Five Tips to Successful Online Retail in a Down Economy

This blog post is short and sweet as the holidays are approaching, and we’re almost at the end of the runway when it comes to successful holiday planning. Below is a list of ideas that should help you in these tough times, and potentially allow you to see gains during Q4 that you’ve been looking forward to from a sales goal perspective all year long.

1. Free Shipping

Many people are aware that free shipping and discounts work – but don’t utilize them. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee Mr. Marketer. People are driving less due to fuel costs and less money in their pocket. Consumers are already preparing themselves to find the best deals possible BEFORE the holidays get here – which means you need to get into this competitive market fast.

Free shipping, no matter the method, is IMPORTANT. Let’s say I’m looking to purchase a product on the Internet. I find the item, note the SKU, and if the retail site that I’m sitting on does not offer me any shipping discounts, I then search for the SKU and “free shipping” on Google to find the product elsewhere. Boom – you lose a sale THAT fast. I don’t know how much more plainly spelled out this issue can be. Implement free shipping!!!

This is how Internet shoppers think. It’s your responsibility to be competitive in your online sales environment – your competition already is . . .

2. Affiliate Programs

Gone are the days (for most online retailers) of purchasing huge ad / branding positions on portals and other large sites. Impression advertising with transaction goals simply do not perform today, or at least anywhere near the degree they did in years past.

Affiliate programs, or revenue-sharing agreements, are GOLDEN for online sales opportunities – and it’s truly a win-win situation for the retailer and the affiliate. Let’s make this really easy – find a site that relates to your own. Contact the person that operates the site and see if they would be interested in a percentage of sale (the higher the offer, the more willing they will be to deal) in trade for impression-based advertising. If a user clicks through the ad component on their side, makes a purchase on your site, the web site owner gets a fixed percentage of the sale. You’ve accomplished a few things here – Cost Per Acquisition advertising, a new online relationship (the affiliate), a new inbound link (great for organic SEO), and a new customer that might have never seen your goods at any other time or web site. This is a win-win situation all the way around.

3. Promote Gift Certificates

There are three main reasons for the extreme push of gift certificates and gift cards this holidays season:

1. Gift cards allow the gift recipient to pick out what THEY want (lessening the chance of returns)
2. Gift cards are non-refundable. The sale is YOURS.
3. Gift cards and gift certificates available online saves the consumer gas, money, and time.

It’s THAT simple . . .

4. Selective Product Merchandising / Marketing

I’ll speak personally here for a moment. Though I have (so far, knock on wood) not been directly affected by the current economy, it has shifted how I’m looking at expenses for holiday. I must cut back so that I can still give the gifts I want, but also insuring that I’m not going beyond my means. Enter product merchandising strategies!

Here’s what I observe consumers NEEDING from online retailers:

  • Strong Gift Categories with navigation by price point
  • Gift certificate promotions on the homepage
  • Shop by “Person” – i.e. For Mom, For Dad, etc – all by price point
  • Up front shipping policies and delivery expectations
  • Easy returns and detailed return information

These are tactics and strategies that almost every online retailer should be able to implement using existing resources – and ROI on these efforts should be seen in a very short amount of time.

5. Post-Holiday Sales

Beginning in December of 2006, many online retailers moved to the post-holiday “sale” strategy BEFORE the holidays were over. I.e. top online retailers had their post-Christmas sales staged to automatically populate their website when the clock strikes 12:00am on Christmas Day.

Following this strategy is sound. Many people get new computers for the holidays, new gift cards, and they are ready to shop. Even without a gift card, in today’s economic landscape, the sales alone can help you make your sales plan for the month of December. Beyond staging your sales to hit the target date, you must also stage content to reflect your sale strategy. Though smaller retailers may need a “manual push” in the early hours on December 25th, it’s those retailers ahead of the game by even 1-Myrtle Beach days that benefit the most.

In closing, I’m optimistic about Q4 online sales and their potential. At the same time, I am cautiously optimistic that Etailers are already looking at post-holiday strategies to keep revenues growing post-holiday.