Live from eTail 2006: Christmas in August

Philadelphia—There’s no time like the present for thinking about holiday presents…and your Web presence during the holidays. That was the underlying theme of the panel discussion entitled “Last-Minute Site Enhancements to Create Small Wins for Your Busy Season” here at eTail.

For instance, “if you don’t know your UPS or FedEx rep’s name yet, you’d better,” said Jay Shaffer, vice president of marketing for furnishings merchant Now is the time not only to get to know your parcel-carrier reps—and to make sure they know you—but also to update them on your volume projections and to confirm shipping deadlines with them. This is especially important if you’re planning to promote a late deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery.

To that point, Felix Danziger, vice president, direct and business-to-business for personal-care products cataloger/retailer L’Occitane, suggested considering adding a “buffer” day to your guaranteed-delivery deadline. If, for instance, your logistics team says you can safely accept orders until Dec. 22 for Christmas deadline, you may want to promote Dec. 21 as the deadline date. Of course, Danziger added, you’ve got to balance the importance of ensuring the promised delivery date and overall customer experience against the last-minute sales you might lose by shaving a day off your holiday season.

But Danziger emphasized the importance of ensuring an optimal customer experience, especially during the holiday season when orders touch not only the customer but also the gift recipient. For that reason, he advised carefully proofreading of the gift messages included with orders. Two years ago, he said, L’Occitane received complaints about missing words and incomplete messages—a situation the company has corrected by being more diligent.

Shaffer added that you should remind gift-givers—either via your order-takers or online—to include their name on the gift message. Customers generally assume that their name will be included on the message or elsewhere in the package, but unless they specify it on the gift card, it generally isn’t.

Other tips from the panel:

• “Make sure your marketing plan is day by day, rather than week by week or month by month,” Danziger said. This way you can spot and react to any problems much more quickly.

• If you offer gift-wrapping, you must show what it looks like on your site and in your catalog.

• Keep an extra close eye on your paid search efforts during your busy season, suggested Brad Wolansky, director, e-commerce for outdoor gear and apparel cataloger/retailer The Orvis Co. With inventory status changing so quickly during the holidays, your search feeds and programs could end up bidding on terms for products that you no longer have in stock—something he admitted occasionally happened at Orvis.

• “Think about what marketing messages you have out there year-round and whether you should back off on them” during your peak season, Shaffer said. For instance, if you normally offer a lowest-price guarantee, you might be wise to drop it during the holidays, when price isn’t as significant a driver. As Danziger noted, as the holidays get closer, “price is less important than ensuring that the present will get there and that it’s the right present.”

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