“Context” or contextual marketing is an often-discussed topics these days as sales and marketing professionals are realizing that bombarding consumers with endless forms of omnichannel marketing—social media, display ads, email campaigns—only brings results if the messages have context.
Really context is, to some extent, just a fancy way of saying you’re making the experience meaningful. Consumers want to buy, but they will buy more if the store offerings are packaged in context—addressing a category they care about, like sporting goods, or a subject they care about, like health and fitness. Creating a more meaningful connection with online customers by showing them you “get” them will lead to stronger engagement, and to the potential for more sales.
During the holiday season, however, engaging customers is just the beginning. They have to be able to quickly navigate your site, easily order and have complete confidence that their choices will be delivered on time. In this era of gift receipts, they also need to know their gift recipients will have no trouble exchanging the gifts after the New Year festivities are over.
After 20-plus years in helping small businesses be successful online, we have seen what practices are essential to success during the holidays and year-round, and how adding context and personalization can help businesses capture their share in an increasingly competitive online landscape. We also know that shipping and return policies are becoming a much more competitive feature in closing a sale and also need to be looked at as another way to nurture customer confidence and repeat business.
Here are five tips we recommend to help you make this the merriest and most profitable holiday season your business has ever had:
1) Create and highlight your Gifts category. Include in this category a grouping of products. For example, if you sell sporting goods, create gifts for Baseball, Football, Basketball fanatics and include, for example, Ball, Shirt, Shorts, Socks and Bag. Giving a discount for the bundle will convey value. The collection of products and higher price point will convey thoughtfulness and quality while increasing overall average order value and sales for merchants.
2) Ramp up the marketing, especially targeted email marketing. Know your shoppers and make it easy for them to buy by sending relevant offers. For example, if a shopper is into home and garden products, send them holiday decorating ideas, and of course, include items that you have for sale.
3) Do a thorough review of your store—top to bottom. Make sure every pixel is optimized for conversion. Review the Header, Home page, Section page, Item page and Checkout pages to ensure they are super easy to buy from. In headers, have room for site-wide offers. Make sure product images are big. List your popular products first on section pages (and be sure to remove out-of-stock items and keep an eye on low inventory products).
In general, although shoppers are in a buying mood during the holidays, they are also typically in a hurry, so make sure the buying experience is super easy. This can be the difference between a wonderful holiday season and a mediocre one.
4) In early November, go to a friend’s home and ask them to shop your site. Have them go through the whole process of finding an item, picking the size and color, and checking out. Try not to be overly helpful while you look over their shoulder and take notes on any place they get confused or stuck. Ideally, everything will go smoothly and if they used your credit card in checkout and bought something they like, you can cross one person off your holiday shopping list. But it you noted any points where they had trouble, these need to be immediately addressed so the entire online shopping experience is simple and streamlined.
5) Make shipping timelines and return policies crystal clear. Consider making shipping recommendations that adjust as the holidays approach to give shoppers the best chance of getting their order in time. Shipping deadlines could also be the subject of special promotions both on your site and in email campaigns. Also, consider extending existing return policies to give online shoppers confidence that items they order in mid-November can still be returned after Jan. 1 when the gift recipient finds out it’s the wrong size. Removing this concern may help increase your sales and isn’t likely to significantly impact returns.
Yahoo Small Business is the e-commerce platform provider for five of the Internet Retailer Top 1000 online retailers in North America.