It's that time of year again. A four-point list to get your e-commerce site in shape for the holidays.
Is it me, or has this year flown by? It's time to finish up the year's major projects before the lockdown on development moves them from the "must be done by Q4 2004" to the "maybe next year" list.
Not sure how to prioritize your remaining projects? Here's a list of the top four areas to concentrate on. The e-commerce folks are in a crunch right about now. Development pretty much shuts down in six to eight weeks, leaving little time to finish everything. I've been on the frontlines with several e-commerce clients during this period, so I empathize. Here's some friendly advice.
1. Ensure the checkout process is stable and the shopping cart is streamlined.
Some Web sites have adopted a "one-click" checkout approach (essentially, depositing people on the "review your order" page when they click "checkout"). Others expanded the checkout process to add more handholding and explanation. A shorter checkout process is easier for returning customers to speed through. Novice users, however, may not understand all the information in a one-page checkout system, which presents all possible order information on one page.
Generally, I like the one-page technique. But it does reduce the company's ability to track clicks in the checkout funnel. This data traditionally helps companies ascertain the reasons people don't complete purchases. A one-page process has tons of reasons on just one page that could cause shopping cart abandonment. You'll never know which to attribute to losing a customer.
Additionally, if gift options are part of your process, make sure it's easy to send someone a gift and to ship to multiple addresses!
Some companies use "persistent" shopping carts. The user stays on the product page, and the cart, which is visible on the product page, simply updates as items are added or subtracted. Others use traditional shopping carts that take users to a separate page after "add to cart" is clicked. Each technique has its pros and cons.
A persistent cart doesn't tear the user away from the shopping process and keeps the current page active. A shopping-cart page doesn't do much other than display the cart and allow the user to proceed to checkout. A merchandised shopping cart (such as Amazon.com's) attempts to heavily merchandise the shopping cart with cross-sell products.
Barnesandnoble.com recently switched from a persistent cart to an Amazon-style merchandised cart. The upside is possible cross-sells. The downside is possibly disorienting consumers or veering them off course from what they were doing. Amazon's cart is so disorienting, I stare at the screen to figure out what I just did and where I am.
Which checkout process and shopping cart are right for you? It depends on what you sell, who your customers are, and whether they buy one item or several. Some one-click processes are geared toward one-product purchases more than multiproduct purchases. Whichever you have, make sure it's bulletproof.
2. Clean up your marketing messages (literally and figuratively).
Believe it or not, consumers won't shop exclusively with you this year. So your marketing messages must be clear, easy to understand, and heavily branded. Every online company will send "free shipping," "buy one, get one for half price," and other such promotional email. Spammers will send email with similar headlines, just to fool recipients into reading the messages.
Create personalized subject lines that include products people have bought or other information besides the customer name or email address. Make sure your brand is front and center on the email envelope. This will help differentiate your offerings and forge a closer alliance between your brand and your customers' needs.
Try to personalize offers as much as possible. Remind customers what they bought last year, suggest similar products (perhaps these were gifts purchased last year), and guide them to your gift section (if you have one), which will help them find gifts for various types of people.
You'll undoubtedly have many different promotional banners on your site. Use clear templates for each type (free shipping, featured products, etc.). Users should see the new product or special offer. They shouldn't be trying to figure out what you want to tell them.
3. Choose a gift-giving project that fits your customers, and ensure it's built for customer acquisition.
Not sure what type of gift-giving project is right for your company? Last year, I ran down various online gift-giving tools. Find the one (or several) that's right for your company, and implement it! The most effective project isn't necessarily the most complicated. A simple product list categorized by recipient type (electronics geek, bookworm, frequent traveler) may be all you need.
Don't think of these as one-off projects, but as customer acquisition tools. New customers buying from a gift registry aren't just one-off purchasers. If you know they use your site to buy gifts for people (hello, they're accessing someone's gift registry!), show them other gift-giving features and how to easily ship to other people. Entice them to do all their holiday shopping with your company.
4. Are you a multichannel company (any combination of store, Web site, catalog, or call center)? Then think like one!
Can recipients return or exchange gifts purchased online at your brick-and-mortar stores? Can gift certificates be purchased from and delivered through any channel (including mail)? Can gift certificates be used in any channel? (Can I purchase a gift certificate at a store and have it mailed to my mom, and can she use it online? Or, can I buy one online and have my mom print it to use at her local store?) Do you have an online inventory system for your stores?
Multichannel companies can save a lot of money in customer service simply by making inventory available online. Many holiday phone calls to your stores will be people asking if you have a certain product in stock. If your IVR system directs people to the Web site first, you'll cut costs.
Ready for the Holidays?
Of course there are a million other things you need to do for Q4 (like making sure your back-end shipping facility can deliver products on time). Hopefully, this list will kick-start you into Q4 mode. Think through the basics of your business in time for the holiday season.
Ho, ho, ho...
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