Two Words That Rocked the Web (and They Aren't 'Tiger' and 'Woods')

A Look at How a Small Shift Affects Consumer Behavior

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
Two words have fueled a dramatic increase in online purchasing this year: free shipping. Sounds crazy, right? I can just hear the cynical comments. So hold tight there. And even if it isn't crazy, why am I more concerned about the impact of free shipping on the agency world?

Because more people are spending their time buying online than experts expected by this period in time. And when human behavior changes, agencies need to change also.

Even e-commerce executives are surprised at the sudden increase in online purchasing. Take Michael Rubin, chief executive of GSI Commerce, a company that runs web stores for clients. According to the, Rubin recently told analysts he's "officially doing my 180." Why? "I actually used to tell people that I didn't think e-commerce would be as big as they thought it would be," he said. And now? "I now think that e-commerce is going to be significantly bigger than what anyone's projecting," Rubin said.

Rubin credited's "fast and free" shipping policies in breaking down the mental barriers for consumers.

It's no coincidence that Cyber Monday sales (the largest online shopping day of the year on the Monday after Thanksgiving) increased 13.7% in 2009 compared to 2008.

The implications for agencies: As much as we already create marketing efforts online, that may no longer be sufficient. If you haven't done so already, you need to up the ante. Marketing plans have to be re-engineered. Media plans have to be re-adjusted. Creative has to be re-thought.

Building brands in 2010 will take more than a copywriter and art director team to create them, for example, because advertising will be as much about creating unique brand experiences as it is about clever TV/Print/Radio ads. It will take more than teaming up a digital designer and a web copywriter. More than a media planner who knows how to buy keywords on Google and Bing. And more than a user experience expert. I believe it will take a unique combination of those skills collaborating in the idea-generation process, plus innovative digital communications skills not typically employed by many smaller agencies. Ads will still play a role, but how they drive customers to a site to buy, and where it sends them to -- the online destination -- will largely determine how successful a marketing campaign is.

This is growing in importance in the B2B space as well.

How do agencies motivate people to think differently, shape perceptions, or consider purchasing? Once the advertising drives them there, what do they do? How do you get them to buy? Not enough time and effort is put into thinking this through in most small agencies. Yet, the world's purchasing patterns are changing at breath-taking pace, surprising even e-commerce leaders. Agencies -- and their clients--must recognize that an increasing number of brick-and-mortar retail stores may soon serve primarily as expensive billboards. Think: banks. Who goes inside them anymore, aside for the lollypops? But their neon signs are great for awareness, as customers drive past their banks but access their accounts at home, online.

All this because of free shipping? Eliminating that added cost leveled the playing field with the brick and mortar. Which sent more people (by the tens of millions) online, where they discovered social media, other cool web sites, and -- well, spent less time consuming other familiar types of media. So, more than anything, it's a head's up that eyeballs are migrating online at a faster pace than anyone imagined.

Knowing this, as my agency enters 2010, I am rethinking how we will approach our clients' marketing campaigns where selling online is relevant. What will you do?

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