Merchants Should Be Preparing For The Holidays Now

Just as most consumers begin to enjoy summer, it’s time for savvy merchants to put the finishing touches on holiday sales plans. While it is difficult to estimate the volume of “gifting” purchases made online, there is no doubt about the customers’ penchant for buying gifts via this channel.

During the 2006 holiday season, the e-tailing group, in conjunction with StartSampling, a marketing services company, conducted the inaugural Mindset of the Multichannel Shopper Survey. The survey found that 54 percent of those who intended to do any holiday shopping online did so because it saves time and money, with the latter being at the forefront of shoppers’ minds. We don’t anticipate much will change during the coming year except the web channel’s share of wallet will continue to expand.

Merchants who understand a customer’s desire for saving time have embraced ways to showcase products in robust gift centers: they’ve integrated gift finders that allow shoppers to effectively search by price and other features and they’ve implemented tools that enable buyers to shop for multiple recipients during a single shopping experience.

To help you capitalize on this important (and hectic) time of year, we thought it would be prudent to share the e-tailing group’s “Gift-savvy Merchandising Top Eight Tips.”

1. Build A Service Culture

Recent research shows consumers do not want any roadblocks in their online shopping experiences. Ensure your 800 number is prominent, your customer service hours are visible and your personnel are trained to handle the unusual situations that almost always occur. Email queries must be answered within 48 hours (though 24 hours is optimal and in keeping with the e-tailing group’s 23.79 hour benchmark). Train temporary customer service reps on both product and order questions to ensure your brand puts its best foot forward. Should you delve into live chat, it should be tested and regarded as of equal importance as any phone call so that chat does not result in brand degradation. Shop your own store to ensure each of these targets is achieved. This will ensure you are not blindsided with customer complaints.

2. Create Comprehensive Content

Fifty-four percent of shoppers plan to research products online prior to purchasing them for gifts, so it is imperative that merchants provide complete details about the products for sale. Additionally, information-intensive categories provide an opportunity for robust how-to guides that foster consumer education. Beyond these tactics, embracing customer-controllable content such as product comparisons, ratings and reviews each add valuable information for shoppers. The byproduct of such a comprehensive strategy is higher conversion, reduced returns and fewer costly calls to customer service.

3. Be Onsite-search Savvy

Your keyword search must move beyond mere functionality, as 54 percent of those surveyed also opted to “search directly for a specific item at a merchant site.” Returning landing pages should be optimized by highlighting bestsellers, sale-priced items or new arrivals.

4. Tout Gift Cards

In 2006, consumers spent $27.8 billion on gift cards, according to the National Retail Federation, and there is no reason to expect any slowdown in this popular gift solution. It is our recommendation merchants offer gift cards in both a traditional and an electronic format. Promoting gift cards in the navigation bar at your site as well as strategic promotion in the shopping cart and post-order email confirmations will bolster sales. Remember that gift certificates are an excellent last-minute idea when most ground shipping is no longer available. Target’s execution is perfect: In one click, shoppers can opt for either a traditional card or an electronic version. The upfront visual makes it accessible and requires no drilldowns to get started on this significant buying option.

5. Establish Cut-off Dates

At an early point in the holiday season, merchants need to set cut-off dates for Christmas delivery. Once established, the dates should be strategically placed throughout the site ⎯ at a minimum, on the home page and in customer service.

6. Pay attention To Promotions

Today’s web shoppers would like every order to be shipped free and every product to come with a discount. Unfortunately, merchants know such promotions do not necessarily lead to profitability. It is important to continually monitor the competitive landscape and to test behind-the-scenes strategies that keep margin in check. Creative solutions to reassure customers they are getting a good deal go a long way on the web. This could include free shipping for loyal customers and members-only promotions. LL Bean’s interpretation of the selective free-shipping concept is exemplary; its visuals are engaging and its promotions enticing, both of which should generate repeat traffic.

7. Stay In Touch

During each holiday season, the e-tailing group tracks 100 merchants to understand email patterns and frequency throughout the fourth quarter. Wise merchants establish their own frequencies based on category, branding and customer need for their particular products. Merchants should also test mailing schedule performance and adjust as necessary as the season moves into full gear. It may come as no surprise, but the results from the 2006 survey showed a marked increase in the average number of emails sent per week by merchants during the holidays compared to 2005. Merchants have begun to understand the value of effective email communication.

8. Think Multichannel

Merchants can give customers the convenience they seek in a variety of ways. Ideally, those with a retail channel can include in-store pickup and the growing merchant adoption of in-store lookup. Pickup brings the consumer to your store. This may result in additional purchases, akin to the way in-store returns often boost sales opportunities. With cut-off dates looming and significant shopping remaining in the week prior to Christmas, email can be an excellent retail support vehicle.

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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