Websites get ready

Aug 01, 2008 9:30 PM  By

It’s almost here, the season that consumer merchants and gift marketers wait all year for. So is your site up to snuff for the holidays?

To get the most from your e-commerce site, you must do three things:

  • Start now — August isn’t too late, but it’s getting down to the wire
  • Have a detailed tactical plan for each of the five phases of the holiday season
  • Monitor and react to changes in the market as the season unfolds

You know you need to start now, but where to start? Begin by creating a plan.

Your plan should divide the holiday season into five phases: 1) pre-holiday, 2) early holiday, 3) mid-holiday, 4) late holiday and 5) post-holiday. Each phase contains important strategies and tactics, and each is critical to your success. Having a plan that encompasses the entire holiday season enables you to react quickly to hot trends, consumer dynamics, and events that drive success and affect every retailer — especially during the holidays.

To turn your plan into action, you will want to create a holiday “war room” in a conference room, though a large hallway wall will work, too. Dedicate a good amount of wall space in the war room to each of the five phases. You also need room for the master calendar that ties everything together in day-by-day detail.

The more information you have represented on the war room calendar, the more likely your holiday season will run smoothly. Also, with the season planned in full, it’s easier to respond to last-minute opportunities or trends without negatively affecting overall holiday performance.

Here are some proven strategies and tactics to help get your war room up and running for the holidays.

PHASE 1: PRE-HOLIDAY

In this stage, you will prepare for the upcoming holiday challenge by understanding your customer and ensuring that the basics are in place. For instance, you need a prominent gift center and easy-to-find customer service — including a phone number for gift-givers with questions.

Some gifting features and functionalities are critical to delivering a quality gift buying experience. Make sure you do the following things:

  • Ensure that your gift center is exemplary and includes gift suggestions
  • Integrate a gift finder to help shoppers find the right gift at the right price
  • Dedicate enough space to gift cards
  • Present comprehensive customer service, including visible contact information, customer service hours, and FAQs with continually updated seasonal cut-off dates
  • Organize category pages to showcase products with gifting themes
  • Give visibility to new products and top sellers
  • Create a robust product page that combines adequate text, complete visuals and category-centric tools to support customer decision-making. Pottery Barn does a good job with this. (See example, left.)
  • Ramp up your e-mail schedule
  • Use post-order communication to promote gift cards and seasonal holiday items
  • Get ready for post-Christmas markdowns while introducing new products to maintain higher margins

PHASE 2: EARLY HOLIDAY

Now you should be focusing on giving your gifting features a boost. This is important because visibility translates into increased conversion.

Here are 10 ideas:

  • Dress the navigation button for the featured holiday or gifting theme
  • Reinforce customer service countdown and free shipping on the home page
  • Make gifting a part of every search landing page
  • Tout gift services on category pages
  • Put expedited shipping messaging on product pages
  • Include gifting reminders and suggestions in the shopping cart
  • Promote gift certificates throughout the site — from navigation, to the cart, to post-order communication
  • Populate the shipping confirmation with seasonal sales
  • Aggregate all gifting services and merchandising on one easily accessed page
  • Post gift-related messaging as part of every e-mail during the holiday selling period

PHASE 3: MID-HOLIDAY

It’s time to schedule your first performance review: Analyze early results on your site and study the competition, then adjust plans to push for sales without giving up too much margin. Conversely, pull sales with targeted e-mail; limiting your most promotional efforts to these loyal customers is initially a smart strategy.

PHASE 4: LATE HOLIDAY

As the holiday gets closer, bring front-and-center those features and functionality that save time for busy shoppers and aid decision-making — from prewrapped gifts to last-minute ideas. Make free and expedited shipping foremost too, along with an array of creative promotions to help close the sale. Shari’s Berries (see example above) offers multipack products ready to ship and on sale.

PHASE 5: POST-HOLIDAY

Just as the holidays end, it is time to liquidate, encourage gift card redemptions, and begin to assess how your plan worked. Capitalize on the season by moving clearance goods to an online outlet. Then refresh the rest of your site with merchandising prowess that lures gift card holders to spend, spend, spend. This will accomplish two goals at the same time: clearing inventory and maintaining margins on newer products. Baby Center, for one, is a master at seasonal clearance strategies. (See example on page 26.)

Monitor and react By following the activities outlined for each phase, every day of your holiday season will be fully scripted — keeping you and your team focused and on track. As your plan unfolds, however, it is also important to monitor how the plan is working, and to be able to react to situations as they occur.

Here are five questions to ask as your plan unfolds:

  • Is your gift center attracting buyers?
  • Do you have current reviews in place and readily available on your site?
  • Are you properly scheduled to take advantage of each phase of the season?
  • Are your promotions and bundles bringing in holiday sales?
  • Is your home page fresh, and does your site engage holiday shoppers?

More analytical approaches can also help you succeed. Consider tools such as Google Analytics, Omniture, or other tools that can help you understand what’s happening during the holiday season and allow you to make adjustments quickly.

Happy and successful holiday selling!

Ken Burke is chairman/founder/chief evangelist of MarketLive.

Multichannel merchants who want more detailed information about the strategies and tactics discussed here can download MarketLives’s free Holiday Preparedness report from www.marketlive.com/holidayguidebook