by David Kirkpatrick
It's that time of year again -- time to start really thinking about the upcoming holiday season. For marketers, thinking about the season does not mean stringing up lights and playing carols on the turntable. It does mean it's time to begin preparing in earnest for that make-or-break quarter for retailers.
MarketingSherpa had the opportunity to speak with two e-commerce and retailing experts for some tips and tactics to help you get ready for holiday 2011.
Diane Buzzeo is CEO and founder, brings more than 25 years of retail experience to Ability Commerce, a company specializing in Web commerce platform software, founded in 1999.
Mark Grondin is Senior Vice President, Marketing, Shopatron, an e-commerce platform with a 10-year history of helping manufacturers fulfill online orders through their retail partners, which has been involved in e-commerce since 2001.
Read on for six actionable tactics, ranging from QR codes to email marketing, to help you get prepared for the upcoming holiday shopping season.
Tactic #1. Be prepared for mobile
It should come as no surprise that this topic is number one on the list. As Buzzeo put it, "We think mobile is obviously going to be huge this year."
Grondin added, "We saw huge growth in mobile going to last Christmas, and then, by the middle of the year, it had doubled. I expect this holiday season we will see in the 5% to 10% range of transactions coming from mobile devices."
Now is the time to make sure you have a mobile-optimized site. This includes being optimized for:
- Different mobile platforms
- Different-sized devices
- Making certain the mobile shopping cart operates properly
- Getting Facebook-compatible elements on the mobile site
- Resisting putting too many bandwidth-eating graphics on the site.
Don't forget about tablets
When optimizing the mobile site for differently sized devices, remember the tablet experience is different than the smartphone experience, which should be reflected in your mobile presence.
Grondin said although he believes next year will be the big breakthrough for tablets, these devices need to be addressed individually this year.
"Make sure that you are not forcing tablets to act like mobile phones," he said. "There is nothing more annoying than going to a website on a 10-inch tablet screen and getting the mobile screen."
Buzzeo provided some additional words of advice, "While mobile is driving a tremendous amount of traffic, iPads are driving a tremendous amount of sales
Tactic #2. Build a Facebook store for exposure as much as for sales
Facebook is an interesting case.
Grondin explained, "Facebook is driving a lot of traffic to e-commerce websites."
He added he believes it is the number one traffic generator outside of search engines, so you want your products to be part of that conversation. Because of this connection between the social media platform and retailers, he recommends creating a Facebook store.
The caveat is, at least among his clients, there are no sales -- no transactions -- happening on Facebook itself. This doesn't mean creating a Facebook store is a waste of time.
"Facebook is a party and not a shopping mall," said Grondin. "At some point people may want to do some buying on Facebook, and if you are there you are going to be part of [those transactions.]"
The benefit right now, he stated, is people are interacting with brands on Facebook, and having a Facebook store will make your products that much more of the discussion.
Use Facebook analytics
The social media platform offers an analytics package where you can register your domain and track what is happening around your brand on Facebook:
- Who is "liking" it
- What kind of traffic is being sent to your store
Take advantage of Facebook advertising
You should also include Facebook "like" buttons on your websites to help become part of the social discussion. This interaction with your customers and potential customers can even become part of your Facebook advertising strategy.
You might know Facebook offers highly targeted advertising, but did you know you can now include comments made by people about your brand in advertisements on their and their friend's pages?
A new advertising feature allows you to find and use comments about your brand in Facebook ads, essentially taking what people are naturally saying about you and making it more visible through advertising.
Grondin said some brands are going to be more successful on Facebook than others, as it becomes a medium for transactions. But any consumer marketer can benefit from using and testing the platform's advertising and store options.
Tactic #3. Optimize the e-commerce website
We already covered the importance of optimizing your mobile sites, but don't forget the main e-commerce website. You want to optimize for search, conversion and performance.
"You really should start preparing the optimization of your site very early," said Buzzeo.
She continued, "If you are optimized for the type of product that people buy through the holidays, your chance of showing up organically is tremendously higher than if you decide you are going to start optimizing your site in November."
Grondin added you should start getting links and updating pages for SEO purposes in the summer.
If you prepare functional elements early, you can create a schedule for the holiday rollout and still remain nimble.
Buzzeo offered several optimization elements to focus on:
- Page load speeds should be under 2.5 seconds. Two seconds is the benchmark, but consumers don't mind 2.5 right now.
- Optimize your graphics because holiday images tend to be "very heavy" graphics and can affect site performance.
- Prepare for multiple shipping options to react to competition.
- Make sure the site offers third-party or alternate payment functionality, such as PayPal.
Tactic #4. Make use of QR codes both online and offline
Buzzeo said she thinks this will be a big year for QR codes.
She added that Web companies with catalogs should have codes on the cover and embedded within the catalog. QR codes can be used to download retailers' apps. For in-store situations, codes should be part of the displays, alongside the actual items, so customers can look up reviews and ratings, or view content and video provided by the retailer.
Grondin stated he believes a key aspect of QR codes is the integration of mobile with the offline shopping experience.
He provided an example of a retail client with a brick-and-mortar location who noticed a customer pointing his phones at products on the shelf. The retailer asked the customer what he was doing and was told the customer was scanning bar codes to find prices online. The retailer responded that any price found would be beat in the store.
"[Retailers] have to compete, and they need to realize that they are competing with these online guys," explained Grondin. "The mobile phone is a facilitator for that."
QR codes are the bridge for retailers to join the mobile device with the in-store shopping experience.
Buzzeo mentioned another interesting way to use QR codes -- put them on shipping labels with links back to video for other products the retailer sells. She said this is a revenue generator and a way to sell from an unexpected location.
Tactic #5. Don't forget the old standbys
Like those roasting on an open fire, some old chestnuts seem be part of the picture every year but never do get stale.
Grondin said the mistake some retailers make is to try and develop an email marketing program in the fourth quarter.
"You really need to be developing that email list and the value of your emails all year," he said. "So that when you get to the holiday season you have got people who are ready and receptive to your email messaging."
He added this approach lets your customers know that you "have valuable things and valuable offers to bring to them."
When it gets closer to the holidays, the cost of search terms will go up. Grondin said this should not deter your PPC campaigns.
"Although you are spending 10 or 20% more on your search terms," he explained, "your results are generating more than that in terms of sales because there are a lot more shoppers out there."
Get your shipping policies determined early said Buzzeo.
She stated, "You are going to ground at "x" price until what day? And you are going to offer expedited shipping starting when for what price? And at what point do you say, 'You can still order today and still have it by Christmas Eve if you are overnighted or two-day air.'"
She added gift cards or virtual gift descriptions customers can send to their friends and family are the solution when it gets too late to ship on time.
Her answer to have something to show the gift recipient? Buzzeo said, "Holy mackerel, we cannot possibly get you your order today, but click this button and we will let you print the picture of the item that you bought."
Tactic #6. And finally … be prepared
This tactic is short, sweet and should go without saying.
Buzzeo said the most important thing is to prepare early. You might not know exactly what products are going to populate your email sends, but you should know what type of email should be part of the campaign and have a schedule for when they are sent.
Delivery plans should be in place long before they become an issue during crunch time, and your e-commerce site should be optimized in the summer, not long after the trees have lost their leaves.
"We know what day Christmas is, so there is no reason you do not have your graphics done," said Buzzeo.
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