The 2014 holiday shopping season starts now. If you’re not ready, you are behind. Use this checklist to see where you stand.
A survey of businesses using Experian merchant services found that 70 percent had started their holiday planning in August; 18 percent of the merchants surveyed began Christmas planning in June.
What follows is a checklist of seven things that savvy ecommerce marketers should be thinking about now. The list focuses on planning and capabilities.
Holiday Goals Set
In 2014, overall U.S. holiday ecommerce sales are expected to grow between 9 and 16 percent, depending on which estimate one trusts. While it is good that, in general, online retail sales are still growing, each merchant still needs to have specific goals for the holiday season.
These specific goals will provide the measuring rod used to determine whether marketing efforts like some of those listed on this checklist were successful or not.
Develop goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. I’ve addressed this concept previously, at “Ecommerce Know-how: Setting SMART Goals and Measuring Success.”
Mobile Optimization Complete
In the 2013 holiday shopping season, some 29 percent of ecommerce sales originated from a mobile device, according to a Marketing Land post. Separately, IBM’s Seventh Annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report published in June 2014 estimated that in November of this year, mobile devices will account for 43 percent of ecommerce site traffic and 20 percent of ecommerce site sales.
It is reasonable to expect between a fifth and a third of a merchant’s sales to be initiated on a mobile device this Christmas shopping season. Thus, it is high time for ecommerce sites to be mobile optimized.
Free Shipping Offers Ready
Many wise merchants offer some form of free shipping year around — building customer loyalty and expectations well ahead of the holidays. Beyond standard free-shipping-with-minimum-purchase offers, consider having at least three additional free shipping offers ready for the holidays.
First, have some form of free two-day shipping to offer. Very soon, offering free two-day shipping may be a normal practice for online retailers thanks to Amazon Prime, ShopRunner, and the in-store pickup trend (click-and-collect), which all train shoppers to expect merchandise in 48 hours or less. Promoting free two-day shipping during the holidays when average-over-values are much higher can make it more affordable.
Second, have a promotion ready for Free Shipping Day on December 18. Consider promoting the offer in email and with a “Free Shipping Day” badge on site.
Finally, plan to have some form of free last-minute shipping. One interesting offer would be to provide free next day delivery on select late orders when shoppers also purchase a gift card from themselves that can only be redeemed in January or February.
Once you have your free shipping promotions plan, check this item off of the list.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales Planned
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are likely to set new retail sales records, again, in 2014. The most devoted Black-Friday-and-Cyber-Monday shoppers are like big game hunters, tracking down the very best deals. If you have items that you can offer inexpensively, these folks will find you.
Know what you will be discounting during these very busy days and know how you will be promoting those discounted offers — whether via email, commercials on YouTube, or other advertising.
Seasonal Specials Planned
In addition to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, plan at least four seasonal sales or promotions.
Consider aiming these sales (a) for the beginning of November to attract early shoppers, (b) around Black Friday to extend the shopping frenzy (c) at the beginning of December in the heart of the holiday shopping season, and (d) in the final days before Christmas for last-minute gift buyers.
Have Useful Content Published
Shoppers are spending less time on ecommerce sites and visiting fewer pages, according to IBM. The company’s holiday report found that “Average time on site sank to a new low of 7:09 in September 2013, about a minute less than was recorded two years earlier.” And “Page views per session similarly hit a new bottom of 6.93 in March 2014, about two fewer pages than in the [same] month in 2012.”
While mobile devices account for some of the decline, since mobile users won’t tolerate sites that are not mobile optimized, it may well be that shoppers are not finding anything interesting.
Among other suggestions, IBM believes that “useful content, such as how-to guides and user forums, can increase engagement and brand appreciation.”
Have Live Chat Ready
With an increase in sales, retailers should also expect an increase in customer service questions. One of the best ways to help shoppers and boost sales is to offer online live chat.