Good Planning and Solid Technology for a Happy Holiday

Nov 10, 2006 3:13 AM  By

If you’re hoping to reap the revenue rewards of the holiday season, you need to do more than simply retrofit your Website with commonplace features and launch marketing programs with conventional messaging. Instead, you must implement this season’s must-have features and functionalities and back them up with solid technology infrastructures that offer exceptional control, flexibility, and response time. Above all, good planning will provide the framework for differentiating your user experience, responding to changes on the fly, and enabling dynamic revenue-optimizing adjustments.

Step by step
The first step is driving qualified traffic to your site. This will require content management ability to optimize pages for search engines and create customized landing pages for new campaigns. You’ll also need to analyze your cost-per-click (CPC) spending so that you can optimize your search marketing tactics throughout the season and to segment your e-mail lists for better targeting of campaigns. (For more on holiday-season e-mail tactics, see ”The Key to Holiday E-mail Success.”)

Second, you need to respond to every click. This requires adequate capacity and response time in dealing with peak holiday traffic, including load testing and performance tuning. As part of that effort, you will have to review service-level agreements with all your service providers to verify readiness and escalation procedures for dealing with problems. And to improve results and optimize conversion rates, a best practice is to perform A/B testing (of layout, navigation, and onsite promotions) on an ongoing basis. (For more on holiday-season testing, see ”The Top 10 E-commerce Tests for the Holiday Season.”)

The next step is reducing the number of clicks needed for users to get the desired results. Faceted search and enhanced navigation capabilities, based on new standards and technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), will accomplish this by enabling faster checkout, search, and other multistep processes.

At this point, the focus should be on enhancing site content. Rich-media tools such as streaming video, animated applets, and multiple product views can boost your site’s dynamic imaging.

Cross-selling and upselling are critical as well. Make sure your promotions are seasonally relevant, and use product information pages to cross-sell items with healthy inventory and upsell products that are heavily marketed.

Planning also involves the nuts-and-bolts involved in shipping/delivery, payment, and channel issues. It is important that you customize your site to promote shipping/delivery methods that get products to customers faster, easier, and more affordably than the competition can. In terms of payment, supporting alternative methods such as PayPal, Bill Me Later, and stored-value gift cards are effective in addressing security concerns that prevent more consumers from buying online. In addition, creating synergies between online and offline channels, such as placing easy-to-find store locators on your site, allowing for quick online orders from printed catalogs, and implementing in-store pickup and returns, will increase revenue.

On the grid
Clearly, with a highly competitive holiday season ahead, you should dare to be different. Cookie-cutter approaches simply won’t do. The kind of e-commerce planning outlined above provides the guidelines for creating memorable, differentiated brand experiences that drive repeat traffic and increased revenue. But to succeed, your plans must be built on technically sound architectures that provide the flexibility and control for maximum responsiveness.

In fact, if your Website is not responsive enough, both during the season and afterward—when potential new customers visit sites to use their Christmas gift cards—you won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Instead, you will lose customers to your swifter competitors.

The best architectural approach for supporting your plans is grid computing, which links multiple small computers to create a single more powerful computer. The use of grid computing can greatly improve Website response time and accommodate spikes in traffic caused by unexpected demands, which is especially important during the holidays.

Grid computing architectures also allow you to run multiple sites, each with a different look and feel, in the same instance environment. With this capability, you can launch holiday-specific sites catering to shoppers’ gift-buying needs. Sears’ newly launched ReadySetHoliday.com is a good example. The holiday Website, targeted to mothers and featuring gift merchandise from Sears, Kmart, and Lands’ End, allows the retailer to cater to the needs of a specific group of consumers during a specific period.

Stephan Schambach is the founder/president/CEO of Demandware (www.demandware.com), a Woburn, MA-based provider flexible e-commerce solutions.