4 Ways E-Retailers Can Stand Out This Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again. There’s joy in the air, snow on the ground, and big opportunities online for e-retailers savvy enough to grab some of the extra business that the holidays bring with them. ‘Tis the time for specials, e-mail campaigns, and increased outreach to customers. The problem, of course, is that “everyone else” will be doing the same. The trick for e-retailers is to develop ways to distinguish their site, convincing consumers to shop with them, rather than their competitors.

One way to do that is by slashing prices; sites that feature discounts often get a lot of attention this time of year, considering the increased expenses many customers face. For those e-retailers who can afford to discount, more power to them; but as most merchants know, discounting can quickly turn into a black hole, leading to a price war that puts them in the red. Here are some ideas on how to attract customers in the hyper-competitive holiday environment that will give consumers reasons to buy from them, even as discounters ramp up their efforts, too.

Donate 

Many of the items being bought this time of year will end up being given as gifts – so gifting is much on the minds of customers, as they make up their minds on where to spend their money. As they are already in a giving mood, why not provide an opportunity for them to donate to good causes?

According to the Cause Marketing Forum, nearly three quarters of customers choose to give a donation at checkout when given the opportunity to do so. With customers’ altruistic feelings at their annual peak, sites can build up goodwill by partnering with a charity or cause, donating a percentage of each sale in the name of the customer. Customers feel better about shopping with sites that help the less fortunate, and that “halo effect” could also influence them to spend more – now, or in the future, when they recall their positive giving experience.

Loyalty Counts

Tried and true, a good customer loyalty program that offers incentives is a sure-fire winner with buyers. On the assumption that loyalty programs offer customers a little “extra” – a bigger discount, free shipping, etc., sites can incentivize new customers by offering them membership in the loyalty program for a significant discount, or for free, based on a minimum purchase. For example, if enrolling in the program during the year requires some kind of fee or a minimum purchase, those requirements could be waived for the holidays – thus giving new customers an incentive for buying now, given the prospects of future loyalty program member discounts.

Make It easy

With e-retailing growing by leaps and bounds, the online buying scene in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas has begun to resemble the offline scene. The crowds, confusion, and long lines in many stores is reflected online in slow loading times, seemingly endless popup banners, and random site outages and crashes due to heavy web traffic. It’s come to the point where customers can spend as much time shopping online for gifts as they would offline – with the frustrations engendered by traffic, parking, and inclement weather reflected online by frustrations with completing a transaction.

Preparing for the online crush is crucial for e-retailers. That could entail hiring a consulting service to evaluate the user experience, and shoring up specific processes to make them as navigable and user-friendly as possible, or switching to web service companies that have more robust servers, thus lowering the chance that their site will crash or slow to a crawl. According to one study, more than two thirds of online sales are lost due to shopping cart abandonment – and that statistic counts only those customers who got as far as putting something in their cart, instead of dropping out far earlier in the sales process. Ensuring a smooth shopping experience gives customers one more reason to shop at a site.

Responsible Payment Options

The holidays means many customers’ budgets are stretched as thin as possible – as are their lines of credit and available cash. This is the time of year people often get in over their heads, suffering the post-holiday payment blues well into the winter, spring, and even summer as they seek to pay off their huge credit card bills.

E-retailers willing to try something a bit different – interest-free credit card-based installments – could find themselves doing land-office business, studies on the matter show. Instead of having the customer pay up front and finance the purchase on their credit card, a site could offer the option of pre-determined payments – say $50 a month for ten months on a $500 purchase.

The purchase is secured by the customer’s credit card, but the card is charged the agreed upon amount each month, without interest. Customers benefit because they find it much easier to budget, since they know what their total outlay is – while sites benefit from increased sales, according to a recent study which indicates that 40% of credit card users would increase the size of their purchase by at least 10% if offered interest-free installment payments.In fact, for many harried customers who feel like cash cows that have been milked to the hilt by the time Christmas Day comes around, card-based installment payments could be an important reason they come to your site – and could be the element that turns them into loyal customers.

When customers know exactly how much they are going to be spending, they find it easier to budget – making it more likely to relax and enjoy their holiday. By lessening the financial guesswork that comes with holiday shopping, sites can help reduce the anxiety that so many people feel by the time it’s all over – anxiety that mars what is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness. How much is eliminating that anxiety worth to customers? Enough to make them extremely happy they spent their time and money with you, we’d wager – and making it much more likely they’ll keep doing so.

Gil Don is CEO of Splitit

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