12 Tips All Ecommerce Marketers Should Follow To Prepare For The Holiday Season

Ecommerce sales accounted for over $35 billion in 2011.  All signs point to even bigger numbers in 2012.  It’s a period of massive opportunity for even the smallest of online stores.  Here are twelve steps to take to help ensure that it is successful for you.

  1. Holiday ShoppingThe time is now!  Don’t wait until November, or even September to start preparing.  By then it will be too late.  Start your planning now in order to be prepared when the big traffic starts to arrive.  In fact, many online retailers see growth in sales starting in September, or even August.
  2. It’s not just Cyber Monday.  First there was Black Friday and then Cyber Monday.  Both are great names, but even more than for brick & mortar stores, the entire holiday season can be big for most ecommerce sites.  Sure, there are millions of shoppers looking at the specials on Cyber Monday, but online sales tend to remain fairly steady throughout much of December.  Think about the entire holiday season, not just the weekend after Thanksgiving.
  3. Offer Free Shipping throughout the entire holiday season.  If you think you can’t do that, find a way to justify it.  In the first quarter of last year, 47% of all online orders were shipped for free.  It’s becoming an expectation.  And customers expect better specials during the holidays (see next tip).  So if you’re not offering free shipping this season, your customers will likely find a site that is.
  4. Plan to offer more special promotions during the holiday season.  Again, online shopping activity is at a peak during the holidays, but so is comparison shopping online.  The holiday season is the time of specials online, and your customers are out there looking for them.  They expect them.  So get creative with your offers and make them plentiful.
  5. Execute Email Marketing campaigns during the holidays.  Hopefully you’re already doing this, but with the increased number of promotions you should be offering, you want to promote them to your best customers.  More people hear about promotions from a company’s emails than by social media or any other means.  Don’t fill up a customer’s inbox with daily messages, but the frequency should be greater than your normal sending rate.
  6. Draw more attention to your Gifts page.  If you don’t already have a special page for “Gifts”, create one.  And now that you do have one, call it out on your site.  If it’s normally a regular spot on your nav bar, make it a special color or bold it or give it a different font treatment.  Include a banner or a billboard on your site dedicated to the gifts page.  Link to it in your emails.  The Gifts page can be a huge asset during the holiday season, so make it easy for people to get to, especially since many of your visitors will be coming to your site for the first time.
  7. Try out or increase Product Badging with holiday-themed badges.  Product Badging has been all the rage for over a year now, though many sites still have not caught on.  Putting that little graphic in the product photo with an effective phrase can cause a serious boost in conversion.  If you’re not already doing this, start now with a few products.  For the holidays, try some holiday-specific messages such as “Stocking Stuffer”, “Great For Her”, “Ideal Gift”, etc.  Other badges such as “Top Seller” can help the holiday buyer who is not as familiar with your site and products.
  8. Make sure you have people available to help.  There are all kinds of reasons that having a phone number on each  page for people to call for help increases conversion.  People often need help in placing or completing an order.  It could be for usability or technical issues, or it could be because they’re having problems choosing the right color.  They might just want to know if sizes run large or small.  If you can’t afford to offer 24 hour phone support, at least offer it during business hours (toll free) and guarantee quick email response for after hours.
  9. Be clear about when an order must be placed in order to be received by Christmas.  As you get into the final week of the holiday season, if someone isn’t sure if they’ll be able to receive the order in time to give it as their gift, they’ll go where they can be sure.  Also, having a clearly stated upcoming deadline to order for the holidays can entice people to act immediately.
  10. Perform a Site Search audit.  If your site has a Site Search feature (and if you have many products at all, it should), I hope you have the ability to see what your users are searching on.  If you can’t, talk to your Web Development team to enable that valuable data.  It’s always good to take a periodic look at this report to see what people are searching for, but it’s especially important as you prepare for the holidays.  Not only can you determine what people are having difficulties locating, but you can also learn what kinds of items you should consider adding to your offering.  Also, try some of the more frequent searches yourself to make sure that your search function returns the most relevant pages for them.
  11. Review your product headlines and descriptions.  For most of your products, you probably wrote a description at launch and haven’t revisited them.  Am I right?  Now is the time to review those.  You still have time to do some A/B testing on the headlines.  You also have time to write some holiday focused headlines and descriptions that can provide just the correct amount of additional information for that holiday shopper that is not as familiar with your products.
  12. Know your site’s hot spots.  Do you really know what parts of your most important pages are resonating with your customers?  Your metrics probably tell you which pages are viewed the most, but not necessarily which links on a page are clicked the most or which sections of the page are seen the most.  Invest in a tool like Crazy Egg.  Crazy Egg can show you where nearly every user clicked on a given page on your site, showing you which elements catch their eye the most.  It can also show you which sections are visible what percent of the time.  This can be valuable information to help determine where to place your most important links and promotions on the page.

The holidays might be months away, and they might even seem to be farther off than that.  But for a well-planned ecommerce site, the season has begun.  Take the optimal steps now to maximize your chances of success this holiday season.

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