Online Holiday Check list

Online merchants have one primary goal, just as retail and catalog merchants do, and that is to turn browsers into buyers. Getting the customer’s attention and making an impression is the first step to a sale in any channel. Once we understand consumers’ motivation, the art of merchandising involves a good deal of fine-tuning to engage the shopper.

Before considering strategies for best-in-class execution this coming holiday season, let’s review the previous holiday season. According to Alexa Research, 58.7 million people shopped online during the 2001 holiday season, generating $6.6 billion in online sales from Nov. 19 to Dec. 25. Last-minute shoppers were an integral segment; they purchased $54 million worth of goods on Christmas Day 2001, up 26% from the previous Christmas.

When it comes to winning over gift-giving customers, certain Website functions are more persuasive than others. Offering gift certificates and gift registries, for instance, can provide you with a competitive edge. The E-tailing Group’s Annual Merchandising Scan found that while some gift features were present on the majority of Websites, others haven’t yet caught on. For instance, among the 100 sites anonymously shopped from for the survey, 69% sold gift certificates or gift cards, and 67% offered gift suggestions to shoppers. But only 15% of the Websites had a gift registry feature. predicts that online revenue will grow 41% this year, accounting for 3.2% of overall retail sales. So if you haven’t yet committed to offering gifting functions on your Website, you may want to consider doing so now.

Throughout my new book, It’s Just Shopping, I provide checklists and actionable pointers that Web merchants can take advantage of to improve their sites. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I decided to share a few of these tips. And though your holiday selling season may already be under way, remember that it’s never too late to do the right thing.

But what is “the right thing?” This letter from The Consummate Customer might give you an indication:

Dear Merchant:

I am your customer — a chameleon shopper! My shopping styles and needs change based on what I am shopping for. I am frequently in a hurry, so make it easy for me to find and buy whatever I may need. At other times, though, I may just want to browse your site, researching or looking for ideas, so make your site simple and pleasurable to navigate. And above all, remember that as the customer, I’m always right! Here are my thoughts on how you can top my list of preferred sites to shop.


  • Be sure that your search results deliver to me the answers I seek and the products I need.
  • Don’t force me to drill down too far on your site to find what I am looking for.
  • Facilitate express ordering and remember the critical details so that I won’t have to.
  • Personalize my site experience so that I feel like your only customer.
  • Don’t make it mandatory for me to register. I will do so only when I want to buy from you.
  • Engage me visually with the latest and greatest products from your current assortments.
  • Leverage enhanced product images that allow me to zoom in on an item or see it in a 3-D format so that I am more confident of the selections I make.
  • Feature your best prices as I don’t want to have to hunt around to determine where I can find top deals and values.
  • Please provide comprehensive content as sometimes I research products online but at times may buy via other channels — such as in your store or from your catalog.
  • Remember that in-stock product is essential to me, as I shop close to the date I need something.
  • Tempt me with a coupon for savings on my next order and I’ll be back to your site to shop for others on my gift list.


  • Be sure that my experience on your Website is consistent with my experience in your stores and when shopping from your catalog.
  • Allow me to pick up and return in-store products that I buy on your Website.
  • Alert me to in-store happenings on your site and with e-mail — but only if you think the event may be of interest to me.
  • Keep those catalogs coming, as they encourage me to visit you online.
  • Offer “quick shop” features that enable me to enter a SKU number from your catalog for express shopping.
  • Enable me to quickly find on and buy from your site products that you advertise in other media.


  • Offer gift suggestions — my friends and relatives can be difficult to buy for.
  • If you enable me to create a personal address book to tie into my PDA, I am likely to buy more gifts from your site.
  • Allow me the option of having my holiday purchases gift-wrapped — without charging me an arm and a leg.
  • Offer gift cards, and remember that I want to be able to redeem them at all of your channels.
  • Notify me when gifts have been delivered.


  • In case I need to speak to you, please make your toll-free phone number easily visible on your site.
  • Make all of your contact information easy to locate, and include the hours that your service staff is available.
  • Deliver my goods in a timely fashion.
  • Delight me with your presentation and packaging.
  • Keep in mind that order tracking is a “must have” feature, not a nice little Website extra.


  • Alert me when hot products can be preordered and when sleepers go on sale.
  • Do not e-mail me with endless messages for products that I am not interested in.
  • Use my e-mail judiciously — I hit the delete button often!

There’s the list. I understand that you may not be able to provide all of this immediately. Just prioritize my desires based on what’s most important within the product categories you offer. Then be sure to let me know when you do make site enhancements so that I can enjoy shopping each of your channels even more.

Happy holidays!

Lauren Freedman is president of Chicago-based Web marketing consulting firm The E-tailing Group and author of the book It’s Just Shopping. To order, visit or

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