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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2423 - November 29, 2010 - ISSN 1539-5065    2 of 4

A Holiday-Sales Checklist for Online Sellers

By Greg Holden
EcommerceBytes.com
November 29, 2010




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Indications are that consumers are back in the game this holiday season. Business is already up, and shoppers are ready to spend - at least more than they spent last year.

On the other hand, competition is greater than ever among online sellers. And big retailers are rolling out free shipping and other promotions that small companies can't match. The challenge will be not just making sales, but maintaining profits. Last week, I presented tips for saving money on shipping. This week, two ecommerce experts weigh in with tips of all sorts for sellers hoping to stay successful this holiday. Here's a selection of smart selling practices that will help you come out of the holiday rush with money in the bank (or PayPal account).

Tip #1: Dress up your store for the holidays.
Everyone is decorating for the holidays, and you can do the same with your ecommerce storefront. It's always a good idea to let people know that you maintain your store and update it frequently; putting in some holiday graphics can reinforce this impression and encourage shoppers to look for holiday deals.

David Mamane, owner of several ecommerce businesses including the largest discount jewelry retailer, MyJewelryBox.com, advises online entrepreneurs to be tasteful and restrained in their use of holiday designs, however.

"Merchants should always add holiday style to their store," he says. "However, you can have too much of a good thing. Holiday graphics should never distract the consumer from finding what he or she is looking for or inhibit him or her from making a decision about the purchase. Add holiday colors or graphics to increase exposure to a sale or call attention to a collection."

Tip #2: Hold special sales and offer coupons.
Mamane suggests adding coupon and sale images in particular because they encourage shoppers to participate in a purchase. "Customers love coupons because they feel like they are creating their own discount," he explains. "We have found that both sales and coupons work well when the savings are apparent to the consumer."

Tip #3: Make your inventory available to mobile shoppers.
The increasing number and power of smartphones on the market means more consumers will be shopping with their mobile devices this season. Rick DiViesti, VP of Sales & Business Development for the ecommerce hosting service Zoovy, says the lack of mobile payment solutions will hold back wide adoption of mobile commerce for a year or two. But partnering with a provider like Zoovy can streamline the process of making your store available to those shopping with mobile devices right now.

"We do see a lot of mobile shoppers this season - but not a lot of buyers, at least until digital wallets on phones are a standard part of the phone/browser stack," comments DiViesti. "Every one of our 5,000 stores has a mobile counterpart at m.domain.com. The sites run on virtually all mobile phones including Google Android, Apple iPhone and RIM Blackberry. We are in the process of integrating PayPal's new Express Mobile Checkout, which was released at their developer conference a few weeks ago, and hope to have that generally available during the last few weeks leading up to Christmas."

Tip #4: Create holiday collections of your merchandise.
Sometimes, simply organizing and promoting your existing inventory in a new way that calls attention to their value as gifts can result in some holiday sales. "Offering collections of products is a great way to compartmentalize beautiful promotional products for your consumers," says Mamane. "MyJewelryBox.com offers a wide variety of collections especially during the holidays from price point oriented collections to stylized ones like the "Sentimental Jewelry Collections."

Consider grouping related items into collections such as "classics," or basing such collections on a color, he says. "Making new collections based on a color such yellow diamonds and black diamonds or beautiful blue topaz collections offers the consumer an easy way to browse your catalog and find the right gift quickly and easily."

Tip #5: Strengthen your return policies.
After the holidays, shoppers often feel the need to return items they originally wanted dearly. Make sure your return policies protect your rights as a seller so you don't lose any more revenue than you have to in such situations, says DiViesti. In particular, he recommends that e-tailers make sure the return policies posted on their websites include the following:

  • No returns without RMAs (Return Merchandise Authorization): Clearly define the process in customer service, returns portion of your website as well as the confirmation email of the purchase. Depending on the product type, a return policy slip in the box is also a good way to maintain consistency and a workable flow for your reverse logistics.
  • A welcoming, friendly tone: Is your system better able to handle returns and, if so, are you taking advantage of it as a selling point and not a detriment?
  • Bundle-only policies: Sometimes customers buy bundles or kits but want to return only one item. Clearly define that the products must be returned as a bundle only. Packing slip return policies are a good way of proactively working through future issues.

In addition, he says, when someone asks to return an item, make sure you have access to historical data: Is this a customer with a high return rate? A customer who has bought a lot of product in the past and now has one dispute? Based on past history, you might decide to handle the return request a different way.

Finally, DiViesti recommends, know what the return policies are for the market you are in. "For example, if you are in a space known for higher than average returns (clothing, footwear), what are your top 3 competitors doing?"

Tip #6: Sell via your blog as well as your store.
These days, savvy sellers use their blogs to promote their sales items. Mention ideas for stocking stuffers in your blog posts or your email newsletter. This encourages shoppers to think about buying items they might not necessarily consider as holiday gifts - items you offer, of course.

"Blog posts are an excellent way of letting out some hot deals and offering customers a less aggressive softer sell before any holidays period such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the Christmas season," says Mamane.

Tip #7: Know what's popular this year.
Presumably, you are selling in an area of business you know well. Knowing what items are "hot" in a given year will help you adjust your selection accordingly. Mamane, whose field is online jewelry, is noticing that "promise rings" are making a comeback, for instance. "Sterling silver is very hot now as the price of gold has become increasingly expensive for many consumers," he says.

DiViesti, for his part, believes that "Smartphones and tablet devices such as the iPad and Samsung galaxytab and their accessories are really going to see a lot of traction through the end of year." He says it's still not too late to prepare for the holidays by ordering extra inventory or securing extra help with shipping and other labor-intensive back office functions.

"Early reports indicate this is going to be a great holiday season," he says. "Several of our clients have reported that their normal daily order velocity starting two weeks before Thanksgiving had well exceeded their peak season order velocities from last year - so that early news has been very encouraging."

One good rule of thumb in the ecommerce field is to anticipate the high seasons for your product and lock down inventory at least six weeks in advance, he adds. Another is to partner with an ecommerce platform that can help you handle heavier-than-usual demand.

"New data has shown there is a trend of more holiday shoppers buying earlier than before. You can see verification of these trends as holiday season displays are going up earlier each year and pre-Black Friday sales are now almost as common as actual Black Friday events. Overall spending is up this year vs. last year. That is the good news. The bad news is the margins on many items are lower than last year. A cohesive marketing strategy and a robust ecommerce platform can allow for a 30 percent increase over other ecommerce warehouse shipping solutions."

About the Author
Greg Holden is AuctionBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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