It’s September and the holiday season has already begun for merchants and shoppers. In a recent Practical eCommerce webinar entitled “Ten Ecommerce Strategies for Holiday Success,” Make-a-Store Chief Marketing Officer Derek Stringfellow offered 10 tips merchants can apply now for more sales this holiday season. His suggestions are based on annual Make-a-Store observations of strategies used by Make-a-Store customers, as well as market leaders like Zappos, QVC, Netflix, and Amazon.
The tips have been presented in a David Letterman “10 to 1”-like format, although their rankings do not necessarily reflect their respective importance.
10: Have an Infrastructure That Can Scale Dynamically
You can expect more traffic during the holiday season. Before launching marketing campaigns that cause traffic spikes, understand whether the infrastructure you have can support the increased load. If you are not sure, if you’ve experienced service interrupts when traffic has spiked, or you’d like to better understand what your options are, ask your hosting provider about cloud-hosting because it can easily adapt and scale to meet the changing needs of your business.
9: Centralize the Management of Multiple Channels and Platforms
Any platform you use should support the devices your customers are using to access your store, and increasingly that means everything from desktops to smartphones. In addition, you should be able to connect to multiple marketplaces transparently and be able to take advantage of their channel-specific features, such as eBay’s seller feedback.
All site access methods and all selling channels should be supported by a common platform so they can be centrally managed. This will save you from logging in and out of different software programs, importing and exporting data manually, and otherwise time-consuming tasks that waste time when there’s no time to waste. Centralization enables automation. Automation saves time and money.
8: Practice Social Awareness and Responsibility
Don’t confuse social networks with social awareness and social responsibility. Social networks are merely tools that can be used to demonstrate social awareness and responsibility, or not. Social awareness is knowledge of social challenges. Social responsibility means companies have a responsibility to society. In practice, social responsibility usually takes the form of programs that contribute to the welfare of communities (often local communities) or specific groups.
One example is “accessibility,” allowing disabled persons to access your system as shown below. Providing such access demonstrates both social awareness (knowledge) and social responsibility (action), which can have a positive effect on the overall perceptions of your brand.
Another example is cause marketing. The World Food Program has a widget, called “Bloggers Against Hunger”, you can use on your site that allows customers to donate to that cause. According to Make-a-Store’s Stringfellow, shoppers are more inclined to buy again from socially responsible businesses.
7: Make Site Navigation Easy
Customers can be won or lost instantly if they can’t quickly find what they’re looking for. This is especially true during the holiday season when shoppers are pressed for time and bombarded with attractive offers. You can make it easier for customers to buy from you by doing a few simple things.
- Use mega-menus, sparingly in headers and footers. Mega menus provide pop-up content when hovered over that’s similar to a web page. If you overuse mega menus you can overwhelm your customers with too much content.
- Provide smart filtering capabilities so customers can find what they’re looking for faster. If your platform does not provide this capability, you might consider using a third-party provider.
- Provide site search and use it to your advantage. Site search can help customers locate products faster, particularly if site navigation isn’t good or if the customer does not want to step through site navigation structure regardless of how good it is. Another benefit of having site search on your site is search-engine-optimization intelligence. By monitoring site search queries, you can better understand the keywords customers are using to locate products.
6: Offer Wish Lists and Gift Registries
Providing options for subsequent purchases can help improve sales and increase word-of-mouth advertising. Wish Lists (products the customers are not yet ready to buy themselves) can be shared with third parties, as can Gift Registries, which are commonly used for weddings and other major life events. Ideally, your platform should be flexible enough to support customers’ personal preferences. So, for example, Wish Lists can be shared, or not, as specified by the customer.
5: Sweeten Offers with Smart Coupons
Unlike Wish Lists and Gift Registries, which focus on future sales, smart coupons are designed to put more money in your pocket now. They’re also effective cross-selling and up-selling tools. As opposed to one-dimensional offers like “Get 20% off your next purchase,” smart coupons are driven by more complex rules so you can have the flexibility of making offers that are increasingly compelling based on desired behavior, like “Buy One, Get 20% off,” “Buy 2 Get 25% off,” and “Buy 3 Get 25% off PLUS free shipping.” Many platforms will also allow you to set even more rules based on SKUs, brands, price ranges, geographies, and the timing of marketing campaigns, among other things. Used wisely, meaning also tested and monitored, smart coupons can help you get more wallet share without a lot of extra effort.
4: Offer Reward Programs
Traditional programs award points based on purchases. However, smart rules-based options are also now available. Rules-based rewards can be structured to encourage certain actions (e.g., point awards for product reviews, blog entries, or tweets in addition to purchases).
If you’re going to offer loyalty rewards, make sure the rewards are meaningful to individual customers. If you’re using point systems, consider having tiered offers so customers with lower point values can reap some benefit. If the points required for awards are too high across-the-board, then your rewards program will become meaningless to all but a few customers.
Similarly, if you’re offering something other than points, such as a gift incentive, you might want to offer options from which customers can choose because personal tastes vary greatly. Also, test the ideas before offering them in the first place because offering unusable or unwanted rewards may be worse for your brand image than offering no reward whatsoever.
3: Gear Up for Global Payments
Some Make-a-Store customers found out the hard way that lacking a backup gateway can be devastating during the holiday shopping season. Although most platforms support multiple gateways, not all of them may support multiple gateways simultaneously. To avoid gateway issues, have multiple failover options in case one or more gateways become unavailable. That way you can avoid payment interruptions.
Also, make sure you’re able to accept multiple forms of payment beyond PayPal and credit cards if you’re selling outside the U.S. Some consumers in other geographies do not have credit cards, or prefer to use cash. Some want to use debit cards that lack MasterCard or Visa charge capabilities. Accepting additional forms of payment helps lower cart abandonment.
2: Integrate Help Desk and Live Chat Software
Like the other pieces that make up an ecommerce system, it’s important to have your customer support systems tied into your platform to ensure timely responses and access to timely, relevant customer information. If you’re using help desk software, you’ll want to make sure it’s integrated with the platform. But don’t forget to establish security settings so sensitive information (such as from back office applications) is only available as necessary to those parties authorized to view it. Also, integrate Live Chat with your Help Desk software so you can work from one interface and get central access to customers’ information, including notes about conversations, and order modifications.
1: Follow Up and Say ‘Thank You’
Customer follow-up emails and “thank you” gifts like loyalty coupons can be handled automatically by your platform. A platform with good intelligence will allow you to establish smart triggers that can send a specific gift, based on the order line. If a customer buys a high-value item, you might send a gift certificate applicable toward a future order. If the customer buys a low-value item, you might want to offer a percentage discount on a future purchase. Regardless, any “thank you gift” should be relevant to your brand image and message.
A simple hand-written “thank you” note on an invoice is also a great way to add a personal touch to a sale that costs you practically nothing.