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Comment: Looking forward to Christmas

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It’s already been a whirlwind year for e-commerce, and this Christmas is bound to bring a deluge of eager buyers searching for that perfect present online. Christmas has always been a busy time, but it is also an increasingly complex one as retail moves into more channels, and consumer expectations evolve. As always, the key to success is preparation. So, here’s a run-down of what to expect as Christmas approaches to help online retailers make the most of the festive season.

E-commerce has seen continued growth and the UK’s e-retail market is the largest and best performing in Europe, second only in size to the US.* UK consumers are increasingly eager to buy products online, especially at a hectic time like the lead-up to Christmas. Therefore, before the month is out, you should already have a full plan for your seasonal e-commerce promotions. Watch out for seasonal rate increases for all comparison shopping feeds and search engines, and consider allocating extra budget to such feeds, as these are key drivers of sale conversions.

The popularity of shopping through mobile devices is growing at a remarkable rate, with sales through mobile devices penetrating the 5 per cent barrier of total e-retail sales for the first time this year.* The opportunity mobile shopping represents is significant; expected to deliver a £4.5 billion boost to Britain’s economy by 2016, according to Verdict research. Therefore, it is important that all mobile offerings are up to scratch well before the Christmas period as it is not enough to it replicate your website experience on mobile. Mobile sites should be properly designed, user-friendly and integrated with other multichannel offerings to optimise browsing on this very different user interface. In the lead-up to Christmas last year, mobile sales accounted for 5.3 per cent of e-retail sales, and we expect it to be an even higher proportion this Christmas.*

eBay and other marketplaces tend to ask merchants to extend their returns policy in the first week of November, to allow for Christmas gifts to be returned. Retailers should prepare for this so they can react in a timely fashion and maintain a high level of customer service throughout Christmas. It is also wise to prepare seasonal keywords for your paid search campaigns, to start communicating your hours of operation over the Christmas period, and ensure that you have a merry social media plan in place while you still have time.

As we move into mid-November, any additional last minute discounting and promotional activity must be advertised before it is too late. This is the premium time to verify and launch site decorations. This is also the time to mail out offers and increase social activity to remind shoppers of the pre-Christmas deadline. Activity ramps up as we head into late November, as ideally retailers should start preparing for the January Sales from around the 20th while maintaining Christmas momentum. Retailers should monitor their various channels to optimise sales throughout this busy period, but late November is also a good time to check paid search ad positioning alongside competitor ads and adjust as needed. The last week of November is also the optimum time to advertise your shipping dates on marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.

A key part of preparation for the Christmas period is making sure that all online orders are fulfilled before Christmas Eve. According to the Royal Mail, online retailers and catalogue companies in the UK are seizing on opportunities to sell into international markets resulting in significant growth in international package volumes. For example, Greece, despite its economic woes, attracted 21 per cent more packages from the UK this year, in line with similar percentage increases from Finland (20 per cent), the Netherlands (20 per cent) and France (19 per cent).* With British parcel shipments in such demand, UK online retailers need to be prepared and make clear to customers how busy shipments are in December, as well as when the latest available shipments are likely to arrive before Christmas Day. Obviously, this is even more crucial when trading across borders, as more forewarning is required.

There’s a lot to remember as December looms, and the competition has never been fiercer, but the growth of multichannel retail also means that the opportunity is greater than ever for forward-thinking retailers. Here are some top tips to help online retailers transform shoppers into customers this Christmas:

Paid Search:

  • Christmas shoppers often have exactly what they want in mind, so when it comes to search, “less is more” doesn’t necessarily apply; create at least five keywords per item, focusing on long-tail keywords.

Make Friends with Mobile:

  • Be a mobile-friendly seller; implement a mobile optimised version of your website and begin by focusing on the two main browsers: Apple Safari and Google Chrome.
  • Customers are doing more barcode scanning these days, too, so publish items with UPC codes to ensure your products appear in mobile comparison shopping engines.

eBay:

  • Make sure you know the latest changes on eBay, like new final value fee, so sales don’t slip.
  • Tackle title expansion this year by taking a methodical, bite-sized approach, working through top sellers first.
  • Make use of eBay’s Daily Deal, which is favoured by eBay Christmas shoppers because it eliminates search time.

Amazon:

  • Aim to achieve top rated seller status during the busiest time of the year; offering the lowest price, having stock available and your Amazon Order Defect Rate all contribute to winning the coveted Buy Box.

Data Feed Settings

  • Make sure you’re on as many comparison shopping engines as possible, and carefully optimise data feed settings for each to deliver top customer service; features like shipping can differentiate buying experience and increase sales.

  • Source, IMRG report: ‘B2C Global e-Commerce Overview 2012 - The International Opportunity’, May 2012

Published on Wednesday 24 October by Editorial Assistant

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