The books have closed on a record-setting holiday season, with comScore reporting that online spending in the U.S. reached a new high of $30.8 billion. That's the figure that will be officially documented, but the spending continues this week as consumers hunt for bargains and search for the gifts that got away.
Online retailers can be sure to beat the post-holiday blues by following a few simple steps that will start the New Year off with a bang. Below are five ways to make the most of early January and to keep business booming after the rush:
Check inventory and update customer lists
While some business owners may bask in their holiday glory this week and others might be licking their proverbial wounds, the most successful merchants are hard at work implementing and managing post-holiday sales. To do this most effectively, determine the quantities of all of your merchandise and identify the items that must or can move quickly at reduced prices. Be sure to restock the best-selling products and continue to push them while they're hot, and try to come up with creative strategies for offloading the poor performers. Updating your list with the customers you gained over the holidays will be critical to the process, and an email announcement for a January sale is a first impression they are not likely to forget.
Offer targeted promotions
Targeting visitors that may have browsed your site but did not make a purchase during the holidays are another important element of beating the January blues. If you are able to segment these customers and offer them promotions on items in which they showed an interest, you stand a very good chance of winning them over for good. While a Post-holiday Half-off Sale may be the best promotion for that segment of your audience that passed over an item during a previous visit, another promotion called What I Didn’t Get for Christmas might be better suited for a group of regular customers looking to spend their holiday money on a familiar retailer. Also, now is the best time to tell your customers what products sold the best during the holidays, and do not hesitate to let them know that an item’s inventory is rapidly depleting.
Analyze feedback and address complaints
Stress levels run high during the holidays, for consumers and retailers alike. Shoppers do not always get what they want, when they want it, regardless of who is at fault. Now that the rush has passed, be sure to resolve any outstanding issues with your customers. Check your feedback loops and customer comments sections for any negative content, and address it as quickly and professionally as possible. Often it was a simple misunderstanding that has caused the problem, but now is the time to correct a serious issue if one exists. Monitor the ratings and reviews your business received during the holidays, and find out what has been said on social networking sites. An issue left unresolved will undoubtedly result in lost customers, while a proactive approach is more likely to yield positive results for the long term.
Retailers experience a higher frequency of chargebacks during the holidays, both those that are legitimate in nature and those perpetrated by frauds. The repercussions for merchants can be severe in either case, and they must be dealt with immediately to minimize the damage. The most effective way to handle a chargeback is to contact your bank right away and provide any requested documentation related to the sale in question. You should also contact the customer directly to ensure that the claim is a valid one, and if it is simply follow the process outlined by your bank. However, a polite and respectful communication with the customer may uncover a simple error that allows for the situation to be resolved before it goes any further. If this is the case, be sure to request a letter from the customer withdrawing the chargeback claim so that you will have proof to provide for your bank. As with any other aspect of your business, your customer service skills and those of your staff will be of vital importance when dealing with chargebacks.
Plan the year ahead
The holiday rush is the biggest test of the year for any e-commerce business, and thus it provides the most important lessons for the year that follows. Any cracks in the armor of your online retail operation will show themselves during the holidays, and now is the time to identify them and to provide the necessary repairs. E-commerce merchants have little in the way of idle time, and the first two weeks of January are as important as any to your business’ success in the New Year. Review your analytics reports from the prior four weeks to see how your website performed when it mattered most, and create a strategy as to how it can perform its best in each of the next four quarters. Many merchants may experience a letdown over the next two weeks, but the most successful ones will be using that time to plan the year ahead – up to and including the 2011 holiday rush.