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10 Holiday Tactics to Improve Sales in 10 Weeks

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Posted October 10, 2007 By Michelle Megna     Feedback

E-tail expert Lauren Freedman outlines strategies broken down by month that you can employ to boost sales during the holiday rush.

It's the 10th day of the 10th month, so it's only appropriate that today we outline 10 tactics aimed at helping you increase holiday sales by 10 percent in 10 weeks. The report, issued by MarketLive and the e-tailing group, is organized as a holiday countdown calendar that will guide e-tailers through steps they need to take from now until Cyber-Santa drops down the virtual chimney.

"Our recommendations are broken down into what works in October, November, December and even after the holidays, because this type of information is time-sensitive," said Ken Burke, founder of MarketLive. "What works now is different from what will boost sales in December."

Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group and presenter of the report, "Ten Tactics, for 10% in Ten Weeks: The E-Holiday Countdown Calendar," adds that these are things that can be accomplished without making a big technological investment. And though the title lists 10 tips, the guide offers much more information than that to help you have a successful holiday season.

"A lot of what needs to be done this time of year is about visibility, there are many little things a small merchant can do that make a big difference," said Freedman. "They can dress up the navigation with holiday themes, organize gifts into appropriate categories, create suggestion lists, that type of thing to simply give what already exists at the site more visibility."

First, Freedman and Burke provide some research on what is motivating online shoppers and how they shop. The Mindset of the Multi-channel Shopper Holiday 2006, a survey of 1,300 consumers conducted by The E-Tailing Group last November, asked online shoppers to characterize their shopping behavior when buying holiday gifts.

That report states, "When respondents ranked the reasons they buy gifts online, saving time (55 percent) and saving money (46 percent) were deemed most important. The majority defined themselves as deal seekers (54 percent), followed by convenience-driven (34 percent), with just 12 percent more concerned with the item than the price and we would expect this year's behavior to be comparable. Gift cards are also expected to be big this year, with a 25 percent increase over 2006," according to the report.

It goes on to say that "Presented with a list of preferences for how they like to shop when purchasing a gift online, 54 percent of those surveyed chose 'search directly for a specific item at a merchant site where I like to shop' while 39 percent favored 'browse multiple stores prior to completing a purchase.' More specifically, 44 percent typically comparison shop three sites before making a final purchase decision."

Execute the Essentials: Makin' A List, Checkin' It Twice
Now that you have some background on shopper behavior, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty of tuning up your site. Freedman said these are key tasks to be tackled:
  1. Ensure that your gift center is exemplary, including gift suggestions.

  2. Integrate a gift finder that allows for a quick search to facilitate finding the "right" product fast at the price you are willing to spend.

  3. Dedicate substantial real estate to the ever-popular gift card.

  4. Present comprehensive customer service including visible contact information, customer service hours, and FAQs with continually updated seasonal cut-off dates.

  5. Organize category pages to showcase your product with gifting themes.

  6. Give new products and top sellers visibility.

  7. Put forth a robust product page that marries adequate text, complete visuals and category-centric tools in support of customer decision-making.

  8. Review your e-mail schedule to ramp-up frequency throughout the season.

  9. Leverage your post-order communication to promote gift cards and seasonal holiday promotions.

  10. Be ready for post-Christmas markdowns while simultaneously introducing new product to maintain higher margins.
As an example of a company doing the home page right, Freedman cites Overstock.com, adding that in most cases smaller merchants can usually deploy the same organizational and graphical techniques as larger ones. The Overstock home page last year included a gift finder that provided recommendations in "four easy steps," a price-driven "steal of the day," a trend seekers Top 20, a free shipping ends counter as well as a toys for tots tie in.


Overstock Holiday Home page
Home Page for the Holidays: Overstock does it right.
(Click for larger image.)

Another example of an outstanding product page that uses the power of suggestion from last year was from Bliss and included the following features: what's hot; most wanted; our picks; product finder; a "shop by" for gift sets, luxury, on sale, price and recipient; and a navigation bar that includes gift certificates and expert advice.

In regard to visibility, Freedman emphasized that giving product display a boost means a boost in conversions. She offered the following 10 tips for highlighting gifting features and services:
  1. Dress the navigation button for Christmas.
  2. Reinforce customer service countdown and free shipping on the home page.
  3. Make gifting a part of every search landing page.
  4. Tout gift services on category pages.
  5. Feature expedited shipping messaging on product pages.
  6. Include gifting reminders and suggestions in the shopping cart.
  7. Promote gift certificates throughout the site from navigation to the cart to post-order communication.
  8. Populate the shipping confirmation with seasonal sales.
  9. Aggregate all gifting services and merchandising on one easily accessed page.
  10. Post gift-related messaging as part of every e-mail during the holiday selling period.

As an example of a tool bar decked out for the holidays is Zappos.com, which last year used a gift ideas icon, included the customer service and 800-number, a "why shop at Zappos.com?" link, a tab for free overnight shipping, as well as other convenient menu options including brands, search by size and new styles.


Zappos.com Holiday Nav Bar
Red-Nosed Nav Bar Shows the Way: Holiday Navigation Bar for Zappos.com.

October: Get Ready to Rumble
As for the breakdown by calendar month, now is the time as Freedman said, to "come up with innovative ways to entice the season's first shoppers to spend their holiday dollars on your site.

She said merchandising the search results page is a good way to "add sizzle and sell" and cites the Kmart page from last year as a prime example. It included product visuals, sale pricing, a sort by brand or price, a comprehensive shipping table and was decorated with a red K mart logo that had a green bow tied around it.

Another holiday strategy perfect for October is the "save a product to ship later" feature. Freedman said RedEnvelope last year in early October launched a holiday preview page that has a bright red banner box touting: "Shop Now, Ship Later."

This month is also a good time to conduct a contest or "wish list" promotion to encourage early shoppers to start spending. American Outfitters did this by announcing a contest on its home page in which customers could win a $500 gift card by creating and updating a wish list.

November: Not a Time to Chill Out
Next month, Freedman said to follow the following tactic: "Gear up promotions and targeted e-mails frequency and to adjust plans to push sales without giving up too much profit, while conversely promoting sales to your e-mail list and providing the largest discounts to just your loyal customers.

Key things to remember in November: plan for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Freedman said this can be done by offering sales and shipping promotions, but that the important thing is to know what you are going to do ahead of time so you're ready to execute.

Another clever way to encourage browsers to buy by offering limited time sales and such. A particularly creative approach used by eBags involved lunch-time sales for registered shoppers, a whopping 75 perecent off for one day with a designated code put in at checkout and a limited-time "while the boss is away" special on eight top-selling products for those shopping at work.

Freedman also said that post-order, e-mail confirmation offers an opportunity for effective holiday promotions. She said companies offering "thank-you for ordering discounts" encourage repeat purchases and that post-order e-mails could also include suggested products such as gift certificates and links.

December: Virtual Cash Registers Ring, Are You Listenin'?
In December, Freedman said to "bring front and center features and functionality that save time for busy shoppers and aid decision-making from pre-wrapped gifts to last minute ideas."

She said to highlight pre-wraps and bundled multiples, try to include a "holiday and gift bargain" tab in the navigation bar to take shoppers to last-minute product ideas and consider introducing count down pages that require customers to return to the site daily to discover new promotions. Finally, she advices the use of bold graphics to signal urgency, such as "Last Chance" offers for shipping and discounts.

January: A New Year, A New Look
The beginning weeks of 2008 are the home-stretch, and though you'll be tempted to take a break for much-needed rest and relaxation, there's still work to be done to fully capitalize on the holidays. Freedman said it's time to update your site with a "resolution" theme or clearance promotion graphic, and to entice all those gift card holders to spend, if you accept these.

For Future Reference
Believe it or not, there's more in the report than what we've highlighted here, including lots of graphic examples of excellent execution. You can download the report here at the MarketLive site.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of ECommerce-Guide.com.

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