E-commerce businesses must prepare now for the 2012 holiday online selling season. Begin here.
While many consumers are still paying off their holiday bills and dreaming of summer beach days to come, now's the time for e-commerce businesses to be planning for Q4 - the final three months of the calendar year. The importance of seasonal sales to most online sellers can't be overstated and should be a year-round effort starting well before the spring buds appear.
Here's a quick list to get you started now toward success during the 2012 holiday online selling season.
1. Use the slower periods to shore up your technology. If you are planning a site migration, social extension, or redesign this year, do it now while the impact of any possible disruptions is minimized. Smart online retailers (who have sufficient scale) take the Amazon approach. That includes regularly testing incremental changes in the site experience or sales processes to a small group rather than a complete overhaul that has the potential to confuse customers or create obstacles to a quick sale.
2. Get mobile. Check the trending percentage of mobile/tablet usage on your site and get your mobile game in shape if it is not already.
3. Do a deep dive of last year's Q4 efforts and results. It's better to take a hard look at what worked, what didn't, missed opportunities, and competitive efforts while all the ad hoc moves and feints are still fresh in your head. Hopefully you had a Q4 plan to compare to Q4 actuals and can document the wins and misses. It is often helpful to employ an objective third party in efforts like this.
4. Hone your messaging. Q4 messaging tends to be more promotional in nature but promotions work harder and more efficiently when the brand is well known and universally understood by consumers. Ensure you know what your brand stands for in the marketplace. If you don't like what you see, then get to work right now to change it. What looks like a brand investment in the first nine months of the year could be a sales advantage during the final three months.
5. Test your landing pages and conversion funnels. Actually, test everything, all the time. Document baselines and trend out SEO results.
6. Review offline efforts and integration points. If your business has an offline component, connect with the overall marketing plans for the coming year as early as possible to impact key digital integration points for consumers and to ensure you are all striving toward a unified objective.
7. Simplify. Look for all possible avenues to simplify and streamline the user experience from first touch point to sale. Simplicity translates directly into sales and revenue down the line and requires a disciplined approach. As technology improves and more opportunities are presented to online marketers, they tend to layer on technology and experiences for the user in their selling environments without culling out those that have marginal or negative impact. Think of your selling site(s) as a closet. To maintain any sense of order as you add new stuff, you need to take some out that you rarely wear, are out of style, or no longer fit. Be ruthless but come armed with full information.
8. Build your audiences. If you haven't stepped into social media or have done so in a half-hearted fashion, now's the time to create a healthy community that you can communicate with all year long so you are top of mind in Q4. Look at some of the newer opportunities like Pinterest or Google+ to add dimension and breadth to your current social efforts.
This is definitely the time to be strengthening remarketing platforms like your email database so that you have more touch points during critical selling periods. If you are doing any display retargeting or plan to in the heat of the season, you may want to choose your partners now and place pixels that collect site visitors in your retargeting pools for later use.
9. Understand your customers and your competition. This is a great time to do some profiling and survey work to return consumer data and insights that will help you segment messaging and offers to maximize relevancy and sales, as well as preserve profit margin. Sign up for competitive email lists, join competitor social media communities, and do a complete competitive analysis. A social media listening tool is a good investment to help understand consumer perceptions about your category, your competitors, and your brand.
10. Plan for ways to embrace and coddle your core audience. There is nothing worse than taking your current customers for granted. You can be sure your competition is not. You need your core customers' continued sales and loyalty throughout the year and you need to groom some of the so-inclined to become vocal advocates for you. Consider loyalty or ambassador programs or potential extensions.
11. Do some small scale testing. To push the business forward, you should always be reaching toward those big ideas that have the potential for significant impact. This is a great time of year to be testing those ideas in smaller scale either geographically or with some subset of your audience to determine if results merit roll-out when consumers are in peak buying mode. Start to develop those underserved or ignored audience segments to establish their potential. It need not be a big investment to test the waters.
12. Recognize that e-commerce in full scale during peak season is a different game than in other times of the year. Inventory glitches, customer service failures, or other inconvenient operational lapses that happen to stressed systems have a dramatic impact on end results. Have a plan in place and practiced so that line personnel across the organization know how to react quickly to obstacles you can't define in advance but can bet will crop up.
13. Recognize that Q4 2012 will be fundamentally different than Q4 2011. Technology has advanced, new device, platform, and channel opportunities have evolved, new competitors came into the marketplace and some have left, the economy is in a different place, there are increased concerns and a continued spotlight on data collection and privacy issues, the U.S. presidential race will be in full swing and putting pressure on media costs and availability, and you have a whole new playing field to contend with this year. Stay on top of the trends that will impact your consumers and don't automatically resort to last year's assumptions when framing this coming year.
A huge percentage of e-commerce annual revenue is concentrated in a relatively short selling period, so sellers have to be prepped and ready for success in advance if they are to find it. What are you prioritizing right now to make sure you have a record Q4?
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