Fine-Tune Your Site for the Holiday Season

Sep 08, 2009 10:16 PM  By

With less than four months to go before the critical holiday shopping season, online retailers and marketers are already fervently planning their programs for December.

Following one of the worst holiday sales periods in 2008, this year presents both a challenge and a unique opportunity for retailers. Although it’s unclear just how cautious consumers will be with their spending, they will certainly be shopping and researching their holiday purchases online.

In this high-pressure environment, providing a rich, seamless and unique shopping experience will be critical to capturing customer attention and driving sales. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t forget the basics
The most creative and well-planned promotions and site enhancements are of no use if your customers can’t see or experience them properly. In the holiday rush, functionality can very quickly become an afterthought. Poor site functionality is unacceptable any time of the year, but can be catastrophic to sales during the holiday season.

Now is the time to identify and take steps to make site improvements, well in advance of the December push. Begin by assessing what works and what needs work on your site by meticulously combing through the brand and shopping experience from beginning to end.

Too often during the holidays retailers focus on a particular seasonal promotion or page on their site, and fail at fully incorporating it into the whole site experience. In order to drive the sale and take the customer to the finish line, each component of the site must seamlessly integrate and intersect with another.

Holiday-specific microsites must be commerce-enabled. Images should be sharp, videos should load instantly, and every click in the customer’s process should be flawless and consistent. It’s critical to incorporate this functionality in to any promotions or features you will be layering onto your site and to test and retest now.

Make your site a holiday destination
With the fundamentals in place, focus on what you can do to take the holiday shopping experience to the next level. This year more than ever, online retailers need to make their site a true holiday destination for shoppers. Remember, consumers will be visiting countless stores and sites in their search for holiday gifts – so capture their attention by offering something unusual and unexpected.

Beyond just enhancing your product catalog, drive sales by making your site a hub for customers to interact and plan their holiday gifting. For example, incorporate a feature that helps customers select a gift by answering a few key questions about the recipient in a fun, interactive format.

Create branded games or quizzes that entice the customer and add a creative element to their shopping trip. These features not only help to engage the customer but they ultimately work to drive sales through their cross-promotion and up-sell capabilities.

Think outside of the site
Of course, an exciting and well executed site is an online retailer’s most valuable marketing and sales platform. But harnessing social media tools can help to extend the reach of that brand beyond the site while helping to drive conversion.

There is nothing more compelling to a customer than hearing a recommendation from another customer, which is why tools like Twitter, Facebook and other social communities can be so powerful in generating brand buzz. During the holiday season, these tools can serve as an invaluable advocate in quickly spreading your brand message and driving traffic to your site.

Start by providing your customers with things they are passionate about that they will then feel inclined to share via social media. This can be a behind the scenes video, a unique gifting application or a limited-time promotion.

Set up a holiday themed area in your site, such as gifting boutique, for visitors to interact with other shoppers and share their top gift suggestions. In addition to driving sales during the holidays, these components will work to reinforce your brand in the long term.

This holiday season will be unlike any in recent history from a retail perspective, and it will once again test our resilience. But it’s also a tremendous opportunity for online retailers to emerge with something unique and unprecedented to offer and entice their customers.

Start by perfecting the fundamentals and ensure seamless functionality is incorporated into every promotion or application you layer on your site. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the holiday season to innovate.

Add interesting components that position your site as a longer term destination for shoppers. You should also explore and experiment with the power of social media to extend that relationship beyond your site.

James Gardner is founder/CEO of Createthe Group (www.createthegroup.com), a digital marketer in the fashion and luxury retail segments.