Accelerate Holiday Gift Sales with an Ecommerce Tune-up

Winter holidays are a decisive time for retailers. The National Retail Federation reports that the winter holiday season can represent up to 40% of annual retailer sales, with online gifting taking center stage. Deloitte’s 2012 Annual Holiday Survey recorded that nearly one-quarter of the people surveyed did most of their holiday shopping online.

Emerging new technologies are empowering retailers to meet the changing demands of online shoppers, create sustainable competitive advantages, propel customers to increase spending and fire-up their brand loyalty.

Tune-up your ecommerce engine for the 2013 holidays to maximize your gift sales performance in these three ways.

Checkout Process

Are unnecessary steps and information requirements gumming up the gears of your check-out process? LivePerson recently conducted an online consumer experience study which reinforced the significant negative impact of website and shopping cart abandonment on online retail revenues.

The report warns, “Abandonment is a key measure of ecommerce success and something that all online brands need to monitor, understand and try to prevent.” The primary causes of cart abandonment are lack of information about a product, high or unexpected shipping costs and poorly designed online stores.

In the world of gifting, shoppers usually jump cart without completing the transaction because they’re required to provide difficult information such as size, color/style preference and shipping details of the gift recipient. Furthermore, customers dislike entering information into multiple address fields.

There are various technologies available to retailers that integrate into their ecommerce platform and streamline the checkout. Forbes recently highlighted Trustev, a company seeking to remove checkout barriers with online identity verification using social fingerprinting and Experian offers an address validation web service.

In today’s sophisticated tech world, all gift options including shipping address should be transferred to the recipient. The gift sender should be able to purchase and gift any item without requiring anymore recipient information beyond an email address. Look at your checkout process and find the most seamless and effective ways to make prospective gift senders into real ones!

Shipping, Returns and Exchanges

You’re behind the eight ball if you don’t already offer free shipping. Free shipping became the e-tail norm decades ago in internet lifespan. Consumers expect free shipping. If you’re a smaller online retailer and don’t have the margins to offer free shipping across the board, there are still ways to avoid losing customers at the vital decision making last stage.

One common tactic is to offer free shipping with a minimum order value while offering a variety of other shipping options. ModCloth, the online retailer that specializes in vintage and indie clothing provides a great example of this. The company offers free domestic U.S. shipping with a minimum $50 order and other options starting at a $4 flat rate.

It’s important that you clearly and prominently state your shipping information on your online store site and have a detailed subpage dedicated to your full shipping terms and conditions. If you force customers to go through the entire checkout process only to surprise them with shipping cost details at the end, you’ll not only lose immediate sales, but also the chance to get those shoppers to return to your site.

In a 2012 WSJ article, Randy Allen, associate dean at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, estimated that almost 15% of holiday sales are returned or exchanged and that too overwhelmingly for a different size or color. Imagine what this means when 2012 holiday retail sales were estimated at $586.1 billion.

Explore ways to reduce returns for these recipient preference reasons before the transaction takes place. This can include providing more detailed product descriptions, highlighting customer reviews that give others insights into the product, and transferring gift options such as size and color preferences to the recipient before the product is shipped to ensure it’s the perfect gift.

Cross-and Up-Sell Opportunities

As buyers interact with a brand across multiple marketing and sales interfaces, businesses must find ways to deliver an enhanced and engaging customer experience. Brands must marry “bricks” and “clicks” to offer omni-channel solutions that bring in-store to online and vice versa.

A recent Mashable article cited a study conducted by research firm L2 in which surprisingly sixty-nine% of surveyed retailers supported online purchase and in-store returns, just 14% though offered in-store pickup for online purchases. A great touch-point with the customer is lost to them.

In the retail space alone, Forrester projected that U.S. cross-channel sales would hit $1.1 trillion by 2012, a significant chunk of this would be generated online. Traditionally, one of the upsides of gift returns and exchanges was that the process brought a gift recipient into a physical store where she would purchase something else. Returns provided retailers a post-gifting interaction with the recipient.

A salesperson could then learn the reasons for the return or exchange, recommend other items and upsell in the process. Integrating solutions that allow retailers to cross and upsell gift recipients online before the actual item is shipped persuasively brings the traditional in-store experience to their ecommerce stores, reduces return costs and makes for happy gift recipients.

Control has shifted from brands to consumers. Tech-slick shoppers want retailers to provide intelligent solutions that improve and enhance their online experience. Retailers must meet their needs quickly and effectively. Find new technologies and tactics that will boost your online sales and gifting revenues as you consider an ecommerce tune up for this holiday season and beyond.

By Monika Kochhar, Co-Founder and CEO of Smartgift.