Prepared For the Holidays Properly? Last Minute Hints for Online Merchants to Grow Sales
Okay, much of the following information probably has been addressed by each of you, but it is worth noting again as you still have time to ensure that you have least considered some merchandizing tips for the holiday season, which may be helpful to bring in more sales and new loyal customers.
There is no question that shopping online during the holidays has increased and with the advent of mobile commerce it will grow. I am one of those who do not agree with Wall Street analysts and Research companies that online shopping is going to level off by 2010. It will continue to grow as the next generation of young folks “lives and breathes” online and on their cellular devices. As long as online retailers continue to be innovative to reach them and understand the power of the functionalities of new cellualr devices (as the Iphone ....and others will follow) = online retail will grow. Period.
But that is 2010 and it is now 2007. So what can you do right now to make online shoppers’ experiences more robust so they buy more products from you?
Some of the tips are obvious, others may not be, and I sure you all have ones that I have not thought of, so, at the very least, I hope the following stimulates conversation within your company to make your shopping season the best that it can be!
1. Comprehensive Content for Product Descriptions on Storefront AND Data Feeds to Marketing Channels, Shopping Destination Sites, Comparison Shopping Engines and Affiliate Sites
This seems so obvious yet many online merchants fail to think like “all” consumers and instead list products how they would like them listed, often missing important information that a buyer might want to see before a purchase.
Tip: Every detail is important to list: good pictures, side view pictures of products, product number (especially if it is electronics), manufacturer name, unique product descriptions (descriptions provided by the manufacturer are often boring and if you use them without providing your own “twist” what differentiates you from others selling the same thing?), easy to read and understand shipping costs, all in cost, product review(s), and “hacker safe” site logo(s), to name just a few.
2. SEO, Keyword Buys Should Mirror Your Product Catalog and Be Directed to Proper Landing Pages on Your Storefront
Sounds obvious right?
It is astonishing how many online merchants spend lots of money on SEO and keywords yet fail to have the “linked reference” that pops up on a search engine or shopping comparison site direct back to the properly optimized and exciting offers on your storefront. Think of it like walking into a brick and mortar store through the supply room. Would you be excited to buy a product if that was the entrance?
Of course, you need to direct the consumer to a landing page with the product they are looking for, but that landing page can have “helpful” ideas for other products, specials, upsell promos, and other exciting marketing language to draw customers deeper into your storefront.
Tip: For a perfect example of what I am referring to see www.Cooking.com
3. Avoid all “Controllable” System Roadblocks to a Consumer Buying a Product
We are all human and by definition are imperfect, but we can certainly try to eliminate things that would turn off any customer.
Tip: Pretend you are a customer and go through the entire process and all possible options to buy a product from you.
a. call your 800 number and see what they do, feel how they treat you, listen to what they say on the phone, hear the tone in their voice, and then determine if the person answering that call is presenting your company in the best light, and, most importantly, do they make it easy for you to take the next step to purchase a prodcut and if you don't want to purchase make you want to come back?
b. Make an online purchase on your storefront, make two, make three = go through the entire process and determine if it is efficient, the shopping cart is efficient and easy to use, the payment process system is easy, there is excellent follow through, polite email or personal follow up, and on time delivery.
c. Know your inventory levels and, if you run out, make sure you have a system in place to guide an excited customer through the proper channels to get them that product "soon" and/or guide them to another “suggested and similar” product and let them know when and if the product will be available.
d. Try new technologies, as online live chat, for excellent customer follow up, product education and the like. AND make sure that these new ideas do not interfere with executing what you are already doing very well, ergo, only adopt new technologies if you have the time, money and resources to execute them well and not leave behind what you are already doing well.
Remember, human beings are imperfect so excellent customer service cultures are not easy to build and they are even easier to destroy.
4. Promotions Might Sound Great But They Can Destroy Margins
This is a hard one as we all want to “give away a freebie”, but these freebies, if not controlled properly, can destroy profits and frankly make your business look cheap, from the marketing side.
Creative solutions, discounted shipping, free shipping, special promotions for purchases over a certain dollar amount, special follow on coupons, and many other things are all great and need to be managed properly.
Tip: There lots of ways to do this, be savvy, think, do your research on how others do it and check out www.LLBean.com -- this is not the only site to look into but they do a nice job of packaging a sale with clicks and links to gift cards, promotions, gift wrapping and the like.
5. MultiChannel..If You Can
Simple. If you have a brick and mortar location, offer an off line, in-store pick up option online = this brings the customer to you twice!
6. MultiChannel Marketing…IfYou Can
Simple. Use and test more than a few marketing channels, affiliate sites, comparison shopping engines, shopping destination sites, and other areas to market your storefront product catalog. Try a new type of fun marketing effort called "couparison shopping" over at www.MyCoupons.com -- I kind of like it and it is different = it just may lead to great sales and branding.
If you are confused by what I mean check out www.MerchantAdvantage.com and see what they can do to help guide you, they also have a comprehensive lists of shopping destination sites to test and see which ones may work best for you.
7. Gift Cards….Gift Cards….Gift Cards….Did I say Gift Cards?
They work. How is that for blunt?
Gift cards work because they are often bought in addition to a purchase, instead of a purchase (by indecisive people like me…LOL) and best of all they are cash upfront in your pocket.
Again see how www.LLBean.com does it for reference purposes.
Tip: Yes, you have to have a good system in place to manage this promotion and yes, some people redeem gift cards months later, but sometimes they don’t and you still made money.
Oh yeah, always have an expiration date on the card for easier management purposes (some say no…I say yes…you decide what is best for you). If you do use gift cards let them expire in a 8-12 months – 6 months is too short.
AND FINALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT TWO:
8. Establish Cut Off Dates for Holiday Deliveries
Simple....and make sure that you make it easy to read and the language is clear. For example:
Last Day to Ship to Arrive Before December 20 is _________
Last Day to Ship to Arrive Before December 21 is _________
Last Day to Ship to Arrive Before December 24 is ___________.....you get the point.
Tip: Place a nice little “box” with this information on the original landing page, the shopping cart page, and the final check out page (prominently on the last two).
9. Be Nice, Follow Up, Be Human, and Love Your Customer
Emails are easy ways to communicate and bond with your customer and professionally cover the following important follow up items:
1. thank you for visiting our site and looking at our products
2. thank you for your order = order confirmation
3. tracking information to follow order
4. delivery confirmation (always a nice touch)
5. exposure and awareness of new product launches, specials, and promotions
6. thank you for being a customer, loyal customer, preferred customer
7. newsletter follow up (if you have one)
8. Other?!?...be creative!
Tip: Never underestimate the power of the 3 P’s to customer follow up in any form of direct electronic or personal direct communication: Polite, Prompt, and Precise!!!
Good luck as you prepare for the holiday shopping season.