By John Roach, Editor, Retail Solutions Online
A chart of annual Web traffic to top retailers shows a Mount Everest-sized summit from November through January, with a soaring peak in December. More people visit retail sites during the holiday season than at any other time, and those numbers of both visitors and purchasers are expected to rise again this year. "E-commerce is growing in importance each year," Jeff Edelman, director of retail and consumer advisory services at consulting firm RSM McGladrey, told me.
Take advantage of consumers' increased online activity by upgrading your Web site now to drive holiday business. Maximize your Web offerings and you can weather this holiday season's perfect storm of a recessionary economy, reluctant shoppers, and reduced in-store inventory.
Does your site offer all that your customers want — and then some? Online consumers browse, wish, comparison-shop, research products, find store locations, purchase, and so much more. Here are a number of ways to optimize your site to cash in this holiday season.
First, if you don't refresh your Web site's capabilities regularly, you are missing out on the newest tools and applications to help grow your holiday business. Without upgrades, your site no longer has the functionality needed to beat your competitors, draw increased traffic, and remain relevant to your customers. "The companies that heard footsteps last December and have since made changes are the ones that will be strong winners this holiday season," Celerant senior sales executive Ray Wener told me.
For starters, increase the number of products on your site and provide new departments for customers to shop, and sales will increase as well. Macy's, for example, raised its number of SKUs online to more than 50,000 within the last year and added new departments such as Eco-Shop, which features "green" merchandise and deals on private label and branded apparel. As a result, Web sales at Macy's have exceeded stores sales for six straight months.
Consider adding service features to entice interactivity and prompt sales. Live chats and educational product-oriented videos engage users dynamically with your brand and encourage further product research. For example, Summit Sports Inc.'s Skis.com more than doubled its online video library of on-snow ski reviews and increased its sales conversion rate 19%.
Social networking has exploded in the last year, so find ways to use these tools to engage your customers and encourage frequent site visits — and, of course, purchases. Offer community forums for commentary and questions. Set up pages on major social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (see a related article). Through its Facebook page, J.C. Penney lets teenagers sign up to get text messages with discount offers.
Site visitors want to learn about your products, but they also like to share their opinions of them and read others' input. Give them tools that enable customer ratings, reviews, and recommendations. A Forrester Research study reveals that 54% of shoppers notice site recommendations and 34% of those consumers made purchases based on recommendations they read.
You're not alone when it comes to implementing these additions to your site. Companies such as Celerant Technology, JDA Software, Tomax, Sterling Commerce, and Demand Solutions, among others, provide solutions to improve and expand your company's e-commerce platform and drive sales.
Retail is about selling, after all, and your site's improved functionality and utility will result in greater sales and customers who are more reliant on it. Tap into that dependence with incentives, discounts, and offers that will reward loyal users and also encourage them to register, join your site, or submit their e-mail address. "The best retailers are the ones who are consistently proactive with their customers and already in tune with them," RSM McGladrey's Edelman told me.
Once your site is fully refreshed and ready for the holiday season, feel free to kick back and relax, but just for a moment or two. The next must-have applications and tools are already out there somewhere, and any day now your customers are going to want to use them on your site.