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The Essential 2015 Holiday Checklist For Online Retailers
It may seem early to start planning, but if you get a head start, you'll be prepared to make the most of the holiday rush. Columnist David Rekuc has some tips to get you ready.
It’s that time of year again: Consumers are headed to the beach while retailers are starting to dream of winter wonderlands — and windfalls.
Most retail experts are waiting until the end of the back-to-school rush to make their official predictions for this holiday season. But no matter what they say come September, now is the time to begin preparing for a jolly Q4. Here’s a broad list to get started:
Spotlight For 2015
If you haven’t already, this should be the year you finally decide it’s time to invest in mobile and video marketing. While you’re at it, you should also consider this year’s most exciting beta tests.
Mobile: According to Custora, 26% of e-commerce sales came from mobile devices between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, which was up from 20% during the same period in the previous year.
And don’t forget that Google recently started penalizing sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. At this point, all retailers should consider a mobile-optimized site an essential part of selling online.
You may also want to plan your mobile ad spend around specific windows. Retail-related mobile search actually peaks on Christmas Eve, not Black Friday, as most people might assume. The retail industry calls this “Mobile Eve,” and it’s a great time to push gift cards.
Video: It’s all well and good to know how people shop, but a retailer’s next question should be, “How can I get their attention?” Facebook now officially favors video and is catching up to YouTube in terms of video advertising. If that’s not enough to convince you, mobile video views jumped 100% year over year in the first quarter of 2015, according to video advertising platform Ooyala.
You should look into using your Google remarketing lists on YouTube, if you’re not using them already, and take advantage of Facebook’s robust ad platform — including Custom Audiences — to promote video content as well. Keep in mind that producing quality video takes awhile, so you should start prepping your assets sooner rather than later.
Buy Button Betas: Google, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook are all either toying with or rolling out buy buttons and/or dedicated product pages with the goal of improving historically low mobile conversion rates. Sensing a theme?
Even if these programs don’t work out long-term (My money’s on the first two, if any), curious consumers will be excited to try out a new way of shopping. This might be the competitive edge you need in 2015.
Reconnect With Old Pals
Come November, consumers will be on the hunt for “early access” and “exclusive deals” from their favorite brands. Use this time to reward your most loyal followers and reconnect with shoppers who are in danger of slipping away.
Segmentation: When it comes to modern marketing, personalization is the name of the game, so keep it in mind for the holiday season. Your first step is to segment shoppers based on demographics and buyer behavior.
Pay special attention to customers who have recently interacted with your site, as well as shoppers who purchased something around Christmas or Valentine’s Day last year but haven’t been back since. Keep segmentation top-of-mind as you start planning all other marketing tasks, whether that’s email, retargeting or paid search.
Email: For online retailers, email is a gold mine in the fourth quarter, and even slight improvements to your email marketing strategy can yield huge results. But right now, you should focus on aggressively collecting emails and growing the size of your list. Consider promoting a hard-to-ignore giveaway contest in the third quarter.
Once the turkey hits your table, remember that every list has a maximum tolerance for receiving promotional emails. You can give yourself a little leeway during the holidays by lightening up just before the rush.
And if you’re not as excited about email as other paid marketing channels, consider this: Email marketing was responsible for driving 27% of e-commerce sales on Black Friday last year, according to Custora.
Insane offers: No holiday rush is complete without door-busting sales; in fact, the entire holiday season creates a retail environment where discounts drive demand. The trick is to design promotions that keep you competitive without giving away the farm.
One of my personal favorites is increasing a gift card’s value. For example, if a shopper purchases a $100 gift card, you increase the value to $120.
You can take a look at the math here (and read about three more promotional ideas), but essentially, the consumer feels like he or she is getting an extra 20%, while in reality you’re only offering a discount of 16.6%.
Retarget: Ask a lot of retailers what retargeting is, and they’ll tell you all about Google’s remarketing campaigns — the kind that cookies a user and serves him or her Google Display Network ads for the next 30 days. While that’s certainly a great example, it’s only a small portion of what you can accomplish with retargeting in 2015.
A sophisticated retargeting strategy can include video, dynamic ads, and custom audiences on social media. See what’s out there in this comprehensive retargeting guide.
Beyond December 24: Without careful forethought, many gift givers will become one-time buyers, and many gift recipients will never make it to your site. But it is absolutely possible to turn seasonal shoppers into year-round revenue.
For gift recipients, consider including post-holiday marketing offers with every shipment and highlighting your no-hassle return policy through the winter. For gift givers, think about referral programs and seasonal retargeting campaigns. (Valentine’s Day is just around the corner…)
Find New Friends And Followers
In a time of heightened consumer demand, the success — and missteps — of your paid search, search engine optimization, and marketplace strategies can quickly become exaggerated. This is one area where a little planning will go a long way.
Paid Search: Conversion rates surge during the holiday season, which is why you should bid up and aggressively. But this second step is equally important and often overlooked: You should bid down as soon as you aren’t able to deliver orders because of inventory or shipping estimates.
Also consider seasonal keywords like “gift ideas” and product names plus the word “sale,” and make sure your paid search ads tout your most exceptional seasonal deals. Check out last year’s Marketing Land article for more seasonal paid search advice.
SEO: There are a couple of significant ways to capitalize on SEO during the holiday season. First, make sure you’re pitching new and unique products to gift guide curators, including members of the media and bloggers. Being included in a gift guide not only affects sales, it also provides a valuable backlink that might not be possible at other times in the year.
Next, ensure all images have SEO-friendly ALT text, and consider putting your best offers in your title tags.
Last, but not least, the holidays often go hand-in-hand with new product categories and online gift shops. Make sure that they’re added to your sitemap, that they’re linked properly, and that they don’t create duplicate content. If you are diligent about SEO, organic search can communicate your holiday offers just as they do with paid channels.
Marketplaces: You can spend all of your time trying to push new shoppers to your site — or you can go find them where they already shop.
No digital marketing plan is complete without at least considering marketplaces, and chief among them is Amazon. If you’re not already set up on the site, now is the time to open an account.
If you are, you should look into fulfillment by Amazon (or “FBA”), which increases your chances of “winning the buy box” and will allow you to ship later in the season. Take a look at this Marketing Land article from last year to get started.
While they aren’t typical marketing concerns, poor research, testing and communication can have a devastating impact on sales at any time of the year. Take a moment to double check that these basic considerations have been addressed to ensure operations run smoothly throughout the season:
Competitor Research: For the most part, retail is a zero-sum game. Occasionally, we can convince customers to squeeze a little more from their wallets, but the big money comes from edging out your competitors.
This means you must be aware of what your competitors are up to — especially at this time of year. Take a look through the emails they sent last winter, and map out their frequency, content focus, and offers.
You can also use Archive.org to get an idea of how your competitors’ sites looked during past holiday promotions. Depending on a site’s popularity, you may be able to see category and even product pages.
Shipping & Returns: There is a reason why stores like Nordstrom, Zappos and Amazon put a premium on shipping and returns. Above all else, consumers want peace of mind — even more so with gifts.
The good news is, I’ve found many retailers have far better shipping options and return policies than they communicate. The bad news? If shoppers can’t find them, they’ll assume the worst.
Make sure both shipping and returns are impossible to miss on your homepage and again during checkout and that you clearly communicate your last guaranteed-delivery shipping dates throughout your site.
And while you’re at it, consider pushing gift card promotions late in the holiday season, once shipping becomes a concern. Consumers are shopping later and later every year (See “Mobile Eve” above).
Customer Service: High order volume means lots of customer inquiries, so make sure your customer service is staffed and ready for the heavy demand. Fulfillment is stressed as well, and temporary staff is often the best way to provide relief. Clear shipping deadlines and return policies should also help.
Carry out thorough testing on every coupon code — especially finicky conditional offers — and make sure your customer service department knows the details for every deal you plan to promote. When marketing, operations, and customer service are on the same page, many customer service nightmares are easy to avoid.
Inventory: We often assume the quantity on our website is the quantity we can ship. But in a multichannel world, offline orders, Amazon and eBay can drain the inventory pool.
Now is the time to get on the same page as your development team and operations when it comes to inventory. Then make sure your marketing team is ready to adjust as inventory fluctuates, so you don’t promise a product you can’t deliver.
Load Testing and Site Security: Increased volume means retailers are frequently attacked during the holiday season. Even if you aren’t targeted, the extra stress on your site is a major concern.
Ask yourself (and your development team) a few questions before the rush begins: Can my site manage the traffic I’m going to send to it? How will we handle a site outage? Do we have a splash page directing visitors to a place where they can receive updates and communicate with customer service? Are we fully PCI compliant? Have we looked into (or set up) tokenization to safely secure credit card data?
It’s a good idea to prep for the worst before there’s a problem.
The Race Is On
In a few short months, it will be all too easy to get distracted by exciting top line sales and then be tempted to ramp up ad spend or run a last-ditch 50% off promotion — but smart marketers know that painstaking planning leads to long-term growth.
Now is the perfect time to make sure every holiday task, discount and offer ultimately improves your bottom line. Here’s to a lucrative holiday season.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.