February 2008 - Channel Crossing: Online

The Holiday Season: Looking Back…and Ahead

By Sue Chapman

How was your 2007 holiday season? Did you hit your targets? Did you get the traffic you expected? More important, did you convert those visitors to buyers and reach your average order size goals?
Let’s take a look back at the past few months to figure out what worked-and what could have been executed a little better.

More Visitors, a Merrier Christmas?
My guess is your site saw more traffic than ever this past holiday season. During the months leading up to Christmas, the retailers I work with all told me they’d invested heavily in online marketing throughout the year and were expecting big results in terms of new business. I suggest using your analytics tools to look back and examine the terms and descriptions your visitors most commonly used to find your site. This will help you to determine if your organic and paid search tactics are really working for you. And as you do this analysis, ask whether you had what these site visitors were looking for, or did you miss out on the season’s hot product?

I recommend the following as a potentially profitable resolution for 2008: Integrate your site search, SEO and SEM programs so that the Google and Yahoo search spiders find all the relevant product descriptions-even those that are “hidden” deep within your product databases. Make sure that you’re using the search terms and keywords that successfully deliver these customers. And be sure these customers are sent not to your homepage, but rather to landing pages that actually sell products and generate revenue.

Make Your Products Easy to Find and Buy
If one of your New Year’s resolutions wasn’t to improve search and navigation on your site, you might want to think again. How did your site search perform for you during the holiday season? But wait: Before you answer, let’s determine if your expectations were high enough. Did your search turn away potential customers by failing to turn “no results” searches into opportunities to sell something else? Did your search fluently speak the language of your shoppers? (In other words, did your search function display “ruby” choices when there were no “crimson” items found?) Was your search smart enough to trigger great merchandising tools such as gift idea banners? In other words, did you truly leverage the power of searchandising, or did you simply offer a search function?

It is well established that the better your site search, the higher your conversion rates. Take advantage of this before another year slips by. In 2008, enable your shoppers to use search more effectively to find, compare and select products. I’ve observed that the retailers who fuel their category pages and campaign-specific landing pages with dynamic navigation and refinements (such as brand, price, customer rating, etc.) see anywhere from 10 to 30 percent bumps in conversions from those pages.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball
When it comes to holiday readiness, searchandising plays a big role. Even after your site lockdown in late September or early October, there are strategies that can still be executed well into the holiday shopping season. As we heard from many retailers this past holiday season, it’s important to be nimble and ready to react to the data as it comes in. In other words, those retailers who paid attention to what their sites were telling them-and were ready to react to what they learned-were the most successful. October searches for GPS devices turned out to be a strong indicator of demand for one retailer that I work with. The retailer was able to spot and react to this gift-buying trend and turn it into a boon-when it easily could have been missed altogether.

I know this sounds like motherhood and apple pie, but you need to continually adjust your merchandising strategies based on what’s selling, what’s not, what’s new and what’s hot.
It may seem like an absolute no-brainer, but I am astounded at how many retailers don’t follow this simple rule of thumb: Figure out what worked best for your business in 2007 and do more of it in 2008.
For example, were your shoppers enticed by free shipping offers? Did you sell the kinds of items that people tend to perennially give to loved ones (sweaters, slippers, men’s shirts and ties, etc.) If so, did you offer incentives for loyal customers and deals for purchases of multiples? Were gift cards popular? If they were, did you truly make redemption as simple as it could be for the customer, and take full advantage of the opportunity to upsell or cross-sell)?

The most effective predictor of future customer behavior is past customer behavior. The best way to ensure a successful holiday selling season is to learn from last year’s successes-and mistakes. Dig into the data and determine what worked and what didn’t.

Yes, it’s true: Christmas is 10 months away. But I don’t need to tell you that, as far as the retailer’s perspective is concerned, the holidays are always right around the corner. My advice? Start now. Start analyzing your 2007 search reports and sales results in order to figure out your upcoming year’s holiday merchandising strategy and readiness plan. By starting now, you greatly increase your chances for a cheerier-and more profitable-2008 holiday season.

Sue Chapman is the director of merchandising solutions at Mercado Software, a leader in e-commerce site search, navigation and merchandising. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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