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Top 10 tips to online retailers for the holiday season

Top 10 tips to online retailers for the holiday season

 

Ranjit Goray and Sandeep Walia

 

October is here and before you know it Halloween will be kicking off the 2009 holiday season. In these tough economic times  there will be an increased number of online deal seekers this holiday season. In the flurry of online retail options, how will your online store fare against the rest? You should have already begun implementing a holiday strategy, but if you find yourself running a little behind or need an extra boost, don’t worry, we’ve put together 10 tips that will help you make your online appeal and customer experience rise above the rest.

 

10. Put in place a robust order management system and strategy – During a time of high traffic like the holidays you don’t want to be stuck with an order management and fulfillment system that is slow and is unable to support your expected traffic. It is important to work with a platform that is scalable and can integrate with your ERP and shipping systems. Why is this important? Ignify's research has shown that while customers will initially buy from a store based on how friendly the web interface and usability is but will do repeat orders only if the order fulfillment experience and the quality of the product itself is good.  Good usability and great web features drive conversion and customer acquisition. But a good order strategy system that incorporates an integrated eCommerce store, ERP system and shipping systems will increase repeat buys. Repeat customers will typically account for 70% of your profitability since you have already borne the acquisition cost with the first order so it is important for your store to be profitable that you focus on the after-receiving-the-order process.

 

9. Utilize social media tools– Kick off a social media strategy, encouraging discussion (and links) on social networks and other user-powered sites. Using the power of blogs, Facebook and Twitter allows your customers to connect with you, share ideas and feel as if they are part of an overall community. Social media will enable quick dissemination of deals, share company information and allow instant feedback from customers. Utilizing bloggers for product reviews can gain you a third party endorsement that is respected by your followers and encourage ‘social shopping’. Make sure in any avenue of social media you link back to your storefront.

 

8.  Ensure your SEO is not a one-time but a Wash, Rinse and Repeat process  – Too many merchants expect that a one-time SEO improvement process will lead to early results that will then sustain. First any SEO uplift because of improvements is not immediate  and it is key to implement SEO improvements now so that you can begin to see the benefit of the results at the peak of the holiday season. Second no single SEO initiative is going to drive sustainable results. Search Engine optimization needs to be a continuous process since search engines change their algorithms and ranking order frequently and your competitors will quickly mimic your strategy so you need to then shoot your next SEO arrow in your quiver.;. A few pointers around SEO:

-       Search engines reward sites that update content regularly so ensure your product information, images are constantly updated. New promotions and offers are a fantastic way to update content and increase your crawl rate. Fresh content will engage search engine spiders as well as your readers (this includes product, blog and other informational content on the site).

-       Make sure your URLs are not the random $%^^ type URLs but are human-legible and reflect the product category/ product name.  If you are searching for brown loafer for men, A web URL with www.Ignify.com/@@@@456y7&&**3478% as the page URL for the product page is unlikely to do pretty well Vs a page that has www.Ignify.com/products/mens-casual-brown-loafers (example of a static URL) as its web address. Also our research has shown that that pages with static URLs tend to rank higher than URLs that are parameter-driven

-       Use descriptive names for products and images to optimize word recognition. Ensure your HTML Page Title has the product name in it and your primary key words should be at the beginning of the title tag. Ignify's research has shown that there is a strong correlation between how high you show up on search result and the position of your keyword in your title tag. Titles with that keyword at the beginning will typically show higher in the search engine result.

-       Use ALT Text on your images (aka ATL TAGs) on your images so that your images are not dead images to the search engines but text that they can index. ALT tags filled with keywords can also be used to boost your keyword frequency and help you achieve better rankings. In addition, Alt text on your images will make your site more "readable" to people with disabilities and to computers trying to use semantics to make information more useful.

A unique and relevant HTML page title, matching content on the page and Alt Text on all of your images will bring a big boost to your customer acquisition if you are not already doing these things. 

 

7. Optimize your site for usability and navigation – There is enough holiday confusion already, who wants online shopping confusion too? To avoid customer mayhem, review the navigation on your site and make sure that items are easily accessible. Including a site map will help with navigation and is also a key to SEO. Clear and distinctive labels will help your customers get around the site easier and improve their shopping experience. Ease-of-use is a very important concept in the overall customer experience, encouraging return visits to the site. You e-commerce platform should enable your site with easy navigation, a clean interface, allow site administrators to quickly maintain or change content and enable the company’s brand to be communicated affectively.

 

6. Predict and automate – Incorporate a purchase popularity system in your ecommerce platform that allows you to detect which products on your site are best sellers. The holidays are the best time to clearly feature those products on the front page. Ensure that your system can do that automatically so that in every product category your best-sellers are listed at the very top. In addition, personalized merchandizing help lift revenue by recommending relevant products to the customer, reflecting their previous browsing and purchasing habits. Having personalized ‘recommendations’ on the site or even sent to the customers inbox has an increased impact on brand performance.

 

5. Spread holiday cheer with discounts, giveaways and gift cards – The gift of giving resonates in any industry during the holidays. Giveaways are a great way to keep enhance your customer base as well as increase the repeat buys for customers. Look at your abandoned carts and follow up with those customers with a promotion code that will give them a discount if they come back to complete the purchase they had started. Don’t only focus on discounting or giving away items, but also think about enhancing and adding value to the purchase. Use social media tools to promote discounts and giveaways and increase customer engagement and interest. Also, include a way for customers to order gift certificates. That way if they are shopping for a gift for someone and don’t know what to get; they don't have to make a decision but still leave the site completing a task and having a positive experience.

4. Send and Receive; define your shipping details – Timing your holiday gifts is a difficult science, but with the right retailer and options you can get it very close. During the holidays customers are very concerned with timing, delivery and returns of their online purchases. Take time for a holiday assessment of your shipping and receiving methods. What are the customers’ options? Can they send gifts directly to the recipient? Do you have a gift return/exchange receipt process? The easier it is for customers to work with their order, the higher your conversion rate will be. It is important to offer a wide range of delivery options for both timing and pricing to get the sale to turnover. Make sure the instructions for delivery are clear and provide tracking numbers to the customers to make package communication transparent. Return shipping labels/easy (or free) returns are a good way to build customer rapport and trust.

3. Customer Reviews – If you don't already have this functionality, add customer reviews to your website. However, don't just add reviews – also add the ability for customers to rate other  users' reviews. There are three reasons to do customer reviews

 

a. Increase the level of comfort for customers that are purchasing an item – thus increasing conversion

 

b. Build a community of users that not only interact with you in purchasing by also contributing comments and reviews and rating other reviews.

 

c. Keep your websites content fresh and thus improve your search engine optimization.

Very often merchants will add customer reviews and will wonder why no one is entering them in. To kick start the process offer a discount to have customers provide reviews. After that ensure you have follow up emails after the purchase to request a review for the item. This email should go out only after you have been able to ship the item and the customer has had a chance to use it. Sending a request for a review to early in the process will mean that the request for review email is just going to get deleted.

 

2. Make your contact information clearly visible – Customers are much more likely to buy your products if they are easily able to find ways to reach you. Ensure your address and contact information is easy to get to. It is best to include your contact email and phone number on EVERY single page of your website. Even if customers don't call the fact that you see. Zappos.com is a great example of how they have built a strong comfort level by make it really easy for customers to rearch out them.  Why care about comfort level – because it is going to the your #1 driver of conversion. Shoppers routinely buy the same product at a higher price from a store they feel comfortable dealing with than one where the product is at a lower price but they have a low comfort level with.

 

 

1. Increase your Email reach out – Customers that have been to your site and had a positive shopping experience are more likely to shop with you again. Ensure you have several ways to have customers opt into to your emails . Good examples are during the checkout process,  in the customer's my account and a sign up box on your website pages. Building and continuously strengthening your house email list is important as email is the most effective overall tactic to increase revenue. 'The State of Online Retailing' Shop.org study by Forrester research published in June 2009 stated that while search is the most effective customer acquisition tactic, email to the house list is the most effective tactic to grow revenues. Use the house list in multiple ways

- Notify customers of deals and promotions

- Use personalized coupons to increase repeat buys. For example send a personalized coupon for an item to the customer that who has purchased an item that has a consumption life of 60 days in approximately that much time. That way you are hitting them just when they need to refill the item.

- Provide tips on products the customers have purchased

- Encourage your customers to come back and review the item they have purchased on your site.

 

Although the holiday season may have woken you up to thinking of new and fresh ways to boost your ecommerce business; all of the ideas above present opportunities to improve your customer relationships on a long-term basis and are fundamental for your business roadmap. When this holiday season cools down, revisit the steps to ensure that your online business is well-positioned for any time of year.

Ranjit Goray is Senior Manager of eCommerce operations at Ignify.  Sandeep Walia is President and CEO of Ignify. Ignify specializes in implementing its flagship Ignify eCommerce solution for mid-market and enterprise retailers.

  1. Jim Rutgers
    November 14th, 2009 at 02:10 | #1

    Nice post. Thanks

  2. November 15th, 2009 at 06:51 | #2

    Thanks a lot for your nice article.

  3. Joslin Messiah
    November 19th, 2009 at 13:59 | #3

    I completely agree on the email being the #1. We’ve seen that help

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