The holidays are quickly approaching and your business promos should have already begun. Keeping everything in check and making sure you leave no stone unturned can be a difficult task. To help you in that effort, here is a checklist of items you should consider while preparing for the holidays.
1) Ensure the checkout process is stable and your shopping cart is streamlined.
You should be aware of this part of your site all the time, but before the holiday shopping season hits, take a good look at your shopping cart and checkout to make sure it is working, and across multiple browsers. It does your business no good if customers put products into their carts and then abandon them, due to circumstances that could have been avoided.
2) If it is not broken, do not fix it.
If your website is working and is smooth, now is not the time to try new programming alterations or updates. You risk introducing a bug or problem into the current process, and if it can wait, you should put all major changes off until the holiday season passes. Instead, focus on sales efforts. Sales are more important than new innovations during the fourth quarter.
3) Ensure your search marketing and ads reflect the holiday merchandise and promotions people want.
Free shipping, big discounts, buy one get one free, etc., are always popular, especially during the holidays. Also consider running ads that reflect products people are looking for, and that you offer during the holiday season only. With the major engines you can easily schedule your ads to run during a given period. Create a new campaign and call it "Holiday," or something similar. You can break this new campaign into various ad groups that each target different holiday products.
Run the campaign during the holiday season only and it can really help boost sales. I recently worked with a retailer that had some holiday products (limited time) which just arrived. A quick search of Google Trends told me the exact points in time each of these products was in heaviest demand on the Internet, and we setup a number of ads targeting those keywords and products. The results were immediate, with new sales coming in within a few hours.
4) Utilize social media channels to spread the word about your offers.
Viral marketing during this time of the year is something you cannot overlook. Good news and offers spread fast.
5) Tweak navigational elements to cater to the holiday shopper.
Consider adding the following temporary categories to your navigation during the holidays.
Gifts by Price: Organize and suggest gifts by price range. For example, highlight gifts under $10, $25, $50, $100, or whatever price points are appropriate for your business. If appropriate, add a "Gifts Under $10" category.
Gifts by Person: Organize gifts intended for different groups such as kids, teens, parents and grandparents. Consider "Gifts for Him," or "Gifts for Her," "Gifts for Boys" and "Gifts for Girls" categories.
6) Showcase stocking stuffers.
Be sure to highlight low cost products that would make good stocking stuffers. You may even want to utilize these types of items for cross promotional selling, as a way to increase your average order value.
7) Make sure shipping and return information is clearly visible on the product pages.
Shipping and return issues are top-of-mind for customers during the holidays, and one of the first places they look for answers is on the product page. Be sure to display or link your shipping and returns pages from your product pages. A great way to accomplish this is to provide a tabbed experience on the product page, as is the case with many big online retailers. Providing tabs for product description, shipping, return information etc., is a super way to keep the user on the product page and still provide the information they seek.
8) Consider offering gift wrapping.
If your business can do it, offer gift wrapping services to your customers. You can add this as an upsell on the product page (and remember to cross sell it on the shopping cart page), but be sure to add enough additional charge to cover any labor and materials costs.
9) Create product bundles.
Product bundles are a great way to increase average order value and sales across the board. Consider grouping several related products into a gift package at a discounted rate than if the items were purchased separately. This too will encourage sales. Gift selection is much easier when related items are grouped together in a gift basket or bundle.
10) Consider gift messages.
If your cart allows you to do so, let your customers add personal messages to their gifts. For simplicity, you can have the message appear on the packing list, which will be included in the box. If your cart does not support that, consider using the "Additional Comments" box, which many carts have by default, as an opportunity for customers to add their gift messages. Ensure this message appears on the packing slip as well.
11) Determine shipping cutoff dates.
One of the most important pieces of information to communicate to customers during the holidays is shipping cutoff dates. Check with your shipping carriers to determine what the cutoff dates are for the various shipping methods. Add a "guaranteed arrival in time for [name holiday here] if ordered before [name date here]."
12) Prominently display return policy.
Your return policy should be easy to find. Consider rewording it as a no hassle policy in order to calm the fears of first time buyers. If your current policy is stiff, consider loosening it up during the holiday season. While a 30-day return policy is commonplace for the rest of the year, it may scare off early holiday shoppers. Make it clear to your visitors that you will accept returns and exchanges on all holiday gift purchases. This ensures them that they can expect total satisfaction.
QVC, for example, does a super job of wording its return policy during the holidays. QVC's holiday return policy states: "Any gift you purchase now through December can be returned for any reason for a full return including original shipping and handling until January 31," and is in effect as early as October.
13) Show holiday spirit in your graphics.
Go ahead and decorate for the holidays. Consider redesigning some of the artwork on your site with a holiday theme. If you do any shopping (or searching) on the Internet, you will see all the big players do this. Even Google decorates for the holidays by reworking their logo, to get you in the buying mood.
14) Ensure your server can handle increased capacity.
If you do not host in-house, talk with your web host about how you can increase your server performance during the holiday rush. The quickest way to lose sales is to have a website that is not online or is very slow. This will not only cost you holiday sales, but will likely cost you future customers as well, so the effect can be long term.
15) Enable customers to ship to alternate locations.
If a customer is buying a gift for someone that does not live near them, they may want to have it shipped to the recipient's address as a holiday surprise.
16) Communicate with fulfillment and customer service.
Make everyone involved in the order fulfillment process aware of any promotions you plan on running. Do not surprise your customer service and fulfillment staff with an unplanned 24-hour blowout sale. Taking 10,000 orders in a day is great, but if your warehouse can only ship 5,000, you are asking for trouble.
17) Employ email campaigns to promote holiday offers, and highlight the offers on your website.
If you are running any email campaigns, you need to ensure that those same offers are easily found, and similarly presented on your website. Consider using similar graphics and pushing traffic to specific landing pages that are setup to convert that traffic. The more relevant your site is, in comparison to the email offer, the more success you will have generating sales.
18) Consider offering gift certificates.
Even if you do not offer gift certificates any other time of the year, consider offering them during the holiday season. These provide an added option for shoppers who may not have a wish list, but who know someone they are buying for likes to shop at your store. Gift certificates are also a way to get last minute shoppers to buy, providing your cart offers the ability to generate digital gift certificates that are sent and redeemed online, rather than printed or sent by postal mail.
Online sellers need to be ready to promote their products and support increased web activity during the busy holiday season. By implementing the suggestions on this checklist, you will ensure buyers are happy, making it a profitable season for all.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce expert, founder of Ecommerce Amplifier, and owner of Voom Ventures, LLC, whose products and services help stores increase traffic, maximize ROI, decrease expenses, and increase revenue. He can be contacted online at www.voomventures.com, or by phone 866-602-2673.
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