Brad Bortone

Holiday E-commerce: Make online shopping a rewarding experience for customers, not just an extension of the holiday hassle

I think it goes without saying that online shopping is no longer just a convenient option for consumers. It’s a retail mainstay, and a key to holiday marketing success.

Wasting no time in supporting this point once again, IBM has just unveiled the findings of its fourth annual Cyber Monday Benchmark, revealing that online spending for Cyber Monday 2011 eclipsed the previous year’s sales  by 33%, and even this year’s Black Friday sales by 29.3%.

As crazy as it can be for consumers, holiday retail is like bacon-flavored manna for marketers. While the online opportunity is huge, it’s crucial to stand out from the crowd, by remembering those who make up the crowd.

You must offer shoppers a thorough, convenient, enjoyable online experience, and promote your shopping experience as part of the holiday solution, not a digital extension of the traditional holiday hassle.

With the growth of e-commerce as a viable alternative to in-store retail, aided by more Web-exclusive discounts, free shipping offers, and the like, you can help boost business by providing an efficient, but personal online shopping experience that ensures your customers will never again long for crowded malls and crazed deal-hunters.

Here are three tips to help make the holidays happy, for your customers and your bottom line.

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Tip #1: Let customers see the value of buying from you

Despite a wealth of available information on how to do things a little “bigger and better” this holiday season, it’s also good to remember that your deals need to cater to the customer, first, foremost and always.

Embrace potential customers by making your e-commerce a positive part of their holiday season, and not a reason they wished the yuletide was over. This can be done by creating a seamless, efficient shopping experience that builds upon your company’s (hopefully positive) year-round reputation, while extending a clear, powerful value proposition.

As always, your value proposition needs to succinctly tell the customer why they should buy from you, rather than your competitors. A throng of sites will be offering the latest dancing Muppet doll, so how do you make your company the one from which customers choose to buy? By delivering value others can’t, or won’t.

Whether this value comes through a wholly unique product offering, or testimonials that speak to the strength and validity of your brand, a value proposition is a key element of holiday marketing success.

If you haven’t already clearly expressed your value proposition, you probably don’t have time to during the holiday rush, but in the meantime, you can tip the value exchange fulcrum towards a conversion by including an incentive, such as an extended warranty or free shipping.

Online shopping is now more than just an easy way to get things done, it’s a solution to a holiday shopping tradition that seems to annoy more than satisfy.

Key Takeaway: Don’t take for granted that people are going to buy from your site, just because you offer something they need during a holiday rush. Sure, you’re getting conversions, but so is everyone else this time of year. The real question is – how much is leaking out of your funnel?  How many more sales could you be getting? Focus on highlighting your value proposition.

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Tip #2: Deliver holiday-exclusive deals that appeal to urgency

Groupon. Groupalicious. Woot. Smoot. One of the preceding names doesn’t belong to an actual website, but does it matter? By the time you’re done reading this post, someone will have purchased the name, in hopes of capitalizing on a very hot trend in e-commerce.

A holiday-themed daily deal that stands out from both your regular offerings, and the holiday efforts of your competitors, drives your customers to conversion, based on urgency and exclusivity. When coupled with more personalized tactics, such as targeted emails that appeal to a customer’s expressed interests, or social media outreach, these daily deals can allow your business to come across as a more appealing, convenient alternative to traditional retailers and big box stores.

One company that made good use of these tactics is online computer and electronics retailer Newegg, which promoted its “daily deals” program by using email and SMS alerts to garner a 60% open rate. At a time of year when convenience is paramount and personalized service is waning, these deals and announcements can make a big difference in bottom lines.

Key Takeaway: Make the customer an offer that highlights an urgent, exclusive deal, while also establishing a personalized approach.

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Tip #3: Make a human connection

As we say a lot around these halls, it’s always important to remember the basic tenets of marketing. We are people, communicating with people, to sell to people. During the holidays, when people are both kinder in spirit, yet more skeptical of sales come-ons, establishing yourself as a company that cares about its customers can be a crucial link to success.

To win trust and let customers know you’re one of the “good guys” during this most hectic of seasons, you need to make a personal connection that enforces comfort, convenience and understanding, while still appealing to their wallets.

A good example of this comes from a Thompson Valley Liquor, a Colorado-based retailer that has become an official drop-off location for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation during the holidays. During this holiday shopping period, the store not only collects new toys for children in need, but also offers customers who participate a 10% discount on purchases.

Additionally, if customers arrive on a Friday, they can enjoy the store’s free weekly product tastings.

By doing this charitable outreach, the store owner has not only established his business as one that cares about supporting charity and community, but he also provides his customers with additional incentive to make a purchase within his store while donating.

Also, shoppers need to know that their entire experience will be hassle-free, especially after they click “Buy.” Be sure they know how to reach your customer service reps, clearly state shipping and delivery timelines, and promote return and exchange policies.

Even something as small as extended return times can ease customers’ minds, and push buyers toward conversion, rather than another site. Once again, these seemingly minor details reinforce your company’s value, and help buyers differentiate between you and your competitors.

Key Takeaway: Let customers know that there are people behind the firewall … people that will be there to assist them throughout the buying process.

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These basic tactics are all the more important during the holiday rush. Online shopping is a largely impersonal experience, made worse by increased urgency and lack of personal attention that pervades all commerce this time of year.

Just remember that the holidays are supposed to be happy. Be sure to make it so for your customers, so they continue to provide business the whole year through.

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Related Resources:

Holiday Marketing: 6 tactics to help you prep for the season

Holiday Marketing: 3 last-minute ideas to boost conversion

Email Marketing: Why Newegg’s daily-deal alert emails garner a 60% average open rate

Optimizing Landing Pages: The four key tactics that drove a 189% lift (MarketingExperiments Web clinic replay)

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