Ecommerce Know-How: Think Negative to Realize Positive Holiday Sales Growth

Two recent studies on holiday ecommerce spending provide important insights for small, online merchants wanting to achieve positive growth over the same period in 2008.

The studies from comScore, an online tracking firm, and Forrester Research, indicate the economic climate is improving slightly but that customers are still making decisions based on frugality. Ten percent unemployment and less disposable income is guiding behavior in many cases.

Not Too Late for Holiday Sales

Ecommerce merchants should also be aware that, according to comScore, 34 percent of consumers in a survey conducted on November 20-23 said they had not even begun their holiday shopping yet.

Ecommerce merchants still have an opportunity in front of them but they will need to utilize a precise and well-planned marketing effort that reflects consumer sentiment.

Online retailers, especially this year, would be well advised to think like their customers. Many of their customers are thinking about a global financial crisis, less available credit, and joblessness. In short, they are thinking negative. Merchants must think negative as well to realize positive growth.

Four Ideas to Help Holiday Sales

In this “Ecommerce Know-How,” I will suggest four ways you can use a negative (the economy) and turn it into a positive (growth of your bottom line).

  1. Make no assumptions

    Perhaps you’ve read reports indicating that online sales will be higher in 2009 than 2008. It would be natural to infer that your sales will be higher in 2009 than 2008. But if you look at the reports closer, you’ll see that the picture is not so rosy for smaller merchants.

    It is true that comScore is predicting 3 percent growth over 2008 and Forrester predicts 8 percent growth this holiday season. Forrester’s most recent online study says, however, “Smaller retailers are in a more difficult position than their larger counterparts because they have less financial resources and marketing clout, which makes it harder for them to maintain a competitive advantage.”

    Don’t assume your sales will increase over 2008. You’ll have to work harder and smarter to get those gains. As Forrester goes on to say, “online consumers will be shopping, but they will be a tough crowd.”

  2. Offer free shipping

    ComScore’s 2009 Holiday Shopping Survey indicates free shipping is an important factor for consumer making an online purchase this holiday season. Seventy-three percent of consumers said free shipping was either very or somewhat important to them. Only 3 percent indicated free shipping was unimportant.

    When asked how important free shipping is for making an online purchase this holiday season, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of consumers indicated it was important. Only 3 percent indicated free shipping was unimportant.

  3. Utilize email

    Twenty percent of respondents in Forrester’s study indicated they will be more inclined to open emails offering discounts on products and services than last year due to the economy. Your customer email list is one of your most important tools. Tweak your approach to your customers during the holidays and you may win them over.

  4. Highlight your unique products

    One of the main reasons consumers shop on line is because of the niche products they can find. Forrester’s research indicates that 61 percent of online consumers like shopping online because they can find products that are unavailable elsewhere. Make certain you are highlighting your unique advantage in the market.

Summing Up

The economic climate is still quite tough. Online sales are predicted to be marginally higher than last year. Small merchants are at a disadvantage. But if small online retailers can think like their customers and market to them effectively, they have the opportunity to improve upon the previous holiday season.

Kevin Patrick Allen
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