Q&A with Peter Cobb: The Keys to eBags’ Holiday Success

Black Friday eBags

Peter Cobb

by Melissa Campanelli, Editor-in-Chief, Retail Online Integration

Special to the eTail Blog

eBags’ holiday sales were up 33 year-over-year through Dec. 6, more than doubling comScore’s 15 percent holiday estimate. Here are a few more highlights from eBags this holiday season:

∗ web traffic up 25 percent;
∗ average order value increased 4 percent;
∗ mobile visits as a percentage of total visits were 11.9 percent versus last year’s 5.8 percent, with tablet visits totaling 6.6 percent and smartphones accounting for the other 5.3 percent;
∗ mobile sales as percentage of total sales were 8.3 percent versus last year’s 3.9 percent, with tablet sales totaling 6.7 percent and smartphones totaling 1.6 percent; and
∗ average order value of purchases made on mobile devices was $89.16, with the average sale on a tablet being $98.68 and the average order value for smartphones being $79.16.

To get some insight on what eBags is doing right this holiday season, I contacted Peter Cobb, the online retailer’s co-founder and senior vice president.

Melissa Campanelli: Can you talk about some of the promotions eBags did in preparation for Black Friday/Cyber Monday?

Peter Cobb: One difference this year is that other retailers, especially large multi-channel retailers with advertising muscle, released their Black Friday promotions early so there was a “Christmas creep” effect: “Why wait for Black Friday when you can get your Black Friday deals today?” This forced retailers to decide whether to hold back or offer deals earlier than planned. At eBags, we monitored the situation and decided we needed to stay price competitive so we got aggressive early Thanksgiving week. This meant that sales were spread out over the week rather than the traditionally strong two days. That being said, we still had solid offers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday’s promotion was 25 percent off and “free shipping” on orders over $75. This resulted in sales being up 19 percent year-over-year and was the third highest sales day in the 12-year history of eBags.

On Cyber Monday we increased the ante with 30 percent off and free shipping on orders over $75. In addition, we offered some amazing “doorbuster deals” not found anywhere else that we negotiated with brands in advance. Cyber Monday sales were up 49 percent year-over-year, an all-time record and a fun day to be a retailer. We have real-time sales reports and I stayed up until midnight just to see where sales ended up. Interestingly, our largest sales hour of the day was 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST, and the second highest sales hour was 11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. EST. A wild finish to an exciting day.

MC: Were you prepared for this on your back-end, in terms of your relationships with your vendors?

PC: We have 550 brands on eBags.com and our business model is drop-ship, so it takes a lot of coordination with our brands to make sure they’re ready for the holiday rush. We’re setting records every week as far as the speed at which we’re getting products to customers. We believe that our performance gains, both in site speed and package delivery, are key reasons why our sales growth is consistently double the national average for online retail.

MC: Did you do any other preparations for these two days, such as preparing for possible site crashes, etc.?

PC: Absolutely. One never knows what traffic spikes will occur. A mention of our company on ABC’s “Good Morning America” during the holiday season generated a tremendous surge in website traffic. In addition, eBags was fortunate to be featured in Cyber Monday articles in The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, which created a perfect storm of awareness and interest among holiday shoppers. As far as being ready, we load-tested our site for five times the traffic that we experienced on our busiest day ever. Fortunately, the back-end didn’t break a sweat, so all the planning and prep work paid off.

MC: What are some best practices you can give readers about how to be successful in 2012 based on your success this holiday season?

PC: As soon as the holidays are over, gather your team and create a list of the areas that need improvement as well as those that exceeded expectations. Start the planning early and focus on what will resonate with shoppers. If your website is sluggish, spend time on speeding your page load times. If your shopping cart is cumbersome, streamline some of the steps. Shine a light on what products are most likely to sell, not your excess inventory items…move those in January. Use the summer and fall to test page layouts, email formats and even promotional offers so your site is optimized and you’re clear on what levers you have available to move the business forward during the holidays. Finally, the holidays are a challenging time, but great retailers relish the opportunity to showcase the shopping experience they’ve created. Take the time to develop a site that you’re proud of, energize your team and embrace the season.

Melissa Campanelli is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Online Integration, a monthly print magazine, website and e-letter (The ROI Report) that’s all about the integration of sales channels, including print/catalog, transactional websites and retail stores, as well as email, mobile, social media and more. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Target Marketing Group’s eM+C brand, a series of e-letters, webinars and virtual trade shows focusing on the world of e-marketing and e-commerce. We are happy to welcome Melissa’s contributions on the eTail Blog – look for our contributions on Retail Online Integration’s site, coming soon!