Top 5 Tips for Winning in Retail Over and Beyond the Festive Period

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Yes it’s that time already!

Following on from a post about the credit crunch, it’s time to think about the run up to the holiday season. Although this post is written from a UK perspective, most of the tips are applicable to most markets around the world.

The online UK retail landscape this year has seen steady growth with IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) reporting 15.2% year-on-year market growth to July 2008. Despite there being challenges associated with a slowing economy and the credit crunch, UK shoppers spent over £26.5 billion online in the first six months of 2008, up 38% on the £19.2 billion recorded for the first half of 2007. Online sales accounted for around 17% of the total UK retail market during the first half of the year. (Source: The IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index – June 08).

So, challenges aside, early indicators look good for a merry online Christmas, with analysts predicting strong sales as savvy shoppers hit the web instead of the high street and out-of-town shopping centres for Christmas bargains.

1) Be like Red Robin: The Early Bird Catches the Worm

So when do people in the UK start to prepare for the festive season? According to Hitwise, a leading competitive search intelligence company, and Microsoft adCenter’s historical data the first tentative searches for Christmas-related keywords started as early as August! However, the first major rush coincides with when people get paid at the end of October.

The second and final push for the season coincides with when people get paid at the end of November. Searches reach critical mass in the first two weeks of December. Impressions begin to slow and click rates escalate as the postal deadlines for packages and parcels loom between the 17 – 19 December.

 

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2) Christmas Wish Lists: Supply and Demand

Christmas is a time for caring and sharing, and peace to all men on Earth. However, try telling that to the tearful six-year-old on Christmas morning who’s just realised that Santa wasn’t able to bring them the latest High School Musical toy they asked for.

Gather insights into what customers will be demanding this festive season and what you should be stocking. If you sell toys, keep an eye on the Toy Retailers Association website for the release of the 2008 Dream Toys on 15 October which is a comprehensive list of what’s hot and not for kids of all ages this Christmas.

Finally, encourage customers to pre-order and buy early to avoid disappointment through your ad copy.

3) Stand and Deliver: Money or Your Brand Reputation

Delivery is everything to Internet customers, and it’s even more important to get it right during the festive time of year. Undelivered gifts can spoil Christmas day, which could impact brand equity and even lose customers.

Ensure delivery is a priority in your Christmas copy. Be transparent about delivery costs and delivery deadlines. If you use a third party courier service mention these because they can usually deliver beyond the Royal Mail postal deadlines. If your website offers free delivery on shopping baskets over a certain spend then use this unique selling point to entice buyers.

4) Security Matters: Santa Claus is Coming to Town (And So Are The Credit Card Hackers!)

Christmas is also the time when people are likely to take to shopping online for the first time. However with recurring stories in the media that Internet fraud and identity theft are on the increase, how do you get a nervous first-time Internet customer to shop with you? If your website is accredited by ISIS (Internet Shopping Is Safe) or you use a secure, encrypted payment system such as PayPal or World Pay, mention this in your copy to reassure buyers that you take their security and custom seriously. For more advice on e-commerce security messaging visit: GetSafeOnline.org.

 

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5) Snowballing not Snowball Fights: Forget Christmas Past and look to the New Year Sales

Christmas past: before the web was a mere twinkle in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee, shopping was a 9 – 5 affair and Sunday opening hours a veritable sin. Christmas was the highlight of the shopping year. Small and medium size retailers went into hibernation between the Christmas and New Year lull as the high street giants did a roaring trade.

Christmas present: 24/7 shopping with no real geographic, calendar or time constraints. If you’re a customer, there are always a number of shops open and willing to do business. Christmas is still the highlight of the year, but so are the post-Christmas sales!

So why do a number of retailers still hark back to the methods of Christmas Past by shutting up shop and turning off their PPC ad campaigns? In Jan 2008, IMRG and Hitwise reported that the largest shopping days online were actually post-Christmas dates with 26 December (Boxing Day) and New Year’s Day setting new online traffic records.

See the example below of what happened when an adCenter account was turned off between Christmas and New Year last year versus one of their competitors who remained active for the same period. (Source: Microsoft adCenter Jan 08)

 

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So how do you make your accounts snowball and avoid the fights?

  • Optimise your accounts well in advance of Christmas and New Year. This is so that a strong history of data can be accumulated to give campaigns a competitive and robust footing in the auction environment in preparation for the peak shopping days.
  • Swop seasonal and Christmas copy for new sales copy when the postal dates have expired around the 2nd week of December.
  • Most importantly: Refrain from turning off whole PPC campaigns. Downtime equals loss of position and profits as rivals fill their boots at your expense by poaching customers and position.

 

Season’s greetings and may your cash registers ring like Christmas bells!