‘Tis the Season to be Ready

With the 2009 holiday season upon us, many businesses have already started their customer engagement activities in order to get the best out of the most lucrative period of the year. It is true that the economy has not doing well for a while and has just started showing signs of coming out of recession, but I have no doubt that we are going to experience a strong holiday shopping season this year. People will be shopping a little differently this time around. They will be putting much more effort in trying to find better deals and discounts. You probably would agree that the best place to access these holiday deals will be the internet.

According to “The 2009 Holiday Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report” by Experian Marketing Services, online shopping has increased by five percent over the last year. It suggests that this trend will carry through the holiday season when consumers are shopping for value, seeking immediate information and taking advantage of the price comparison abilities that the online channel provides. Another research that supports the prediction of strong online shopping volumes this year is by Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). Their “2009 Holiday Survey” forecasts that 60% of holiday shoppers will be shopping online.

So everything looks good for holiday sales this year, but are you ready?

IBI’s report also shows that 25% of their survey respondents had already started holiday shopping back in August when they fielded the survey. According to their forecast, by now, more than 50% of all holiday shoppers must be in action. If you are like me and cannot figure out how time flies so fast, you should take this as a wake-up call and take action to reap the most out of this holiday season.

There are a couple of key days coming that you should focus on. Black Friday is one. The day after Thanksgiving is the crazy day when people don’t mind killing people (you would probably remember last year’s unfortunate incident at Wal-Mart) to get the best deals before they run out. If you have a brick and mortar retail business, you can very well promote your deals online to attract some of the wild crowd to your store. They will definitely be online to plan where they will be freezing at 4 am after the cozy Thanksgiving dinner gathering. If you are operating online, you can try to convince them not be a part of the madness and shop at your store peacefully while enjoying their left-over turkey sandwiches.

Then comes Cyber Monday. This is the Monday immediately following Black Friday, and it is the ceremonial kick-off of the holiday online shopping season. Online retailers have enjoyed the highest revenues on Cyber Monday, so you should prepare your deals and promotional activities to drive as much traffic to your online store as you can on this day.

To help you with your preparations and promotional activities for the holiday shopping season, I put together a list of items that you should consider for your to do list.

  • As always, search will be the main source of traffic to your online store. You will have to increase your paid search budget to maintain a nice spot in search results and keep customers clicking your way. Review and adjust your budget and your keyword bidding strategies to get the best out of the season.
  • Shoppers will be looking for the great bargains. Make sure your discounts and offers can compete with aggressive deals of other businesses. You have to be profitable as well, so do your math.
  • Experian’s research shows that consumers of all age groups are making more use of coupons and incentive offers than they did a year ago. You can offer free products, free shipping and cross-sale promotions.
  • Another suggestion Experian has is to holding sales and specials early since consumers are especially prone to wait until things go on sale before they buy.
  • Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are great places to promote your deals and products. If you haven’t started using them yet, it may be a little late to create a critical mass of followers or friends to really benefit from these. If you are already in, you can work on increasing the number of your fans and step up your promotions on these sites. If your business is not online, it makes more sense to connect with local people who have access to your store.
  • If you use email marketing, you can increase the frequency your messages. People won’t mind to be informed about available bargains.
  • There will always be last minute shoppers. If not available already, try to enable the capability to print or send gift certificates from your online store.
  • The “Retail/ E-Commerce Industry Report Q2 2009” by iPerceptions includes survey results from 360,000 real web site users. The most common reason, cited by 34% of respondents, why online shoppers did not buy is the failure to find what they needed. Pricing and problems with navigation or usability tied for second place, with 13% of respondents. This shows that the design and functionality of your online store may have a more important role than your prices when it comes to converting your site visitors to customers. Although, it may be late to redesign or change the functionality of your online store for this holiday season, you should at least test all the functionality from search to check out and make sure that everything is working properly.
  • Shipping and delivery takes time. Since gift giving in the holiday season is time sensitive, you should provide detailed information about shipping times to help your customers in making their decisions to purchase from your online store. Publish your holiday shipping schedule in all your marketing materials and email campaigns.
  • Although yours may be an online business, sometimes a personal touch may be needed to close the deal. Make sure that you have your phone number clearly displayed on your site in case a customer has questions about your products. Another option is to have chat capability on your site so you can get the opportunity to convince your customers to buy from you before they decide to navigate away to another web site. More importantly, never leave your end of the chat or phone line unattended.

I believe you would have tips based on your own experiences, good or bad. Why don’t you share them with me and your fellow readers?

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