This Week's Agenda: Ready for the Holidays?

  |  October 29, 2001   |  Comments

The holidays could be a tough sell this year. Experts have been scrutinizing consumers' buying and spending with a view toward what's changed since September 11. Here's what they say you should do to get your site ready for the holidays.

In about a month, you'll know how the holiday season will be shaping up for your site. Here's what the experts are saying.

ComScore Networks says "essentials" are the theme. Total revenues have leveled off at about 10 percent below the average of the five or six weeks before September 11, said spokesman Dan Hess.

"Things like apparel and health and beauty care, other household items like bedding and linens, those things are up. Discretionary items like consumer electronics and event tickets are all down," he said. "People are buying the stuff they gotta buy, and everything else is a wait-and-see pattern."

If you stock essentials, in other words, put them on the front of your site. Design displays to highlight themes such as comfort and safety.

What will make people click? Vividence Corp. of San Mateo published its "Holiday Readiness 2001" report, which offers some answers.

Vividence got its numbers from its own eXperience Management System, which sends 200 to 800 members of its 150,000 member research panel to target sites, where behavior is recorded and reassessed through follow-up questions. For its latest report, Vividence used numbers from last year and from studies conducted both before and after September 11.

The two key influences on holiday purchase decisions, Vividence said, are prices and shipping fees. Availability and promotions are somewhat less important, while many of the factors you usually fiddle with -- order tracking, return policies, and ease of use -- fall further down the list.

The question of shipping charges comes up again in two follow-up questions. Shipping charges are the major reason shopping carts are abandoned (cited by 72 percent), and (this is most intriguing) 87percent said they also used their shopping carts to determine shipping charges.

In other words, shoppers consider shipping costs to be a mystery. They are gauging their use of sites to uncover the truth. If you find a way to reveal your charges before carts are filled, you can save your secure server a lot of trouble.

Another key takeaway from the Vividence study is the need to support wish lists and abandoned carts. Nearly half of the shoppers surveyed -- 45 percent -- saved items in carts so that they could remember them for future purchases. You won't recover all your lost sales by saving carts, but you'll recover some.

Some other recommendations:

  • Free shipping may motivate purchases, especially for items previously left in an abandoned cart.

  • Make registration optional. Half of all shoppers abandon carts if registration is required for purchases.

  • Link purchases to your own charitable donations. Two-thirds of customers surveyed showed an increase interest in donating to charities this year.

  • Print gift certificates. People prefer coupons they can hold in their hands.

  • Let people track orders online, or at least be clear about delivery times.

Most of this is common sense. It's what you'd expect customers to want to know, especially when they're holding tight to the purse strings.

It's always reassuring to see hard numbers back up instincts. Combine your common sense with these research results and take action.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana Blankenhorn

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.

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