eCorner

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Christmas 2011 Online Retail Peak - Are You Ready

October 2011 and the Christmas rush has started.

When Christmas decorations appear in Coles and Woolies then you know the 'silly season' is around the corner. If we look at the trends during 2011 then we can predict that Christmas 2011 will be the biggest online retail period ever.

What do you need to do to be prepared?

Christmas is the peak retail period of the year and preparation should start now. There are lots of issues to cover if you want to get the best sales results for your business at Christmas. First and foremost is to do some business planning. Christmas day is a Sunday this year so there will be hectic buying until Christmas eve. The date for Christmas does not change and so by December 24th your Christmas business is done. So plan backwards:
  • How long does it take you to pick, pack and ship?  You need to determine the last date for selling online and delivering by Christmas. Remember there may be backlogs in delivery so check with your shipping agent or Australia Post.
  • What are the peak number of orders that you can handle each day and still get the deliveries out? If you are thinking ahead maybe you need some temporary staff or family and friends to help.
  • How much stock will you need on hand?
  • What content changes do you need for your web store?
  • Do you have photos and new stock information from suppliers?
  • What about pre-Christmas promotions and sales?
  • What about Christmas gift cards and gift wrapping materials?
Will this be a mobile Christmas?

Every year Christmas is the dominant retail sales period in Australia and New Zealand if not worldwide. We have seen an increased trend to use mobile devices like smartphone for price comparison and shopping.  The trend is for more people to buy online being driven by many factors and this is unlikely to slow.

This year;
  • More people will buy online,
  • Expect to see more activity from mobile devices,
  • You will start to see QR codes in printed media,
  • Gift buyers will look for novelties and quality,
  • Comparison shopping will focus on unique selling propositions and great deals,
  • Buyers will look for added value and special offers,
  • Shipping and delivery will be a key value proposition.

Strategies for Christmas 2011

It might be a good time to review your overall eCommerce strategy and to look at how you can develop a more successful online business.

You can take some time to consider how you will deal with;
  • Content - fresh and up to date
  • Pricing & inventory - availability and competitive,
  • Logistics - shipping as a differentiator,
  • Service & support - be available longer hours leading up to Christmas
  • Payment & refund/returns - be proactive and offer after Christmas support,
  • Security - got your SSL and payments in order - consider PayPal
  • Marketing - look at your Adwords campaigns and budgets,
  • Social media - get started long before Christmas offer gift advice,
  • QR codes in printed media - bring people to your website from their smart phone
Spending a little time developing your plan and strategy can deliver better short and long term sales results and higher margins. It might also be a good time to look at promotional micro-sites to target the Christmas traffic.

Issues and ideas to consider for Christmas

Buying online for Christmas starts as early as September but the real peak starts from late-October and we see this starting earlier every year. This year we will expect to see a busy and a longer buying period. The after Christmas, New Years sales, will still be important to sell off overstocked items at bargain prices.

To be ready for Christmas you have to think of a number of issues:

  1. Is your online store ready?

    It is no use waiting until December to set up the store as you just won't make it in time. If you have an existing store then now is time to clean up old content and get rid of out of date product and stock information. Each year there are new fads, styles, colours and collections so be up to date and prepared to take advantage of the demand.
  2. Ready for mobile and QR codes?

    QR codes take shoppers from printed media direct to your website and allow you to promote products and sell online. There are many free services that allow you to create QR codes like qrcode.kaywa.com these codes are simple images that contain information like a URL that a mobile phone with a QR code app can read
    .


  3. Do you have the products to sell?

    Getting the stock can be tricky the closer you get to Christmas so you need to know what you will need now. Buying stock early can have a negative cash flow affect on your business so look at the possibility of commitment with deliveries later.
  4. When is my delivery cut off date for Christmas?

    It is no use selling to a customer who expects pre Christmas delivery if you cannot get the product delivered on time. So you need to tell your buyers what they can expect if they buy on the 24th December. Make sure that you provide specific advice regarding returns and refunds as you do not want to get stuck after Christmas. Talk to your shipping company or providers like Temando.
  5. Do you have a safe checkout process setup like PayPal Express now the leading Australian payment method or eWAY one of Australia’s leading payment providers? Consumers will be more careful this Christmas and look for security when buying online.
  6. Add an SSL certificate to your webstore like a COMODO Instant SSL, these add to buyer confidence.Trust and security can help dramatically improve shopping basket conversions and reduce abandonment.
  7. Think about promotions? You can setup special Google AdWords Campaigns just for Christmas and help drive Christmas traffic to your store. Go talk to your SEM partner you will be competing with lots of other businesses for customer attention but we know that most online purchases with start with a search and around 70% of those will be via Google. The use of a well prepared and funded online search engine marketing campaign leading up to Christmas can be a good investment.
  8. Use the Price Comparison portals like www.getprice.com.au to promote your products and special offers and drive qualified traffic to your webstore.What are your unique selling propositions (USP) for Christmas as these should be promoted. For example offer free shipping for purchases over a certain value. Offer free Christmas gift cards and gift wrapping. Discounts are less of a value proposition at Christmas for buyers.
  9. Are you offering Christmas specials? You can put up special Christmas only products that have special pre-Christmas offers. Gift buyers come in many different types and good quality novelty items sell well at Christmas.
  10. Add Christmas keywords? Make sure that you add the Christmas keywords to you Meta-keywords with plenty of time to get crawled by the search engines before Christmas. Also make sure that you add Christmas Gift category names and description text to match up with you keywords. But remember timing is important! How often does Google crawl your website homepage? For most online stores it might be every 5 - 10 days so to get your changed messages out there it is not instantly available. Now might be a good time to setup some web analytics and a Google Webmasters account.
  11. Products are all important and you might think of price ranges for gifts so that you fit everyone’s budgets.
  12. People buying gifts want ideas so give them some. Set up special categories like "Gifts for him", Gifts for Mum", "Gifts for the dog", "Take a chance gifts" and so on. Be inventive as you need to stand out in a crowd.
  13. Don't forget that Google might take weeks to crawl and index your new content so allow plenty of time and don't wait till the last minute.
  14. Gift wrapping and gift cards can be easily added in the shopping basket so you might want to think about offering free gift wrapping and free gift delivery.
  15. You can have multiple shipping addresses so your buyers can ship directly to an alternative address. Offer this service and make sure you get the gift there on time.
  16. Free shipping at Christmas, or anytime, can be a great incentive to buy online. If you are selling a product online you can structure an average shipping price into your costs. Then allow free shipping by Australia Post.

    You can time the shipping and delivery so that as you get closer to Christmas shipping is no longer free but maybe at a premium to ensure delivery. Don't get greedy.
  17. Give your store a Christmas theme. It is easy to setup a new style and change the colours and banners for Christmas. You can even start doing that right now and make that the live style later in the year. Set up a count down to Christmas - it can be a easy as a little added text to your home page. Don't go overboard.
  18. After Christmas is a great time for specials and people on vacation like to shop around for bargains. So don't think everything stops on December 25th. The smart store operators will be ready with the Boxing Day and New Years specials campaigns come December 26th.
  19. What's happening - web analytics.

    Importantly you need to be able to see what is happening so now is a great time to make sure that you have some good web analytics and reporting capabilities. You can get free products like Google Analytics and add them to your site or talk to your web store provider.
Christmas is the most important retail selling time in the year and you need to be prepared to take advantage. Your online store needs to be complete and setup for Christmas as soon as possible and you need to start Christmas promotions early, the week before Christmas is too late.

2011 will have been an exciting year for many and Christmas will be the peak where online sales will be up and you need to be ready to sell online.
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