Practical Ecommerce

Holiday Sales: Make Your List, Check It Twice

1. Target The Right Buyers

Selling more effectively throughout the holidays means targeting the right person, with the right offer, at the right time. Pretty easy in theory, right? In practice it’s a lot more difficult. Most e-tailers, through trial and error, get in a rut of going with the same tired promotions again and again. This is a recipe for stagnating sales and customers that are easily lost to competitors.

To target the right customers, you need to do a little work segmenting your customer base. This means knowing more than just email addresses and where people live. For example, if you’re a sporting goods e-tailer, find out how many people bought skis from you last year in the Rocky Mountain region. From here, you can create an email promotion for free lift tickets or season passes in that area.

While the above is a good example of targeting buyers with an email campaign using sales data, you should also gather data from the buyer communities you sell to, so you can talk the talk. This means going beyond selling data to being involved with the community you sell in. Not connecting with buyers on a messaging level can hamper sales throughout the holidays and beyond.

Messaging on your website, in auction listings, and in email promotions should be consistent and targeted to your audience’s sensibilities. It should resonate with them in terms of the tone, industry happenings and common pain points. Doing these customer-centric exercises can greatly increase sales on your website and on other online selling channels.

2. Differentiate Yourself

With so many online shopping choices out there, it’s important you stand out from the crowd to be the place where buyers go to when they think about the products you sell. There are many gimmicks and promotions that can set you apart at a given time in a market, but concentrate here on long-term differentiation.

Where targeting the right buyers means you need to be involved with the community you sell to, differentiating yourself — over the long term — means you need to be active in building that community. Differentiating yourself in this way means being active in and creating discussions around products though blogs, reviews, authoritative newsletters, etc. As you show that you are an integral part of the community, you become the default place to go to buy products.

There are also some long-term partnerships that you can create to set yourself apart. For example, if you sell heavily on eBay, consider the eBay Giving Works Program. This program enables you to associate your brand with a charitable cause by giving a portion of your listing revenue to a non-profit. This helps you to leverage the recognition of the cause you associate with to benefit your brand. It also shows that you are deeply involved with the community you sell in.

You can also set yourself apart by partnering with a company that bonds purchases for buyers, which has the potential to greatly increase buyer confidence and conversions. These types of partnerships, and your involvement in the community, can change how buyers perceive you and give you a major traffic advantage over your competitors.

3. Expand Your Sales Channels

Think about the number of opportunities you are giving buyers to purchase from you. Many e-tailers get stuck selling in just one online selling channel. Some solely focus on their website, while others almost exclusively sell on eBay. Buyers don’t have the same hang-ups. They are likely to use competitive websites, eBay, and comparison shopping engines to research purchases. That’s why it’s vital you expand your online presence to all major markets and research sites. This kind of coverage puts you consistently in front of your target customers and ensures you obtain a larger share of their business.

Marketplaces to look into include eBay, Amazon, uBid, Overstock Auctions, Bid4Assets and others. Not all these marketplaces will be right for you. Experiment with them now to determine if you can effectively reach your target market through them. Also, be sure that you are using technology to reach these marketplaces more efficiently. Trying to list manually to all these places will eat up your profit margins. Look at software that can help you centrally manage online channel sales.

Comparison shopping engines are very similar in this respect. Be sure whatever technology you use for inventory management lets you create product and offer feeds for various comparison shopping engines. Be aware that some comparison shopping engines are free, while others use a pay-per-click model similar to Google’s AdWords. Start with free sites like Google Product Search and experiment with paid sites like Shopping.com as you become more comfortable with the feed creation process. Use all available fields the comparison shopping engines offer to describe your product. Avoid the use of common manufacturer text. Create your own compelling descriptions, as the goal here is to stand out among many competitor listings.

Across all these sales channels, make sure your branding is consistent. The more consistent your channel presence is, the more confidence you’ll build within buyers that you’re the e-tailer to buy from.

4. Automate Your Processes

As customers trust you with an order, don’t drop the ball with poor service and fulfillment processes. While eBay PowerSellers may be used to adjusting to feedback cues from buyers, e-tailers that primarily use their website to sell online may not be — seeing a less direct correlation between executing well and sales. But whether buyer satisfaction is measured or not, it has a definite impact over time.

If you’re using the other ideas on this list, the holidays should be a very busy time — when your ability to perform under pressure becomes very apparent. If your systems and personnel are unable keep up with increased activity and promote a good company reputation, you need to find ways to automate. Automating processes, particularly order management, can significantly improve your ability to serve customers. Automated communication for both website and auction orders can also improve customer satisfaction and ensure you can stay on track filling orders instead of dealing with problems. Look at order confirmations, shipping confirmations and other common communication you have with customers. Are you automating all that you can here?

There are many short- and long-terms ideas to consider on this list. Act on the ones that will have the biggest impact on your business. Just remember to smile and make customers, not products, central to your business.

About the Author

Ralf VonSosen is the vice president of marketing at Infopia — an award-winning ecommerce technology company that focuses on creating solutions for eBay PowerSellers and online re-tailers. As a veteran technology executive, he has worked with several leading companies, including Siebel, SAP, and Nextance. VonSosen also shares his unique insights and experience at industry events throughout the year.

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User October 30, 2007 Reply

    As an eBay Powerseller AND an etailer with a separate website, I refer to them as my two stores – same personal service, same products, different venues, and lots of special attention to what sells – having both gives me a more complete idea of what my customers expect, want and wish for. Plus, with a bonus of overlapping visitors who can buy from either, depending on what is discounted where! I wish, though, that non-techies like me could find someone to do the automation to Amazon and others for me – we are a small family business, and just simply cannot do everything – the customer always comes first.

    Valery Lytle, Canes Galore Inc.
    http://www.canesgalore.com
    'Canes For All Walks of Life' eBay store

    — *Valery Lytle*