Business > Merchant Voice

Further Christmas thoughts

It is impossible to ignore Christmas this time of year. It is the single most important season for most ecommerce sites. This is why there are already two excellent columns on this subject just written on this site, beating me to it! Whilst they have covered nearly everything, there some aspects that I feel need a bit more mention.

For the Christmas season price is no longer the overriding concern for most customers. Their concerns will be:

  • How can I find the right gift?
  • Will it arrive on time?
  • Can I return it after Christmas?

Further, your visitor demographics can change dramatically. For a specialist site like mine, the Christmas buyer will be the grandparents, parents, and friends wanting to buy the presents for my normal customers. So they will not be experts in what I sell. They will need different handling.

Your returns policy, and your delivery speeds need to be emphasized so that any visitor is fully aware that you will deliver promptly and take back any order for any reason until January. This thus covers the last two concerns. The first concern however is the key.

As retailers, it is our job to help customers, especially those who do not know about the genre you are selling. It is where independent retailers can stand out and beat the big box shifters. There are two main ways of doing this handholding.

First, have some kind of interactive chat service on your website, and offer help real time. Now as all retailers know, some customers appreciate being approached and others hate it. Whilst in a shop a good assistant can usually tell and approach carefully, on a website it is more black and white. On a personally preference, if I offer a live chat service, I would set it up to only appear on request — i.e., not use a nag pop up. Use of a live service should only be considered if you are prepared to reply 24/7. Having a chat service that does not reply, or is always closed, will tend to put prospective customers off. A useful alternative is to offer a “personal shopper” by appointment. Again this service will need to be properly promoted and any booking request responded to within hours, not days. You could even consider offering a Skype personal shopper service, where the assistant can walk the customer around the shop and show the products in real time. This has the benefit of not needing to change the website. Of course if you do this you need to ensure that any prices displayed match the ones on the web site.

The second method (and, in my view, essential in any case) is to have a method of gift suggestion built into the website. This could be built in manually with pages of good copy and suggested products — perhaps in a tree structure threading into good offerings with reasons why these are good gifts. This could be, for instance, “just released” (so it’s unlikely to be already purchased by the recipient). Alternatively, by some kind of product filtering (which Magento is very good at) which allows a visitor to trim down a long list of products into a few good choices. The challenge here is selecting the filters.

Whilst this gift suggestion may sound like site navigation, there is a crucial difference. Your existing site navigation should be designed for your normal visitor, who knows about your product range and genre. They know what they are looking for. Over time you should have tracked your visitor’s path through your site, noted and reduced the bounce rates, and tailored your navigation to suit. These Christmas visitors may be completely different. Hence the need for the different navigation. This alternative navigation, if done properly, should put these gift-seeking visitors at ease, help them feel more confident, and ease their buying experiences.

As a final suggestion, offer a gift-wrapping service. For a few dollars more the present can be all wrapped up, saving the customer a lot of time and hassle. One year one of my competitors offered two gift-wrapping options. The first was the professional, beautifully wrapped service. The second was gift wrapped by the warehouse guy. The idea being that it would be wrapped fairly poorly just like “dad” would do it. They were amazed by the take up of this second option. It also generated a lot of news coverage. So it was a win win. That said, never underestimate the cost of a good wrapping service. Whilst the materials may only be a few cents, the time and space needed to do this will impact on your standard order fulfillment. Further such a premium service should never delay the sending of the order. Thus, if successful, you may find you need additional staff to do this service properly. I have noticed one of my competitors constantly switching this service on and off, no doubt to ensure that they do not get overburdened.

However you do it, Christmas must not be ignored. If you do not make your site stand out from the crowd, you can bet your competitors will. This is why I always monitor my competitors. To see what they are doing, both right and wrong.

Finally this is a chance to retain new customers. If you deliver a great service, then follow it up and get them to sign up to your annual Christmas newsletter. They probably do not want a monthly/regular newsletter, but they may welcome an offering next year.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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