, SAP, Commercetools, and Shopify Plus, to help brands build dynamic ecommerce ecosystems that power compelling customer experiences.

Halfords, a leading provider of motoring and cycling products and services across the UK, sought an experienced digital specialist to help craft its vision, showcase its products and services, and define its motoring loyalty program to its users.

A complex project that spanned eight months, we worked closely with the brand creating an “Experience Vision”—designing two full user journeys and creating a research repository where benchmarks and user journeys and requirements were detailed for stakeholders. Through research into existing loyalty programs for various brands, we leveraged Halfords’ own research into user needs and expectations to deliver exceptional internal and customer experiences. Nearing the project’s go-live date, Halfords Group Customer and Commercial Director Karen Bellairs commented, “The hard work, tenacity, and sheer team spirit to bring this to launch is a credit to you all. I can’t thank you enough and your partnership has been greatly appreciated.” 

At Astound, earning your partnership is not about “making the sale.” We are dedicated to your success from Day One and strive to bring value and insight to every engagement to help you realize your vision straightaway—because, in the world of ecommerce, timing is everything. Transparent communication is foundational to each and every partnership—we will be open and honest with you and not afraid to say the difficult thing when needed, from project pitch to post-launch support. We will work with you to build a long-term strategy that meets your objectives, maximizes return on your investment, and drives your business forward.

Our commitment to transparency supported our collaboration with client rag & bone, one of the world’s leading luxury fashion retailers with more than 42 stores around the world. 

As Melanie Masterson, VP of Ecommerce at rag & bone, notes, “Trust is not always something you find in a vendor. And I think that’s what sets Astound apart—the team feels not like a vendor, but a true partner. We are not only excited about our website that will go live this year, but our continued strategic partnership with the Astound team. The trust they’ve helped build has allowed us to be transparent around our long-range planning so they can ensure the right executional strategy for us. And if it hasn’t been clear, they’ve been a pleasure to work with.”

To further sustain your goals, we provide ongoing support and education to guide you beyond project completion—more than 90 percent of our clients sign ongoing strategic support agreements after initial project engagement. These types of engagements include access to Astound’s key executives and our Customer Advisory Board—a panel of your peers who can provide insight into the current ecommerce climate from their own shared experiences. 

Astound has been in the digital commerce business for more than two decades. We not only deliver flawless technical solutions but also forge strong, dependable, and lasting partnerships. Today’s challenges—navigating a global pandemic and geopolitical unrest, managing and securing customer data, and honoring authenticity in an increasingly virtual world, to name a few—are unprecedented, but an experienced partner can see you through. 

As War Continues, Astound Commerce Prioritizes Its People

Meta Lost US$230 Billion in Value in One Day

IDFA tags allow advertisers to track an iOS user’s activities, including but not limited to how that user interacts with digital ads, in order to personalize the ads they see. The new policy allows users to opt out of that tracking, and studies show that a majority of iPhone users have done so—thereby eviscerating a major source of revenue for companies that create and depend on targeted ad platforms. And, as anyone who has been haunted by the same aspirational pair of shoes everywhere they go on the web can attest, no one relies more heavily on that tracking or those personalized ads than Facebook. Thus the exceptional valuation blow to parent company Meta, which has traditionally garnered more than 90 percent of its revenue from digital advertising.  

The change in Apple policy is just the latest in a slew of changes around data gathering, privacy, and transparency, as brands come to terms with a cookie-less future. Web browsers Firefox and Safari have been blocking third-party cookies—which track a user’s actions, capture this data, and provide it to outside sources—for years now, and Google will follow suit on Chrome starting in 2023. Therefore brands need to get very comfortable very quickly with the concepts and practices of zero-party data, where data is collected voluntarily and directly from customers, and first-party data, which involves collecting data via a user’s behaviors and actions, including site navigation and purchase or subscription actions. In either case, consumer awareness is key, as is a true sense of the value sharing that data will afford. 

It’s clear that consumers are willing to give up their information if they see an obvious benefit to it, such as more personalized shopping experiences, a deeper offering when it comes to loyalty programs, or a one-time discount. In fact, Inmar Intelligence has found that 65 percent of consumers are willing to share their personal information with a brand in exchange for more personalized experiences, coupons, or other benefits, and that a whopping 90 percent believe that a brand’s ability to personalize their experience impacts how much they shop with that brand. In fact, only 9 percent of consumers aren’t comfortable sharing their data with brands—but transparency and control are the key differentiators. Brands that hone the process of collecting zero-party data in particular can use that process to create a stronger customer bond and build loyalty. So it's a circular experience, where brands and consumers both win and no one feels secretly taken advantage of. 

Getting this right isn’t optional, with 80 percent of respondents to a 2021 Wyng survey saying that a company’s data policies and ethical collection of data would impact their choice to do business with that brand. Now is the moment to implement strong practices around obtaining consent, articulating how data will be used, and giving visibility into and control over data privacy settings via an account preferences page or mobile app. Your brand’s mandate here is threefold: Empower your customers to control their privacy. Openly communicate the level of personalization your site will offer in exchange for data-sharing. Then vow to make that personalized experience the best it can be. 

Because while you may not be able to put a price on personalization, we know it’s in the neighborhood of $230 billion.

The Astound Commerce Difference

Focused on providing maximum business value, we design complex commerce ecosystems on the most advanced enterprise platforms, enabling global brands like Halfords, FLOR, TOMS, and Crocs to grow revenue while optimizing the online experience. Clients like luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro continue to work with us because our website redesign, replatform, and order management system integration helped the brand increase overall revenue by 300 percent. Angela Gomez, Chief Innovation Officer at El Palacio de Hierro, has personally praised our work, noting, “Astound’s vision for design and usability is of the highest standard, and they went above and beyond to deliver what was needed.” 

Through understanding your brand’s business objectives, our expert analysts and engineers assess your project from a holistic perspective to determine project scope and unique market requirements, bringing a deep expertise of technology platforms, systems architecture, and implementation methodologies to enrich your customer’s user experience. Project delivery is ensured through integrated QA practices from the start of the engagement, resulting in industry-leading success metrics, as measured by our platform partners.

Impeccably designed technical solutions are delivered with the business support needed to ensure successful adoption of your organization’s new technology. We provide platform consulting services including business user training to increase efficiency and employee satisfaction, program management to initiate and oversee internal change management, and ongoing 24/7 operational support to ensure stress-free business operations. We understand the commerce landscape is ever-evolving—we will maintain upgrades and updates to your online platform, because digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. 

You need a partner to help you face today’s ecommerce challenges—internal and external—head-on. From staying agile to overcoming legacy hurdles to meeting growing consumer expectations and demand at scale, you deserve a partner you can trust who will stay the course. Champions of your success, the Astound team is dedicated to your engagement and becomes an extension of your organization from Day One. Our shared high standards for success include efficient execution, meeting your objectives, and providing both immediate and lasting value for you—and your customers. That’s the bedrock of our strategic partnership, and it’s there for the long haul.

We continue our series in part two of The Astound Commerce Difference, where we explore the values of trust and transparency—key reasons visionary brands have turned to Astound as their trusted partner over the last 22 years. Read the article here.

Taking the Right Stance on Returns

In case you’re in doubt about the huge and growing space that returns occupy in the digital commerce landscape, consider that UPS just reported the largest single day of returns in its history, with 1.9 million returned packages processed in its systems on January 2, and a 23 percent year-over-over increase in the number of returns for that full first week of the month. The pandemic hasn’t helped, as the massive shift to online shopping and a trend toward relaxed returns policies including expanded returns windows have contributed to the rate of returns doubling overall in 2021, and returns of online purchases in particular rising 46 percent. In terms of the environmental impact, the transportation of returns emitted an estimated 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021, and it would take the planting of 1.5 billion trees to offset the annual impact of ecommerce returns in the US alone.

So why do returns happen in the first place? Astound Commerce’s own research shows that dissatisfaction in product quality is the most common reason for returning an item, with 39 percent of respondents we surveyed citing this as a factor. But that’s followed closely by fit, at 36 percent, and size at 30 percent. That means that more than two-thirds of what’s driving the great returns tsunami are things that a better user experience can help with. In that same Astound survey, when asked what online brands can do before the point of purchase to help mitigate the need for returns, 55 percent of respondents selected more-detailed product information and imagery, while 40 percent cited product ratings and reviews. 

Adding those features to your site will also address another emerging consumer behavior, exacerbated by the pandemic and related lockdown orders. Many shoppers have become accustomed to buying multiple versions, in varying colors and sizes, of one item—knowing they have the option to return much of what they're buying. To squash that habit, brands must communicate to the consumer the ripple effect of those decisions—and to gently remind them of all the ways the brand has empowered them to select a product they’ll love and choose to keep. Fit-finder tools and virtual try-on content driven by augmented reality technologies, for example, can help retailers considerably reduce size- and fit-related returns. They also benefit the bottom line, with Shopify reporting that products sold through the use of such technologies have a 94 percent higher conversion rate than products sold without them. 

Of course, you can't tell consumers how to be greener unless you’re also telling consumers how you yourself as a brand are being greener. Making customers aware of your sustainability efforts not only acts as a powerful lever to alter brand perception and tap into customer values, but also has a positive impact on consumer mindsets by raising awareness of sustainable practices. So prominently surface your corporate responsibility and sustainability stance and credentials in your main navigation onsite, demonstrating this as a core business value. Incentivize greener consumer behaviors, such as combining multiple orders or returns in one shipment or offering a corporate donation to an environmental charity for certain purchases. Make sure your sustainability messaging conveys the full breadth of sustainability efforts being undertaken across your whole business. 

When you do all of this and empower your customers to make informed choices that are more socially responsible, you create a virtuous circle that’s every bit as good for the planet as it is for your bottom line.