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E-Commerce Holiday Preparation – Making A List (And Checking It Twice)
Although it feels early to be talking about the holiday season, anyone in retail will tell you it’s impossible to be too prepared for the busiest season of all.
In fact, it’s a good idea to start the holiday preparation now, as the most important items take the most time to get ready. Here are some of the best ways to prep your e-commerce store.
No holiday rush is complete without door busting sales. But there are a couple key components I always consider when deciding which promotions to run and when.
- What Are My Competitors Doing? For the most part, retail sales are a zero-sum game. Sure, we can convince customers to squeeze a little more from their wallets from time to time, but the big money comes from simply being better at selling your products than your competitor. It goes without saying, you need to be aware of your competitors’ offers this time of year.
- Can My Supply Keep Up With Demand? Late in the season, when we near the last possible order date, there’s still an enormous demand for gifts. As marketers, we can’t stand letting a high-demand period slip away, but you can run into fulfillment issues late in the holiday season. Consider gift card promotions late in the holiday season to extend sales as far as possible. Plan your strongest offers for the intersection of high demand and the ability to supply it.
- What’s Best For The Bottom Line? It’s easy to get distracted by top line sales numbers and want to juice up the spend on pay-per-click or run a 50% off offer. But the constant, looming question should be, “How well do these marketing efforts really pad the bottom line?”
Email Frequency & Concepts
Every retailer knows an email list is a gold mine in the holiday season. Here are three ways to maximize its value in Q4.
- Segment Your List To Increase Relevancy. Completely dynamic, personalized emails are great. But not every retailer has that available and not every customer gives you the behavioral data you need. Instead, use recent products or categories viewed, past item purchases, and demographic info to tailor a message to that segment.
- Reduce Frequency Before The Holidays, Then Ramp It Up. This is pretty simple. There’s a maximum tolerance your list has for receiving promotional emails, but we can give ourselves a little leeway during the holidays by lightening up the load before the rush.
- Use Recent Site Visits To Increase Value. Customers recently interacting with your site are giving you an incredibly strong signal. They’re telling you, “Now is the time I’m considering your product(s).”
Load Testing & Security
This isn’t strictly marketing, but a server crash or security breach has more than a little impact on sales. Here are some basic considerations that a marketing team should keep in mind.
- Load Testing. Can my site manage the traffic I’m going to send to it? Do I need to adjust my campaigns to account for the load it can handle? Ask your network and development teams these questions, or you may be in for a rough surprise.
- Site Security. Just ask Target — their story is a sad but effective demonstration of how damaging a data breach can be. Due to the high volume and hectic season, retailers are frequently attacked during this time. If your company keeps brushing it off, now may be the time to seek more PCI compliant systems or look into tokenization (a means of encrypting and securing credit card info).
- Emergency Communication Plan. This may seem like doomsday prepping, but how will you handle a site outage? Do you have a splash page directing your users to a place that they can receive real-time updates and communicate with customer service?
Cart & Checkout Optimization
The holidays highlight functions on your site that aren’t always under strain. Run thorough testing on your checkout to prep for the rush.
- Conduct Thorough Coupon Testing. Have you tested every coupon you plan on promoting? Conditional coupons are especially prone to breaking by adding and removing items in the cart. Make sure you avoid a customer service nightmare and some pretty unhappy customers.
- Examine Shipping Communication. Do you have projected arrival dates? Are you effectively communicating last possible shipping dates? Keeping customers informed will alleviate stress and your customer service.
- Highlight Return Policies. This is a crucial piece of communication during holiday times. People want peace of mind — even more so with gifts. I’ve found many retailers have far better policies than they communicate. Put your policy front and center.
In a time of heightened demand and volume, your paid search oversights become exaggerated. This quick checklist will prep your paid search for the Q4 surge.
- Bid Up For Increased Conversion. Compare the holidays to the time leading up to it, and you can see conversion rates surge. Bid up to capitalize on the increased conversion. Equally important and constantly overlooked: bid down as soon as you aren’t able to convert orders.
- Trim The Underperformers. Pausing bad keywords, ad groups, or campaigns and adding new negative keywords are all a part of good account maintenance, but the holidays force you to be a little more diligent.
- Make Sure Ad Copy Reflects Offers. Eleven months out of the year, you don’t have big offers running. These ads must tout your exceptional seasonal deals.
- Be Ready With Retargeting Ads. Develop creative to retarget your most compelling offers. If you’ve got site-wide discounts or sales, make sure you’re rotating those in. All too often, retailers continue running old, tired retargetingcreatives, even when there’s something better to offer.
- Take Advantage Of Holiday-Specific Terms. Keywords like “gift ideas” or a product name plus the word “sale” are often low-volume throughout the year but have a big bump during the holidays. These are not only relevant, but potentially great for conversion.
- Take Inventory Into Consideration. Both shopping and keyword campaigns should be adjusted based on inventory. Set up a way to proactively lower bids and take ad groups offline when inventory positions get low.
Search Engine Optimization
When focusing on paid channels, it’s easy to forget how much value can be derived from SEO with little effort. Some tips for the holiday season:
- Holidays Are A Great Opportunity For Links. You’ve heard of “newsjacking” or the PR mantra that “news is new.” Well, in the holiday season, sales and unique gifts are plenty newsworthy. Discover who is putting out content about your industry, linking to your competitors, and running gift guides, and pitch to them.
- Get On-Site Optimizations Ready. A lot of images are going up that should all be SEO friendly, with ALT text and specific file names. Will your title tags include current offers? If you are diligent in SEO, organic search listings will communicate offers just as well as your paid ones.
- Make Sure Site Architecture Holds Up. The holidays often result in new products, categories, and gift shops. Are these added to your sitemap? Do they create duplicate content? How are they linked throughout navigation? This may sound trivial, but it greatly affects rankings and correct page indexing.
As I mentioned earlier, sales are a zero-sum game. Study what the competitors did last year to get an edge in 2014.
- Look Up Previous Emails. Most of us aren’t strangers to signing up for our competitors’ emails. Take a look through what they sent last year, and map out frequency, content focus, and offers.
- Reference Old In-House Price Tracking Data. Chances are you may have kept a record of your competitors’ offers and pricing strategy on specific products. If you did, now is a great time to crack it open. If you didn’t, consider recording it this year.
- Use The Wayback Machine. Archive.orgis an awesome tool. Load up your competitor’s site and see what happened last year. Depending on their site’s popularity, you may be able to get category pages and even product pages loaded.
Often overlooked, direct mail is a great way to communicate with your customer base. Because of increased response rates, direct mail programs can be very profitable in Q4, even if they aren’t the rest of the year.
Try notifying customers early about an upcoming offer. We’ve all been beaten to the punch on the sale, but direct mail is a way to inform customers without running something before Thanksgiving.
While not necessarily a marketing concern, bad communication about volume can lead to big issues that impact sales. These are a few tips for keeping operations running smoothly:
- Customer Service & Fulfillment. High order volume means lots of customer inquiries, so make sure your customer service is staffed and ready for the heavy demand. Your fulfillment is stressed as well, and temporary staff is often the best way to meet provide relief.
- Real-Time Inventory. We often assume the quantity on our website is the quantity we can ship. However, in a multichannel world, offline orders, Amazon, and eBay can drain the inventory pool. Chances are your stock may not be real-time. Check with development teams and depending on the delay, you may want to buffer certain inventories so you don’t promise a product you can’t deliver.
- Work With Merchandising To Predict Inventories. It’s usually not a marketer’s job to predict the necessary holiday inventory for a given product. But the way we market a product impacts the need. Make sure the communication between marketing and merchandising is open throughout the holiday season.
5 Months And Counting…
If you plan far enough ahead, your e-commerce site will be ready to make the most of the holiday rush. The list could go on — omni-channel marketing, showrooming, responsive design, mobile and tablet considerations. It’s impossible to have everything perfected, but the better prepped your site is, the easier it will be for your customers, making everyone’s holiday a bit more jolly.
Alright marketers, did I miss anything? How are you preparing for Christmas in July?
Stock images used with permission of Shutterstock.com
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.