Top tips for Xmas trading online

By Martin Newman | 19 Oct 2010

Are you ready for Christmas trading online? Martin Newman, CEO of Practicology, shares an awesome checklist to help online retailers make the most of the busiest shopping season.

Christmas is coming – fast! It’s not too late to implement or give due consideration to many of the following tips that will help you maximise the commercial opportunities for your business during the impending peak trading period as well as in the year ahead.

1. Findability

Make it easy for gift buyers to find a gift. Don’t make them have to look too hard – after all, they’ve probably got a lot of gifts to buy and the reason for buying online is to make their life a little easier. If you don’t, your competitors are only a click away.

–       Have a gift category accessible from the top navigation

–       Also have a ‘stocking fillers’ category as this will drive an increase in units sold per transaction and ATVs

–       It’s probably too late, but if not, implement a gift finder. Enable customers to search for gifts by price, gender, age, etc.

–       Leverage your real estate: Ensure that you use the homepage and all landing pages to surface and promote products and compelling calls to action

–       Have an on sale or values category – this will appeal to the more frugal gift buyer

–       Help the customer to narrow down their selection at the category level with relevant filters such as price, gender, style, colour, size, etc.

–       Ensure that on-site search works effectively:

  1. And redirects for synonyms
  2. Handles mis-spelling
  3. Delivers a return for customer service queries
  4. Brings back all product and category related searches
  5. Has filter options to enable the customer to narrow down their gift selection

2. Buyability

There are a lot of things that go through a gift buyer’s mind at this time of year, so understanding what their motives and issues are will enable you to meet their needs more effectively.

–       Offer gift cards. It’s a safe bet especially when you don’t know what to buy someone but you do know that they like a certain brand (Ideally make these redeemable across all channels)

–       Enable payment in as many ways as possible including PayPal (Next Xmas your customers will even be able to pay using new payment solutions from companies such as PayByMobile where they’ll be able to use their mobile as an alternative to their credit card to buy on your site)

–       Enable gift buyers to have their gifts shipped/delivered directly to multiple recipients

–       Offer a specified date delivery option

–       Offer premium next day and standard shipping/delivery options

–       Offer free shipping/delivery (to one location only)

–       Enable gift buyers to have their gift purchase delivered/shipped to their place of work

–       Make the order cut off as close to Xmas as possible

–       Offer free returns… they want to know to how customer friendly your returns process is as they don’t want to make life difficult for the recipient of their gift

–       You should also enable customers to return unwanted gifts to your stores as well as to your distribution centre

–       Provide a gift receipt that doesn’t show the price of the product

–       Offer a gift wrap and gift card service

–       Enable the customer to create their own gift box selection

–       Offer Xmas/holiday related offers and incentives. We all love a bargain and gift buyers are no different… you don’t need to put your whole range on sale. But offering a few, key Xmas/holiday related items at a reduced price, on your home page and/or key landing pages, is a great way to lure customers

–       Make the end dates of all incentives and promotions really clear, as this will be another call to action

–       Promote the stock availability within key categories wherever possible and promote ‘only so many left’, as again this will be a sales driver

–       Offer other incentives such as gift with purchase

–       Let customers store their baskets or retain it between different browser sessions

–       You could offer existing customers an early bird discount for buying a gift, which may end up being a self-purchase… but does it matter?

3. Smart merchandising and social commerce

Leverage social commerce aspects to drive sales. Gift buyers will be more comfortable buying from a site that highlights what the peer group buys.

–       Implement user reviews, these instil confidence in the buyer. But even negative product reviews often convert better than those without a review

–       Use peer pressure to drive cross-selling by promoting ‘people who bought this also bought’ and also ‘bestsellers’…this will also give the gift buyer peace of mind that their selection should prove to be popular

–       Cross sell by promoting ‘create or complete the look’ and merchandise complete outfits

–       Don’t promote similar products unless you want to drive ‘up selling’ and convince the customer to buy a more expensive alternative

–       Look at what customers are searching for on your site. This is the gift buying period and so there will be some additional opportunities for products that you might not sell during the rest of the year

–       Optimise your product categories and ensure bestsellers as well as the best gift buying options are the products that customers see first.

4. Check out your checkout

–       DON’T force customers to register. Let them checkout as a guest. After all, many of your gift buyers won’t be interested in making a purchase for themselves, so make it as easy as possible for them to get in and out of your online store. if you don’t this will drive significant site abandonment and lost sales

–       Make delivery charges and options obvious at the shopping bag and even better, highlight these at the product page

–       Signpost the stages. Make it obvious to the customer how many stages are involved in the checkout process

–       Make sure the customer knows that your site is safe and secure, but don’t only promote this at the checkout, make this an omnipresent feature throughout your site

–       Do some internal testing and go through the purchase a number of times to see how well or otherwise the site helps the user recover from errors. One of the key areas of site abandonment is in the checkout process where the user is left unclear as to what to do to move to the next stage.

5. Marketing (Acquisition and retention)

–       Make sure you’ve got landing pages with relevant content set up for both SEO and PPC activity

–       In addition to brand related key words, focus on Xmas and holiday season related terms for your PPC campaign

–       Run affiliate programmes with good commission and good incentives to drive traffic and customer acquisition

–       Create trigger driven email campaigns to drive repeat purchase and increase lifetime value…why not offer customers buying at Xmas the first opportunity to buy merchandise in your sale?

–       Split test with different subject lines and email creative to maximise the opening and click-through rates

–       What are you doing to drive ‘word of web’ through social networking? This is an ideal time to reach existing and new customers through social networks.

6. Site performance and testing

–       Run regular checks of your site using software such as ‘Sitemorse’ to look for broken links, pages not found and to check the download time for the site

–       Ensure you have enough capacity to deal with the spike in traffic the site will receive

–       Multi-variate and split testing is where you serve up different page designs to different users in order to see which one converts best. Often a slight change to the navigation or to a call to action can have a big impact on sales. You can never do enough of this.

7. Customer service

–       Promote a contact centre/customer order line if you have the resource to man this

–       Extend the hours of the contact centre to deal with the increase in demand outside of normal working hours

–       If you haven’t already done so, you may want to consider offering live chat. It’s a sales driver and a great user experience

–       However, some customers are self-service and would rather find the products themselves. So offering ‘dynamic FAQ’s’ where the most popular questions are promoted to the top of the page will make it easier for this customer segment to meet their needs

–       Make the exchange process as straightforward as possible and ensure you’ve got enough staff to respond to the post-Xmas spike in returns and exchanges.

8. Supply chain

–       Optimise your stock availability and make sure it can go to the channel where the demand is. You may well find even more demand coming through your web channel than you had anticipated

9. The sale

–       Make sure you’re set to go on sale either on Xmas Eve or on Boxing Day. This will be one of your top two or three trading days of the peak trading period.

10. Measure and report

–       Make sure you’ve got analytics set up with the right tagging in place in order to pull through the data that will provide you with the reporting you require to really understand how the site is performing

–       But don’t only focus and report on the obvious performance metrics such as unique visitors, conversion rates, units per transaction and average transaction values, moreover gain a clear view of the value of each visitor to your site, how much it’s cost you to acquire them, and you can even ascertain profitability per product this granular view will enable you to make more informed decisions around product and marketing

–       You also want to understand customer behaviour on the site. What content and products are customers engaging with? Where are they exiting the site? What’s the correlation between what they’re searching for and what they end up buying?

–       Do something with the data! It’s all well and good having reports set up, but if you’re not taking action to improve performance, what’s the point in having it?

1 Comment

One thought on “Top tips for Xmas trading online”

  1. Martin, you’re spot on with Point 7: Customer Service. As online businesses transition from startup or pure bricks & mortar they can be surprised by their own success in generating high volumes of customer interaction. This is amplified during the peak Xmas season with a result that sales conversion is inhibited at a critical time & existing contact centres can be swamped by incoming customer enquiries especially by email.
    Best practice is to manage these through web self service & those emails that do still arrive through knowledge-based, agent-driven email management. This creates more agent availability to use “proactive” live chat to minimise cart abandonment & increase ave order value.
    All told, “best-of-breed” case studies are showing improved customer experience, lower cost to serve & increased sales.

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