Last-Minute Conversion Tips for the Holidays

By Tim Ash

Here's an inconvenient truth: It's November. Ready or not, the holiday shopping season will be entering full swing, and ecommerce sites are about to experience another record-breaking volume of online transactions from all sorts of devices.

Is your site ready? Hopefully the answer is "yes," but if not, there are still a few things you can do to try to increase your share of holiday shopping revenues this year.

Optimize Email Lists and Targeting

According to the BizRate Insights/Forrester Holiday Flash Survey 2013, email was the second most popular way customers learned about holiday products last year. This means retailers banking on holiday sales should get their email lists cleaned up and segmented so they can send people email offers that will be relevant to them. Those merchants with the time and resources to do so can append their email marketing data with whatever information they have available: gender, past purchases, purchase dates (are they last-minute shoppers or planners?), Web visit history and other data points that can help brands really get the timing and message of their email promotions right. It's important to also make sure that emails are formatted to render well across devices. Businesses will need to hire a good HTML designer to make all their emails responsive so that their important messages and conversion-driving calls-to-action don't get lost on the small screen.

Optimize Post-Purchase Messaging

Once someone has decided to purchase from a specific retailer, they've overcome significant trust and security concerns that will pave the way for easier buying decisions in the future. One of the best ways to leverage this is by using post-purchase messaging to drive additional sales and build engagement.

For example, retailers can use a new customer welcome email to offer a discount off their next purchase and suggest related items that other customers have shown an interest in after making a similar purchase. Or, if a customer made a purchase from a desktop site, brands can use the welcome email to incentivize him or her to download the store's app or sign up for emails or SMS alerts.

Holiday Retargeting in Focus

Get the most out of each website visitor with these holiday retargeting tips for Google, Facebook, Twitter and more at Ensure the Safety of Customer Data

With all the data breaches making headlines in 2014, consumers are more wary than ever to enter credit card details online, especially on a site they haven't previously purchased from. If a retailer can do only one thing before the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, have it be a thorough security audit that checks all access points to a network. This means hiring a security professional to try to hack into the company's system, and then shoring up any vulnerabilities that are identified. Then, merchants can reassure visitors by displaying recognizable safety and security seals, especially those from third-party trust and safety organizations.

Finally, retailers should consider adding information to their FAQ sections about the steps their company takes to encrypt data and protect the privacy of customer data. With so many people concerned about data breaches, this reassurance could become a point of distinction between their site and their competitors'.

Make Paying Simple

One of the ways consumers might be guarding their credit card details this season is by using an online wallet, so that they can avoid the risk that exists whenever payment details are entered online. Ecommerce sites that haven't yet incorporated PayPal, Google Wallet and ApplePay, should do so now - before the holiday rush begins. Offering these alternate payment methods has conversion benefit that goes beyond transactional safety. For most people, selecting one of these options simplifies and speeds up the checkout process. Instead of having to dig out their credit card from their wallet and strain to read the well-worn numbers, shoppers can simply log in to their online wallet account, pick one of their previously stored payment methods, select their already entered shipping details and complete the transaction with far less hassle than entering all their details on the merchant site from scratch. This is especially useful for shoppers using non-desktop devices - a segment that is growing year after year.

Beef Up Online Customer Support

Holiday buyers have all sorts of questions and anxieties that don't exist in retail stores, like where the item will be shipped from, whether a specific delivery date can be guaranteed, how fragile items will be packaged, whether a promotional code can be used on sale items and how the sizing on certain item works. Retailers should be asking themselves: When was the last time I reviewed my FAQ section to make sure it has the most up-to-date answers to these questions?

For many digital marketers, their FAQs were written when the last site redesign was done and haven't been updated since. Enhancing an online help center is something anyone can do in just a few hours that can increase sales this holiday season. One way is to talk to their telephone service staff and get a list of all the questions that come in. Those should all be answered in a website's FAQs. Include information about returns, exchanges, gift receipts, transactional security and shipping policies, and make sure that customers can easily find that information. Additionally, site owners should add a "need help?" link at key points along a site's conversion path, linking to the FAQ section and including a telephone number for those who are interested in calling. If time and resources permit, retailers may also want to add a live chat feature to give buyers another way to connect. Finally, don't forget to let visitors know what hours a customer support team is available to answer questions.

Have a Plan for Bringing Shoppers Back

People coming to a site are all at different stages of the buying cycle, and there are lots of reasons they might leave before making a purchase. Whether they leave after browsing a few items, or abandon a cart during the checkout process, there are some fairly simple tactics that brands can put into place before the holiday rush to help customers complete their purchases.

First, they should consider adding a behavior-based email capture form or last-chance offer that will appear as a light-box popover, triggered by specific exit indicators like the movement of the mouse to the top of the browser. Companies like Bounce Exchange can get this technology set up on a site in very little time, giving site owners the chance to capture visitors' email addresses before they leave the site. Once visitors' emails are collected, marketers can send them a link back to their shopping carts, reminding them to return and complete their purchases. If time and resources allow, businesses can set up an abandonment recovery email series that nudges the visitor back to their site with timely reminders and incentives.

Gather Data and Track Success (and Shortcomings)

While these tips can help improve conversions this holiday shopping season, none of them can be a substitute for good planning. The big ecommerce heavyweights spend 10 months gathering data, profiling visitors and customers, optimizing conversion paths and running tests. Come November, their sites are locked and loaded, with no unplanned changes going live until after the holiday rush. Learn from them by gathering as much data as you can about your visitors and their purchase behavior this holiday season, so that you can start 2015 armed with the data you need to plan for an even better holiday shopping season next year.

Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, Chair of Conversion Conference and bestselling author of, "Landing Page Optimization."