By Chris Barling (pictured), CEO of ecommerce software supplier, Actinic (actinic.co.uk)
For most retailers, online or traditional, the Christmas season is vital to profitability for the entire year. Here are some tips about the special requirements of Yuletide retailing online, backed up by the experiences of site owners.
Prepare marketing ideas early
Whatever you are thinking of doing to market your site in the run-up to Christmas, run some small-scale tests as soon as possible.
Then you can establish what works best, and refine it. And if search engines are important for traffic, make sure you put extra effort into your optimisation, in plenty of time.
Keith Milsom at AnythingLeft-handed.co.uk advises, “We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as it takes a while to prepare them. We also boost our PR activity with a press release in September.”
Can you handle the extra traffic?
If there is anything worse that having no orders, it's the frustration of going out of stock, or having fulfilment problems and having to refund the money. Problems like this produce unhappy customers that won't be coming back.
An average ecommerce site sees a 30% rise in orders in November/December, so make sure that the business can cope with the increase. This includes web hosting and having extra staff to help with shipping.
Bill Stevenson of spicesofindia.co.uk advises ordering extra stock in September and advertising for temporary packing staff at the same time.
He said, “Last December visitors fell, but conversion rates went from 1% to around 3%. We ran out of many Christmas gift sets because we could not get new stock in time. This year we have ordered enough to allow for a 5% conversion rate.”
Sort your logistics
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope. Consider a courier for the peak period, or Special Delivery. Letting customers select delivery to their work address can avoid missed deliveries.
Robert Johnston of gentlemans-shop.com adds, “When we send a parcel the customer receives the tracking details by email and confirmation that the goods will arrive on the next business day. This has cut dramatically the ‘when will my parcel arrive’ calls.”
“Don't be a bar-humbug! Decorate your site and get into the Christmas spirit,” says James Auckland at lunaspas.com.
Find creative ideas to support the season of good cheer. If this approach is good enough for Google, it’s good enough for us too. Put likely presents and links to gift packs on your home page, and stock Christmas-themed items. But don’t forget to change the pages on Boxing Day.
Christmas specials may also enable you to start clearing slow moving stock even before December has passed.
Last minute shoppers
Make clear the last day customers can order for Christmas delivery. Ideally, put this at the top and bottom of every web page. Once the deadline has passed, highlight this.
Michelle Thomas of One Red Sky oneredsky.com, who runs a contemporary furniture business says, “We have to allow our home delivery partners up to seven days so we liaise with our suppliers particularly closely at this time of year.
"Last order dates are always published on our home page, and we do an eShot to our customers reminding them of the dates.”
Customers in a rush
Most online shoppers, and particularly Christmas ones, are in a hurry so you must have a powerful search capability that can match both by category and by price range.
Your ecommerce product must integrate the two: search engines may be fine for text-based searching but they're very poor when you want a gift that costs less than £10 for, say, your eight-year-old niece.
Another help for rushed buyers is a gift-wrapping service. This also provides a great opportunity to increase margin.
Upsell to maximise the opportunity
Many gifts don't stand alone, they need other items to go with them, like batteries for an iPod. So explicitly offer related items with your products wherever relevant.
You might also suggest other, similar gifts to buy. And people buying presents can be susceptible to offers like 'buy two and get one free'.
James Auckland again: “Thank your suppliers, as well as your regular customers, as they are an integral part of your team.”
"It’s surprising how in this highly automated world, good supplier relationships can help when you have problems. Better still, you could add a ‘present’ of a discount during January to good customers and your supplier’s staff.
Keep a sense of humour!
Robert Johnston once had an irate customer repeatedly phoning on Christmas Eve “demanding to know what we were going to do about the delivery of his father’s Christmas present.
“We had dispatched it two weeks earlier but he slammed the phone down accusing me of ’ruining his Christmas‘. Just as we closed the shop the phone rang. The same guy called to apologise. His sister had signed for the parcel and dad’s special present was already wrapped and under the tree.”
Advertise January sales
Make sure that you have planned your January sales ahead of time, including working out the appropriate delivery dates. It gives the ‘value shoppers’ a chance to clear all that dead stock for you.
Finally, maybe it’s time to book your well-earned rest for February as you will probably need it. Just watch out for all those marketing tricks where the tour-operator tries to up-sell you to something more expensive!
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