Top Things to know about Amazon and eCommerce

In digital marketing, it's good to be familiar with the stats. Here’s some of the latest.


Amazon is the destination of choice for much comparison shopping, thanks to the retailer’s reputation for price-competitiveness, as well as the fact that it sells just about everything.

  • 55% of online product searches begin on Amazon
  • 90% of online shoppers check Amazon even if they find the product they want on another ecommerce site
  • People increasingly visit Amazon first, with its share of this action up 11% year on year, and the figures down for search engines and other retailers


Despite how easy it is to launch a webstore, scaling an online business remains extremely difficult even for the most seasoned ecommerce expert. Ecommerce sales are growing, but many retailers are struggling to capitalize on their digital sales channels.

The secret to success is no longer just get it out there and see how it performs. The most successful retailers are strategic and targeted in their efforts, both offline and on.

  • The top three factors that are very or extremely influential in determining where Americans shop are price (87%), shipping cost and speed (80%) and discount offers (71%).
  • Millennials and Gen Xers spend 50% more time shopping online each week (six hours) than their older counterparts (four hours)
  • 55% of all ecommerce sales are done through branded stores, vs. 45% via marketplaces.
  • Of the 45% of all sales through marketplacesp, the most common destinations are:
           - Amazon – 36%
           - eBay – 8%
           - Etsy and others – 1%
  • Ecommerce is growing 23% year-over-year, yet 46% of American small businesses do not have a website

Mobile is Important

  • Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.
  • 71% of marketers believe mobile marketing is core to their business

Herding Cats: Keeping Up with Social Messaging Apps

In the digital marketing classes I teach at Benedictine University, one of the challenges of maintaining a digital marketing curriculum is keeping up with the changes. One of the fundamental shifts underway over the last few years has been towards greater use of mobile messaging apps, at the expense of "traditional" social media channels, such as Facebook.

For fun I took an informal poll, of a class where the age range is probably 19 years to early/mid 20's, to see which mobile messaging apps people use; I felt impressed with myself that I knew some to suggest, and had never heard of others.

In a class size of about twenty, students reported using the following apps, and some of them use multiple apps. The numbers in parentheses at the end are the number of students who said they used the app.

Snapchat - - “Ephemeral” messaging - (14)
GroupMe - - group messaging - (13)
Facebook Messenger - - messaging via Facebook (12)
Whatsapp - - international (2)
Telegram - - encrypted (1)
Viber - - free calls (1)
Kik - - (was) popular with teens (1)

So my poll is pretty informal, but I have a few comments - Snapchat is well-known, and my general interest in these apps is knowing that with increasing traffic and usage, the advertising industry is trying to figure out how to leverage them. Most of these apps like Snapchat were tiny startups that morphed rapidly into having hundreds of millions of users. And because of this rapid growth, a good example of the impact is that Facebook ended up buying WhatsApp for 19 billion dollars, because of the rapid growth and realizing they needed to make sure they weren't left in the dust.

GroupMe I never heard of, even though I keep my eyes on the news. My little notes about the messaging apps above are not exhaustive - apps share functions, but they are known for different things. For example, WeChat is not on the list, but has a huge international footprint, and it's an example of an app that is taking a very deep foothold in China, and packing in so many features, that it threatens to unseat operating systems and other apps.

So the main thing that interests me is the cycle of where the eyeballs and attention goes. A decade ago you had Microsoft Windows owning most of the eyeballs through its operating system on desktop PCs, and the Internet was already beginning to shift this dominance, because of the beginnings of the "cloud", where programs you normally had to buy and insert a CD and use on your desktop or laptop, were now a website. Facebook in particular came along as a single website, and started packing in features, and that took eyeballs away from the overall operating system.

And that what Facebook and others did to Microsoft, was starting to happen to Facebook, with the rise of messaging apps, and that's why they paid 19 billion dollars for a little messaging app company with a lot of users.

Things move so fast it's hard sometimes to know what to keep track of, but to simplify, I tell my students that you can count on things evolving, and that from a marketing perspective, advertising dollars and techniques follow where people spend their time.

My general sense at the present is that marketing on messaging apps is an unknown as far as where it's headed, and one of the biggest threats to conventional digital marketing techniques has been the rise of ad blockers. Yet Google, the 60 billion dollar a year search marketing machine, is not sitting idle - it has some deals with some of the ad blocker apps, to allow google ads; and I think that's fair, usually Google has been the least obnoxious and unobtrusive advertising phenomenon in the larger space.

App makers can integrate ads into their apps, and things are shifting in that direction; ad blockers generally limit ads that appear in a browser but not necessarily in an app. So that shift will continue; also techniques will surely change in situations where conventional ads are not desired by the app maker, or where in messaging apps, it is primarily a text environment where users may not want a visual ad encroaching on their text. But promotions could be done by "following" a messaging account, sort of like Twitter. One student who works at a dance club indicated that the club has a SnapChat account that people can follow.

Those are some of my thoughts on herding cats - best wishes in keeping track of messaging apps!

- Dr. Todd Kelsey, PhD

Social Media Bubble

I think we may be looking at a probable social media bubble.

(My background and bias: I wrote one of the first books on social media (for beginners), have worked in social media marketing, and teach social media marketing. I've worked at or with agencies, at non-profits, as well as small, medium and Fortune 500, Fortune 50 corporations. Over time time I began to question social media in direct inverse proportion to my understanding of how ROI works, and my skepticism increased as companies evolved their advertising platforms, most notably Facebook.)

This post was triggered by a discussion today where someone sought input on a series of slides they intended to present at a conference, and instead of accepting the statistics at face value (which I am the first to admit I have done in the past), I decided to do some digging. In each case, my skepticism was confirmed.

I will excerpt things very briefly here, but I'm glad to share the context and more data. I think the fundamental conditions for a bubble include overinflated hype, with a detachment from fiscal sustainability, as well as a kind of incestuous citation from conflict of interest sources. I think all these conditions are present, and that some large brands can effectively use conventional social media; I also think that more sophisticated use of some advanced Facebook ad products can result in ROI. But for many others, it is starting to look like a significant issue.

STRIKE ONE (indicative hype quotes)

"Social Centered Selling  reports that 72.6% of sales people using social media outperformed"
> conflict of interest -

"Social media marketing budgets will double"
> doesn't mean it is effective.

"15,100,000" consumers go to social media channels before making purchase decisions"
> doesn't really say anything about the % or demographics, or what influence social had

"74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions"
> based on 2011 study (out of date)
> conflict of interest from original source:
"According to a study by the digital marketing agency ODM Group, 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions."
> it doesn't specific which social networks or what kind kinds of purchase decisions. this is probably B2C peer referral, but it's also a social media company so probably a bit suspect, conflict of interest in terms of spin.


One of the items that came up in my research was a Wall Street Journal article, that cites a Gallup poll, saying that a majority of respondents in a Gallup survey said that social media had no influence at all on purchasing decisions.

"Fans and follower counts are over. Now it's about what is social doing for you and real business objectives," says Jan Rezab, chief executive of Socialbakers AS


Facebook quietly made several changes to their newsfeed this month and a respected industry source released an internal article on a paid membership site under the title "Facebook makes reaching your audience even harder".

The article got my attention, but what got my attention even more was a link to Facebook's page recommending "best practices" for engaging on social media, which gave me a funny feeling like I was on the Titanic. Facebook recommends people post more frequently as part of "best practices", but they do not address the fact of diminishing returns.

If you look for data on Google on how often to post, you see a Hubspot article on benchmarks ( but the article doesn't show how effective strategies are, just what people are doing.

If you actually look at the Hubspot data in the report behind the article, the #1 takeaway shows the opposite of what Facebook is urging people to do. Hubspot is a respected industry source, and the data is pretty deep.

Outside of large-scale brands and custom audience targeting, it makes me wonder if Facebook may be not be a good investment for most businesses.

Excellent Google Intros on Search and Webmaster Tools

I'm always on the lookout for good resources that help learners to understand core concepts and tools, and I came across two videos recently that are short, but which have excellent visuals that can help anyone to understand how Google works.

The video on how search works explains the core concepts on how Google search functions.

Another video introduces Google Webmaster Tools, a free tool any website owner could and should use as part of a "toolkit" for search engine optimization.


Technique: Custom Google Maps with Pictures

Recently I came across a custom Google Map on Goodwill's website that I was impressed with, which catches your eye, because unlike most Google maps, you actually see peoples' faces. It drew me in, I clicked on a map marker, and read the story of someone who was impacted by Goodwill. I think it's a strong example of how personalization can be compelling, and I figured out how to do it, and tried it myself at a sample blog (will be up for at least three months circa 3/25/15)

It turns out that with some tweaks, you can create custom markers for a custom Google Map, and there are a variety of tools out there -- some allow you to choose from pre-set markers, others allow you to upload your own image for a marker.

For my test, I ended up starting a Starter Wordpress site at GoDaddy, ($3.95/mo), and then added the WP Google Maps plug-in.

Implementing this technique requires some basic digital editing skills - I happened to use SnagIt, a screen capture tool that has some basic editing functionality. I created a small icon with a transparent background:

And then a larger icon for the "info window" that you can have pop up when a person clicks on the Marker.

Then, inside the plug-in within the Wordpress interface, I created two custom markers, added basic information, and linked Yoda to his Wikipedia page, and me to my LinkedIn Page.


I think this kind of approach has a lot of options - from the way Goodwill used it (a way to invite people into checking out stories), or in a business setting, to link to customers, clients, locations, etc.

The bottom line is that I like the "people approach" of putting a picture up, and I think it's worth considering.

To try the map out I created, visit the sample blog (will be up for at least three months circa 3/25/15)


What the Heck is Marketing Automation?

At some point you may come across the concept of marketing automation, which is increasingly becoming affordable and usable for businesses and organizations of all kinds. It's an entire industry, and it can seem complex, but I recently came across a resource that may be helpful.

MailChimp is a popular email tool, which you can use for making an email newsletter and sending out to people. It's easy, fun to use, and it's free (up to 5,000 users). I rediscovered MailChimp recently and decided to use it to make a simple email list for my NPOex project - if you go to there's a link on the page for the email list, and you can see what the sign-up is like. I decided to use MailChimp partly because it was free, but also because it's "friendly" and easy to use.

More recently, I looked into MailChimp and they have a nice page that describes how marketing automation works:

For example, depending on what you've heard or come across, you may have heard of systems like Marketo, or Hubspot (Hubspot also has good learning material). But it looks like MailChimp may be an especially good way for beginners to try out marketing automation - or even marketing professionals, to help get your head around some of the concepts.

For example, one of the things you can do with marketing automation is to "automate a response", so if someone takes a particular action on your Web site, you can automatically follow up. Another way to think about marketing automation is simply as "follow up".

Another way to think about it is in terms of recommendation. If you've shopped on Amazon, you might see the recommendations about "People who looked at this item also looked at" . . . and so on.

For marketing automation, if someone visits your site, and visits a certain page, or downloads a certain ebook, etc. - then you might recommend something else they might be interested, such as a particular resource, solution, or product.

So at a very simple level, you could try making an email list using a tool like MailChimp, and review their material on marketing automation. Then you might try upgrading for a period of time to a paid account, so you could try doing some automation.

Best wishes!

M-STEM: The Future of Higher Education?

Given the tectonic shifts in the education marketplace and in the workforce, if I were a University President, or member of the Board, I would try to move an institution long-term into being a Science/Tech/Engineering/Math (STEM) institution, with humanities in support. If I were a faculty member (which I am), I would look at the writing on the wall, and seriously look at how humanities could support STEM, for the very continuity of an institution. I don’t think anyone would argue that the days are numbered when a majority of students will accept the traditional requirements of a four-year degree. For better or worse, the shift is already happening,
What I would suggest, as a tool for institutions, whether they are STEM, or traditional, is M-STEM. The “M” in M-STEM stands for Modular, which provides a context for drawing in other skills when they are proven to support the needs of companies and society.
For example, in a recent report by Payscale, Harvey Mudd College tops out Stanford, even Harvard, etc., on ROI, because they go beyond STEM, by helping their graduates communicate. The reason Mudd graduates are appreciated in high-tech, is because:
"Our alumni know how to write, communicate with broad audiences, work across disciplines and work collaboratively rather than competitively," said Thyra Briggs, the school's vice president for admission and financial aid. "We hear repeatedly from employers and graduate schools that our alumni are often 'translators' in their offices and graduate programs."

So I think that M-STEM could provide a way to help higher education evolve and thrive, especially in the large swathe of mid-level private schools, who neither have the power of top-tier schools, or the support of state funding. But even “top tier” schools could benefit from an M-STEM approach, and I believe an open curriculum is the answer.
What exactly the “M” in M-STEM would entail would be up for debate, but one suggested approach is to connect Marketing to STEM education, partly to provide a context for teaching effective writing skills, but also because marketing is directly relevant to any scientist or technologist or engineer these days, who often end up being directly involved in a startup.
Also, I reflect on the nature of my own experience – as a technical writer, I found that technical writing is really about translation, and ultimately leads to crossover with marketing, product design, and consumer validation, where concepts need to be “translated”, so they can be explained to the end user. So I believe that marketing would be a natural context for teaching writing.
The hard data from job hiring sites overwhelmingly supports STEM, and also marketing. In 2013, the #1 skill that got people hired was social media marketing. In 2014, one of the top five skills was SEO/SEM. So really the top 25 skills list is basically STEM, plus “M”:
But some institutions may even need help just getting into marketing, and for them, I would suggest “CASA” – a focused curriculum based around the core activities in digital marketing. 
For some institutions, this may be the first move into competency-based learning in a serious way.
So philosophically, where do I fit in? I can see the completely data-driven argument that would throw the cannons overboard (humanities). But as a matter of societal continuity, and as a practical matter of helping people communicate, I think there’s a strong argument for having the option of humanities, and in some cases, the continued requirement – writing and history, at the very least. (I am not in the least against the humanities! Undergrad I was a Literature major - but then I was an unemployed Literature major.)
Really what’s happening in higher education, if you weren’t aware, is what’s happened in a variety of other industries. The easiest way to get it is to think of social media. It used to be companies could broadcast a single advertising message and consumers were forced to absorb it in channels chosen by companies. Now the completely opposite is true – there’s so many options out there, that it’s all consumer-driven.
So the “writing on the wall” is that education will also become increasingly consumer-driven. For example, I agree that a learning environment that recognizes and strengthens particular “innate intelligences” is important. (Howard Gardner, Harvard University’s “Project Zero”)
So I would agree that adaptive learning to deliver higher value relative to innate ability areas or intelligences is important, certainly in college, but even in high school or earlier. I would suggest that anyone who would want to do this, could and should pay close attention to Beansprock, a new startup oriented around job search, where the same principles could be applied and integrated with education.
However, an immediate-term practical direction where an institution could go would be to escalate and pursue areas within marketing that are in the top skills areas to get people hired. I believe these could be a strong contextual platform for transforming an institution into an M-STEM school, upping the ante on a school like Harvey Mudd. In other words, the Payscale article I referenced unearths an opportunity to be at the cutting edge, and contextualized integration of writing into a STEM curriculum would be bleeding edge.
So what I would suggest to any higher education institution (including Harvey Mudd) is:

1) Move forward to equip students with digital marketing skills, using an open curriculum like CASA (, both for the skills themselves, but also for a context in which writing can improve. I authored the CASA curriculum; every course results in certifications, it is already having a measurable impact on job placement, and it is based on hard data. (see how LinkedIn data helped to inform the curriculum.)
2) For traditional institutions who either don’t have a focus limited to STEM, or who have “some” STEM, I would suggest gradually explore how to move the institution increasingly towards STEM, based on the data of where the jobs are - not necessarily where student interest is - but also balanced with where jobs actually are. In other words, every student has a plan "B" that is aligned with the actual job market, and maybe it becomes their plan "A". I would suggest that faculty and administration debate requiring STEM for every student, either in a concentration, or major, and incentivizing it (with scholarships). And I would also suggest putting the “M” before STEM, and integrating writing-communication with the context of marketing. Then, part of the debate can become how the humanities could play a supporting role, but where existing or new faculty are also incentivized to cross-train in marketing.
So who the heck am I? I have been in the humanities as a student, graduate student and I am a professor of Marketing, but my PhD degree was technical writing. I’ve also worked for a variety of small, mid-sized and large companies, experienced layoffs, transitions, worked with startups, and also survived the Recession.
More recently I did some work at a national company that supports college bookstores, and I got a full dose of the extremely rapid evolution of educational technology and for-profit colleges. I’ve also taught in the classroom, as well as online. I am the author of 10+ books (for which I received an advance, and in some cases, royalties), but on the verge of joining Benedictine University, I was prompted to start writing free textbooks, and that’s how CASA came about – I felt sympathy for students paying the high cost of textbooks. I was also involved in developing free learning material during my PhD research. As a faculty member, I long for tenure, but I don’t take it for granted, and I think any faculty member with their eyes open needs to start looking at colleges as a business.
As for me, earlier in my career, I was a writer and musician, and had no interest in the way money flowed, but then after being laid off a few times, the shock of it helped me to wake up a bit, and a mentor said “Todd, you need to follow the money trail”. It doesn’t mean worshiping money, just understanding how a business works. And colleges are businesses.
What I see, including in the Payscale article, the blog post of mine and the data there, and in the insights of educational leaders, is that the data and trends will drive an institution into the ground, or greatly reduce its footprint, if an institution doesn't start changing course, now.
Other than the two steps above, I propose, and maybe even prophesy, two perspectives on the challenges facing higher education:
Medium-term: integrate innate intelligences, digital marketing and go multilingual: To me, integrating alignment of innate intelligences could be brought into required "assessment" courses, and other medium term "course adjustments" could include increased integration of digital marketing (ex:
Long-term: It may be that digital marketing, going multilingual, and integrating innate intelligences could help an institution survive with some incremental, increased revenue. However, for survival, if you look at trending, it seems that long-term a STEM direction would be needed. You could even use M-STEM as a placeholder - M-STEM could initially mean digital marketing applied to STEM. But then long-term, the underlying transition of an entire institution towards a primary emphasis on STEM could take place.
And this question of institutional continuity might not be medium-term/long-term. It might be short-term/medium term. If you look at research on Post-Millennials, it points towards the need for evolution. Education is not alone, companies need to know this as well –we’re not talking about Millennials, we’re talking about post Millennials (Gen-Z). For example, there is a strong "Gen Z" analysis on Slideshare that has had 400k views, and underscores the importance of needing to face the next demographic shift.
What it says to me is that change is definitely coming, and it is coming soon.
One other comment I'd make is that I've witnessed or personally experienced mergers and acquisitions and consolidation in "maturing" industries, such as newspapers, educational publishers, etc. Mergers and acquisitions and consolidation are a kind of release valve, where assets are preserved through consolidation. But I don't see this happening in education, (except in for-profits), so it basically says to me for colleges:
"Consolidation is not an option, so it's sink or swim"

And my purpose in this blog post is to invite individuals and institutions to go swimming, either with M-STEM, or just by exploring something like CASA.Neither are finished; they are works in progress, and barely just begun. But CASA at least is beginning to produce results.

If you have any thoughts, it would be great to hear them.