Don't Get Scrooged This Holiday Season

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By David Clarke

Consumers continue to shift toward more cautious spending in the second half of 2008, thanks to a volatile economy brought on by escalating gas prices, high food prices, the lending crisis and major failures in the financial services industry. But it’s not all doom and gloom. In spite of concerns over the economy, Forrester Research estimates that Internet sales will surpass $200 billion this year, up from $175 billion in 2007. But while the projections for a bigger pool of online shoppers is promising, it means nothing if marketers fail to engage this growing audience.

Faced with the current economic environment, it is more important than ever to plan ahead to entice and engage consumers while spending your online budget effectively. In the past, it may have sufficed to dust off your holiday timeline of execution from the year before with minor modifications. This year, however, consumers’ spending priorities have dramatically shifted. Therefore, it’s important to review and adjust your timeline and tactics to capture early shoppers — those more budget conscious and looking to spread out their gift buying. In other words, it’s time to put your efforts in high gear.

REVISIT PAST ONLINE MARKETING CAMPAIGNS:

If you have not yet completed your preparations for this holiday season, you are probably behind the pack — but don’t panic. Review the tips below, implement what you can to catch-up, and be sure to make these items a priority on your online holiday timeline for early fall next year.

• Add holiday products to your shopping feeds and reallocate a larger portion of your budgets to them.
• Plan your website enhancements to include wish lists, gift card ordering and new categories such as “gifts.”
• Create a gift guide that reaches every segment of your audience.
• Review 2007 email successes.
• Confirm your inventory to make certain customers won’t order out-of-stock products.
• Create holiday landing pages for PPC keywords.
• Use automated bid managers to set ROI for budget goals.
• Create a “shipping deadline campaign” for customers who want to save on early online purchases.

Creating an automated campaign of calendar reminders is another smart and easy way to help keep e-tailers on track leading up to, during and after the holiday season. Having clear, predetermined deadlines for the planning, execution and postmortem of holiday campaigns is important because it will ensure that you are taking advantage of every opportunity for reaching and connecting with your audience.



THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT:

Right at this moment, the pressure is escalating to engage and convert consumers, but marketers need to be cautious of falling victim to “conversion tunnel vision.” Many e-tailers make the mistake of investing the bulk of their time, energy and budget into only pulling traffic to the website. While that is important, should you succeed, your site needs to be prepared for the spike in traffic (bandwidth), you need to make sure you have enough product onhand, customer support measures need to be in place and there should be a clear path to checkout for your site visitors. Otherwise, you’re looking at a massive meltdown during one of the most important stretches of the year. At the height of the holiday season, the following tactics can help marketers ensure that their businesses run smoothly and customers are satisfied:

• Set up realistic shipping expectations and time frames for your website.
• Test and review your customer service process to ensure that discounts and product bundling are being processed properly.
• Prepare an email blitz to engage November shoppers.
• Launch holiday-themed and new holiday-oriented categories on your website, even going so far as to change the look and feel of the site to attract holiday shopping customers.
• Launch your holiday PPC campaign.
• Send out your holiday gift guide, email newsletters and increase your PPC bids for Christmas.
• Use aggressive user abandonment mitigation programs during critical times of the season.


Many online stores are hard pressed to redeem their first three quarters by ramping up early this year. So, marketers can expect more aggressive and creative campaigning weeks prior to Cyber Monday (Dec. 1, 2008.) However, while the weeks leading up to Cyber Monday are important, the peak weeks that follow are equally crucial. It is important to make sure that you have enough left in the budget during this time to maintain your campaigns through the remainder of the holiday season.

Also, don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on key cyber shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday — be sure to have all major celebrations such as Hanukah and Three Kings on your calendar.


THE 11TH HOUR IN THE 12TH MONTH:

Your online holiday shopping strategy might be organized and forward thinking, but it is important to factor in the human element. The holidays are festive, but also hectic — don’t forget about appealing to last minute customers. Tactics such as offering next-day shipping or an instant e-gift card might be the extra incentive consumers need to make a purchase on the spot. Egift cards in particular are a great way to engage consumers needing an easy last minute gift that will be delivered on time. For large online retailers, incentivizing your online customer service representatives — based on conversions — to engage shoppers through live chat is a smart strategy that can boost sales.

It is also imperative to make sure all of your return policies and customer service information is easy to find and clearly communicated. Certifications and safety logos such as HackerSafe, TrustE and Verisign inspire confidence in your brand and will help customers overcome any fears or reservations they may have about the security of your site.

To ramp up for the home-stretch of the 2008 online holiday season in December:

• Send your second holiday email to engage December shoppers.
• Promote the last day to order before Christmas.
• Lower bids on high-spending keywords and shopping engine products as you approach December 25th.
• Send an end-of-the year sales email the day after Christmas.

While the barrage of negative economic news can seem disheartening, the reality of the situation is that we are not officially in a recession, consumers are increasing their spending online, and Internet sales revenue is projected to increase by $25 billion dollars over last year. Yes, consumers are being more cautious about their spending, but they are still spending. The competition to attract those online dollars this holiday season has been escalated to a new level and e-tailers need to be proactive and creative with their efforts in order to avoid getting “scrooged” by consumers — and competitors — this holiday season.

David Clarke is Founder & Managing Partner of interactive marketing agency BGT Partners (www.bgtpartners.com). A pioneer in digital marketing
at the onset of the internet-era, he has been responsible for driving the firm’s continuous double-digit growth since 1996.

 
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