Customer Retention

Reaping Holiday Sales in January

So many online stores put all of their focus into attracting holiday shoppers during the end of the year that they overlook the fact that the month of January can also be profitable. At the very least, planning ahead to handle holiday returns and exchanges can help reduce the burden of providing refunds.

I have stressed in the past that having clearly posted store policies is imperative, and during the holidays they are more important than ever. The prepared merchant will offer a flexible return and exchange policy that will benefit customers and gift recipients as well as the merchant. Giving customers time to return or exchange items can help to build customer confidence, and providing store credits can help keep money in your pocket.

By offering store credits on returns of holiday purchases, you tell the customer that should there be a problem, another item can be selected. You can use coupons or gift certificates to provide the credits, however gift certificates are more ideal because balances can normally be carried over if the full amount is not used. Check with your shopping cart provider to find out what options are available to you.

You should also focus on those who receive cash as a gift for the holidays. While the bulk of retail stores look to cut losses by putting holiday items on clearance, you can strive to get some of that holiday cash by putting highly sought items on sale after the holidays, or extend sales on key products throughout January.

To increase the chance that visitors will spend money at your store, keep running with a returns and exchange policy that is appealing. For items that likely will not sell after December, use strike-through pricing to give discounts– after all, it’s better to get a small return on an investment in inventory than no return at all.

People Love to Accessorize

If you are contemplating what items to put on sale in January, think about accessories for this year’s top holiday gifts. For example, if you sell portable electronics, consider discounting cases for CD players, iPods, and digital cameras. By offering great January pricing on such accessories, you can increase your chances of getting some post-holiday business.

The Keys of Display

Grabbing the attention of post-holiday shoppers is a feat. You will want to use key words on your home page and products pages. Terms like “Save 50%”, “After Holiday Clearance”, and “Post Holiday Sale” can bring in those looking for January bargains. Displaying the regular price of an item with a line through it, in addition to the sale price, can be enticing because everyone likes to know how much he or she are saving.

Free or discounted shipping is also a big pleaser after the holidays, and can lend to making January one of your better months of the year. Just be sure to hype those great shipping costs (or lack of them) on your home page, in email campaigns, and throughout your store.

Expect a lot of competition, though. Tons of email campaigns are run in January to take advantage of those looking to add on to an already received or given gift, or to save a few bucks. Be sure to have a variety of items, or at least one item at a terrific price. If you have a low inventory of one item, hype it by displaying a real-time inventory count so people won’t hesitate to buy it right away.

What Not To Do

Garnering post-holiday sales can fail miserably if you lose sight of what online shoppers will tolerate. Avoid continuous pop-up ads (if you must use them, use only one on the home page), and be careful about the way you force minimum purchases.

Also, don’t use less-than-honest advertising. It’s irritating to open an email boasting an overthe- top sale, only to find out that nothing is in stock and the remaining items aren’t really on sale at all. If your sale is time sensitive (i.e. “Hurry while they last!”) then make sure to clearly say that to your potential customers.

Now would also be a good time to update your store policies as well. If you don’t offer rain checks, which grant customers a means to purchase items that go out of stock during a sale at the sale price when the stock is replenished, you should say so. Also note any special conditions for sale items. If an item has been discontinued and you won’t be able to offer a same-item exchange, be clear about that. Keep in mind that the majority of the bad reputation that online stores receive are based on post-order problems, and commonly refer to a lack of customer service or refusal to make good on a promise stated in store policies.

Use Key Strategy

Your goal is get online shoppers to spend more money with you. Give them a reason to do just that. Most online stores worry about what the other guys are doing rather than what they are not doing. Copying promotional ideas will only get you so far. You need a strategy that, when presented with options from two stores at once, window shoppers will guide their mouse into your store for the purchase.

Pamela Hazelton
Pamela Hazelton
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