With the holiday season on us, online retailers are working feverishly, planning their promotion, distribution, and service strategies to cash in on the year end sales. The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales accounts for 19.2 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion.
While the year on year growth in e-commerce sales between November and December will be lower this year (13 percent in 2014 compared to 15 percent in 2013), research firm Forrester estimates that US online retail sales will reach $89 billion during the 2014 holiday season. The boost in e-commerce numbers will come from more than 3 million first time online shoppers. Small businesses that are not tapping into this vast e-commerce market are missing out.
With the build up to the holiday season starting earlier each year, now is the time to prepare your online sales strategy. Here are 8 tips to take this Christmas season head on –
- Website images and content. Add photos and images to spread the cheer on your website. It could be something small as flashing stars, lights, or a pop up reindeer that greets the visitor. Be careful not to add anything that slows down your website, or you risk losing customers stressed for time. Add Christmas keywords to your meta tags, website content, images, and product descriptions several weeks in advance to allow Google and other search engines to crawl and index the holiday content. This is a good time to invest in pay-per-click advertising to drive traffic to your website.
- Holiday promotions. Instead of competing with the big players on holiday discounts, design offers that add value to your customers. Here are some holiday promotion ideas:
- Hand out gift cards for select purchases
- Offer discount on every second purchase
- Offer free gift wrapping
- Design promotions that resonate with the local community. For example, for every online sale, donate money or products to local charity.
- Include special ‘combo offers’ at the checkout stage, encouraging shoppers to buy an add-on product
- Register with ‘Free Shipping Day’ to offer free shipping with no minimum purchase on Dec. 18, 2014 with delivery by Christmas Eve.
- High volume e-commerce days. Even as you plan your marketing calendar from November to January, pencil in special promotions for high-volume online shopping days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday Weekend, Cyber Monday ( the first Monday after Thanksgiving Day), and the weekend prior to Christmas. Save this handy calendar from Shopify for important online shopping events for the whole year.
- Social media strategy. Your holiday social media strategy should be all about getting people to buy your products. Share photos of your most popular gift items. Create contests that encourage customer registration (if you rely on email marketing), product recommendation, and purchases. For instance, every time a customer recommends someone who also buys from you, extend a discount to both. Announce holiday themed giveaways and contests over the weekends. Create attention grabbing social media updates such as “last minute gift ideas” or “5 items less than $20″.
- Mobile friendly website. Ensure that your website works equally well on desktops and all types of mobile devices. Mobile fares significantly better than social media in driving sales, as mobile users frequently head to a retail website with intent. Invest in a mobile friendly app for your business as well as website analytics to assess the flow of traffic to your website.
- Online shopping experience. Apart from looking at your current website layout and structure, here are some suggestions to improve the online shopping experience:
- Add relevant recommendations: When the customer browses for a particular item, recommend other similar products or guide him/her to a relevant holiday promotion.
- Make it easier to search for products: Include an option to search items by customer’s preference. For example, view products by age group, pricing, gender, or by gift recipient (for example – gifts for brother, colleagues).
- Streamline the shopping cart checkout process: According to Business Insider 74% of online shopping carts were abandoned by shoppers in 2013. The other significant fact is that more than half of these lost orders are recoverable. The right shopping cart can help you overcome these roadblocks. Volusion, for instance, sends emails to potential customers who have abandoned their shopping carts, and encourages them to return to the website to complete their purchase. Shopify includes an up-sell and cross-sell module that displays related products that customers can add to their shopping carts in a single click. Both these software also allow you to create discount coupons. Here is a review of the top 10 shopping cart software to help you choose the right one for your business.
- Product delivery. This is the time to ensure that you are bang on with your delivery commitments. Here are important aspects to consider :
- How much stock should you hold to meet the additional demand, without ending up with a huge surplus?
- What will be the order cut-off date for customers, for delivery before Christmas?
- What is the policy on returns and refunds during the holiday rush?
- Will you offer free shipping for purchases over a certain value?
- Apart from delivering at the customer’s address, will you deliver directly to the gift recipient?The delivery challenges do not stop at Christmas. There will be plenty of shoppers looking for after season discount schemes.
- Support staff. Be prepared to meet the challenge of yearend sales by ensuring you have enough staff to coordinate higher delivery volumes and customer queries. Incidentally, retailers will hire between 725,000 and 800,000 seasonal workers this holiday season (source – National Retail Federation).
The holiday season is perhaps the most important time for selling online. However, start promoting for Christmas only when you are ready with all the crucial aspects of fulfilling the sales promise. Provide quality products, backed with quality service and your products will sell. Have a successful holiday season.