The 10 Days of Christmas: Maximizing Holiday Sales Dec. 15-25

Nov 20, 2006 6:30 PM  By

By now, the holidays are in full swing, and so are seasonal sales
on your Web site. But this is no time to sit back and watch the revenues
accumulate. With the holidays representing 20 percent of annual online
sales, it’s crucial to capitalize on every opportunity to maximize
conversions and revenues.

The good news is that there are still plenty of shoppers hoping to find
perfect gifts online, and plenty of opportunities to reach them. While
it’s not practical to overhaul site infrastructure or roll out sweeping
design changes at this point, there are a number of merchandising and
marketing tactics you can implement to help drive sales in the final
run-up to the holidays.

Last-minute shoppers are increasingly turning to the Internet to solve
their gift-giving challenges. In 2005, almost 18% of men and 13% of
women hadn’t begun their holiday shopping by Dec. 18, according to
researcher MarketingSherpa; of those late shoppers, a full 30% still
planned to find and purchase gifts online. And the trend seems to be
growing: Fully a quarter of all shoppers said they plan to make last-minute
purchases online this year, according to industry researcher Forrester.
So it’s well worth the time and effort to tailor offers and incentives to
these shoppers. But with time running short, how to do it?

First, focus your merchandising and messaging to help late shoppers
count down to the holidays. Make room on your home page to feature
a discounted Holiday Gift of the Day, or design a 12 Days of Christmas
campaign to highlight key products; with a constantly-changing selection
of gift ideas, you’re helping shoppers come up with quick solutions to
their gift-giving quandaries and putting information about those
highlighted items front and center.

Sears and Kmart spotlight Today’s Top Pick on their holiday home page;
the prominent location entices shoppers to click on a steeply-discounted
item that’s keyed to the season. Clicking the item allows shoppers to
access past days specials and see a preview hint for upcoming offers
offering assurance that they’ll find something for everyone on the
oliday gift list.

Additionally, display most popular lists based on what your customers
are already buying; it’s a great way to show off the unique merchandise
that makes your site sought-after, while giving last-minute shoppers more
ideas for hard-to-please recipients.

For shoppers who want an all-purpose solution, promote gift certificates
and gift cards extensively. They’re a popular choice: More than two-thirds
of customers surveyed last year intended to buy at least one gift card as
a holiday gift, the National Retail Foundation found; as a result, total gift
card sales from November and December of last year rose 20% to
$18.5 billion. Make gift cards and certificates universally
accessible by linking to them from your site’s global navigation;
place them prominently on the home page as well so they’re instantly
accessible to hurrying shoppers.

Boston Proper places gift certificates front and center on its list of holiday
merchandise. With the tagline always the proper choice, the site
emphasizes the flexibility and ease that gift certificates provide.

Continue promoting gift cards and certificates throughout the selection process.
Place a promotion on the search results page to reach shoppers who are on the
hunt for perfect gift items; within the shopping cart, promote gift certificates
and gift cards as an opportunity for purchasers to cross another name off their
shopping lists swiftly
and easily.

Finally, target your merchandising message to emphasize ease and
hassle-free shopping. Convenience is a key motivator for last-minute
shoppers; according to Forrester, 83% of customers said they saved time
shopping for gifts online, while 70% said they appreciated avoiding
in-store crowds during the holidays. Fulfill their expectations by spelling
out in-stock status, was/is pricing on discounted items, and most
importantly timelines for fulfillment and shipping. Tweak your design to give
prominence to shipping and return policies, product guarantees and
customer service contact information, and if possible, boost customer
service staffing so that last-minute shoppers questions are answered
quickly enough for them to purchase with plenty of time to spare. Setting
appropriate expectations is crucial; Forrester found that 26 percent of
shoppers received items later than expected last year a key cause of
dissatisfaction.

Take the message of convenience to the next level by creating a section on the
site specifically spotlighting gifts that can be shipped overnight. Update this
roster of ultra-swift solutions as the deadline nears, adding new items and
eliminating those that are out of stock or can no longer make the cutoff.

In RedEnvelope.com’s last-minute gifts section, shipping information is clearly
displayed with requirements for next-day delivery. Shoppers can browse
last-minute items by recipient and price making it even easier to find the
perfect gift.

Once you’ve incorporated these holiday-centric merchandising tactics, boost
conversions further with discounts tailored to last-minute shoppers. First
and foremost, if you’re not already offering free shipping, roll out a campaign
immediately; it’s the most important promotion sites can offer for nine out of
10 shoppers, according to Shop.org’s 2006 Holiday Best Practices report, and
Forrester found that 66 percent of shoppers are more likely to buy at a site that
offers free shipping. With the holiday countdown already underway and timing
increasingly tight, up the
ante: Lower the threshold for free ground delivery
and prominently display reminders in the shopping cart letting shoppers know how
much more they need to spend to qualify; heavily promote expedited or overnight
upgrades; and offer those premium shipping services free to top spenders as the
holiday deadline nears.

Target.com drives home the message about free shipping on its Toys page,
promising free delivery for spotlighted items and then repeating the offer
lower on the page for shoppers looking to shop by age or gender.

Beyond shipping, focus promotions and offers on convenience. With gift cards
and certificates playing such a large role in holiday spending, offer them as
a free gift with purchase, implement two-for-one bargain pricing as another
way to help last-minute buyers conquer their shopping lists. Offer free
gift-wrapping incentives, and eliminate
service fees for extras such as
shipping to multiple addresses.

With merchandising messages and enticing discount offers in place, your next step
is to make a final marketing push to draw last-minute shoppers to the site. Start
with your email list; it’s a highly effective booster of holiday sales. According
to MarketingSherpa, fully one-third of shoppers bought gifts triggered by an email
promotion and with last-minute gift-buyers hurrying to meet the holiday deadline,
they’ll especially appreciate the tailored suggestions you deliver directly to their
email in-boxes. Increase the tempo of messages in the final days before the holiday,
tying in content and offers with the featured products and seasonal discounts you’ve
developed for the site.

In addition to targeting your subscriber list, use email to contact site users who’ve
set up wish lists or registries and browsers who’ve abandoned their shopping carts
mid-way through the process and lure them back with incentive offers .

As a second prong of your peak holiday marketing campaign, target your core market
by refining your search advertising. Monitor results of your keyword buys, and
discard costly general terms in favor of specific phrases that target
your
niche customers. Fifty-nine percent of holiday shoppers go online in search of items
they can’t find anywhere else,
so play up your unique product offerings in the
search terms to drive higher conversion rates per ad dollar spent.

Finally, don’t discount the final day of the holiday rush Christmas itself. Dec. 25
is one of the busiest online shopping days of the season, Shop.org found, so be
prepared to launch into sale mode that day. Change your home page layout to link
prominently into post-holiday sales, and highlight was/is pricing on products throughout
the site; within the sale sections of the site, let shoppers search and filter items
by price and type. Staff accordingly, so that shoppers who want to bargain-hunt while
sipping their holiday eggnog can find the customer service support they
need. And
prepare for the first wave of returns; target visitors already looking to make exchanges
with tailored promotions, such as Didn’t get what you wanted? teaser headings combined
with spotlighted popular products. Make sure your links
to return and exchange
policies are prominent and easily accessible from the home page.

On Dec. 26, the hectic rush of holiday gift-buying will end. After deploying your
arsenal of fine-tuned merchandising and marketing tactics over the past 10 days,
you’ll finally receive your own reward the robust revenues resulting
from a
urst of late-season sales. And by speeding and easing the gift-buying process for
last-minute shoppers, you’ll start the year with satisfied customers who are
bound to return. And that’s definitely worth celebrating.