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Tis the Season: Prep for Holiday Rush

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Posted September 21, 2006 By Michelle Megna     Feedback

Give yourself a present - plan for the fourth-quarter flurry now with these 10 tips for optimizing your site.

Though most of us lament the onslaught of holiday commercials and merchandising before Thanksgiving, for Web shop owners, it's never too early to prepare for the fourth-quarter rush. If you tune-up your site now, you can focus on filling orders when the shoppers start showing up. Chris Barling, CEO of e-commerce software supplier Actinic, which specializes in helping small- and medium-sized online businesses, offers his top 10 tips for a happy — and profitable — e-Christmas season.

    1. Make sure you can handle the increase in traffic. This includes personnel as well as technology. If there is anything worse that having no orders, it's having more than you can deal with, and then having to refund your customers' money. Delayed or unfulfilled orders result in unhappy customers who won't be coming back. On average e-commerce sites see a 30 percent rise in orders in the Christmas period, although obviously this varies greatly. So if your sales are seasonally affected, make sure all your systems can cope with at least that level of increase. This includes having extra staff for getting orders out in time. And if you are planning any special promotions, allow for even more.

    2. Keep control of your store. You need to be able to add, modify and delete things yourself, at any time, day or night. In peak periods your stock position can change quickly. You need to be able to respond immediately. You don't necessarily want a Web developer setting the priorities for what products are online. Only you really know your business. For instance, you may want to change prices, promote slow-moving stock or substitute products when you get alternative supplies.

    3. Cater to last-minute shoppers. Christmas shoppers fall into two camps: those who buy in September and those who buy after Dec. 20. Make clear what is the last day to buy for delivery by Christmas. Ideally, put this on the header or footer of every page in your store. Once the deadline passes, change your message to say that orders can't be fulfilled in time.

    4. Help customers who are in a hurry. Most online shoppers are in a hurry. When they come to your site, make the key information that they need as obvious as possible, particularly any special information relating to Christmas. Most of all, you must have a lightning-fast search capability. This should be able to show results both by category and by price range. Your e-commerce product must integrate the two: search engines may be fine for text-based searching, but they're very poor when you want a gift that costs less than $10 for, say, your eight-year-old niece.

    5. Delivering the goods. Give customers the opportunity to have presents delivered to their work address to avoid delays and make sure your logistics supplier can cope. It may be worth considering a courier for the peak period. If deliveries require a signature or won't fit through a letterbox or in a mailbox, this often means that the parcel is returned to the shipping depot until the customer arranges to collect it, which defeats the convenience of buying online.

    6. Use up-sell to maximize your opportunity. Many gifts don't stand alone, they need other items to go with them. What's the use of a DVD player without any DVDs, or a PS2 without any games? But in the hurry of Christmas shopping, such things can be easily forgotten. So explicitly offer related items with your products wherever relevant. You might also suggest other similar gifts to buy.

    7. Use seasonal promotions. Find creative ideas to support the season of good cheer. Add a festive page design, put likely presents and links to gift packs on your home page, offer a gift-wrapping service and stock Christmas-themed items. Try offers like "buy two, get one free." Depending on what you sell, an e-mail or letter to past customers with a special offer might produce additional sales. You may gain an edge on your competitors if you're offering a deal.

    8. Thank your regulars. Remember that all important "Thank You" holiday card to all your regular customers. Perhaps it seems gimmicky, but customers like to be remembered. Or better still, add a "present" of a discount during January.

    9. Test your marketing ideas now. Whatever you are thinking of doing to market your site in the run-up to Christmas, run some small-scale tests now and monitor the results. Then you can find out what works best, and refine it to maximize the results. And if search engines are important for traffic, make sure you put extra effort into your optimization, in plenty of time.

    10. Advertise January sales. Give the "value shoppers" a chance to clear all your dead stock for you. You may also want to start your January sales with appropriate delivery dates.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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