It’s that time of year again, so how do you ensure that your e-commerce store receives its share of the Christmas shopping extravaganza pie?
Total revenues for online merchants are expected to hit somewhere in the region of $18 billion with about 2.5 million new homes shopping online this year – mostly to evade the lines, hassles and higher fuel costs involved in doing it the old-fashioned way. So rest assured, the traffic is there, all that remains is for you to provide a destination.
1. Break out the Chalkboard
Strategy is everything. Are you targeting existing clientele, trying to drive new customers to your site, or both? Identify your discount strategy whether it’s per product, per customer, or per order placed. Where possible, offer shipping discounts – it makes potential customers feel better about shopping online. Why get in the car when your product is getting delivered to you free of charge? It’s also a good idea to put a deadline on your offers. Give a hard date, something to incite a level of urgency in your customer. If they know they only have a few days to get a good deal, they’re more likely to consider the offer.
2. Behold the Power of the Inbox
It’s become synonymous with viruses, spam and scams involving foreign strangers wanting to give you millions of dollars for absolutely no reason. Yet, e-mail remains your best bet for driving your existing clientele to your site. Nothing says “preferred customer” like a surprise personalized e-mail coming from your store (or better yet, you) detailing the specials available for him or her. Discount codes also offer an excellent way to get attention and generate additional sales. The perceived value of exclusive specials goes a long way for a customer making the decision to follow through with a purchase.
Do not underestimate the power of mass mailing your customers. A well formatted and designed HTML email goes a long way in sending customers straight to your site’s products with the intention to purchase. Ensure also that your mailing system allows the sending of a copy of the mailing in plain text format in order to reach the largest possible universe of customers.
Supplement your mailing functionality by ensuring that visitors and customers have access to sign up or opt into your store’s newsletter. Judicious use of mass mailings can ensure repeat sales long after the holiday season ends.
3. Make It Prominent
Tying your site’s main marketing areas to your specials can greatly improve the level of clicks you get to your high profile areas. Display specials prominently on your main page, and highlight the value or add-ons that can be obtained in taking advantage of the offers. A subtle, well designed Flash marketing area or attractive graphic design that highlights the holiday sale adds a sense of enhanced coherence and gives your customers a sense that the store is current and reassures them that the offer is valid.
With searches now firmly ensconced as the Number 2 overall use of the Internet (only e-mail ranks higher), sponsored searches and pay-per-click advertising will continue to prove worthy investments for the discerning web retailer. Good use of keywords and proper adoption of search engine optimization features go a long way in bringing new customers to your store. Ensure that your pages contain a sufficient amount of HTML and meta tags and makes good use of relevant links. Most e-commerce stores suffer in search results because their pages are dynamically created and are not static files waiting to be crawled by a search engine. However, a good static HTML sitemap and static versions of key areas of your site can assist in mitigating this problem.
5. Pay It Later
Customers like the feeling of control. Until recently, online credit was something that was only found at the largest online retailers. Now there are a variety of services which allow you to offer your customer the option of buying now and paying the balance over a specified period of time. This option can generate sales you usually wouldn’t get during the holiday period, where the thought of immediate expenditure are usually detractors from the impulse to make the purchase.
6. Sell the Security
With the threat of identity theft and credit card scams more pertinent than ever, it never hurts to reassure your customers of the security measures in place on your site. Encryption, SSL and Hacker-Safe verifications from third party reputable vendors usually do wonders in ensuring your customers’ peace of mind. If your store doesn’t have it, implement a section devoted to information regarding your store’s security.
7. ‘Stress-Test’ the Store
If people take the time to drive to a physical location, seeing the door jammed with a hundred other customers may not be an immediate deterrent to shopping there. Your e-commerce store doesn't enjoy the same leniency. Even a few seconds of delayed page load times will quickly inspire your customer to start typing in the URL of your competitor. A recent example of this lies in Circuit City. The launch of the XBox 360 slowed Circuit City's site down to a crawl when thousands of customers tried to place orders minutes after the availability. For the small or mid-size ecommerce store, traffic spikes can mean incredibly slow page loads, or even complete site crashes. Stress-testing your store with various bandwidths and load testing applications can give you a useful heads-up for what kind of capacity your site can manage, and are crucial in placing orders for extra bandwidth or storage in advance.
It's clear that online shopping is here to stay and implementing a solid strategy for peak times such as the holiday season can put your store in a good position to earn a solid reputation and repeat orders. If planned correctly, you can do much to improve your sales long after the gift-giving frenzy has died down. This is when you enjoy that elusive year-round goal – growth. Good luck, and may the holiday season bring you joy and prosperity!
Stefan Jhagroo is the COO for Oxidev Interactive LLC (www.oxidev.com), a Miami-based web design and development firm. He can be reached at Stefan@oxidev.com.