By Brad LaRock, firstname.lastname@example.org
If the 2012 holiday retail season proved anything, it’s this: the smart merchant gets the sale. Retailers have to plan strategically, segment their customer base, and think like today’s super connected shopper.
If you want to stay on the right path throughout 2013, start with your e-commerce site. There you can implement many of the secrets to the changing retail environment. Whether you’re a big retailer or small, online selling can strengthen your position. Here’s how:
1. Dig for treasure: What’s the great differentiator of online versus physical retailing? Not selection, not speed, not low overhead. It’s data — the ability to use information about buyer behavior to increase relevance and build reasons to buy. Today many of us are in data rich but information poor environments, and chances are, all that traffic you generated over the 2012 holidays resulted in extremely valuable buyer data. Capitalize on it to learn about your customer, anticipate his or her needs, and increase your quality of service. Now that shoppers are well over their post-holiday fatigue and back into the swing of buying, you need to stay relevant on an individualized basis.
2. Segment and conquer: Customer segmentation is a powerful way to reach the most captive audiences with perfect offers that seem to be custom designed especially for them. For new shoppers, highlight your competitive advantage, and don’t forget that your service offerings are unique to your business and can be great differentiators. Welcome back returning shoppers with recommendations based on past purchases, and reward loyal customers with exclusive deals and personalized ideas for products they may have interest in based on previously viewed items. This also is a great opportunity to test new product offers or bundles. Finally, don’t pass on the chance to entice those who might abandon their cart with discounts or free shipping to close the sale. Sometimes the smallest offer can make a big difference in your metrics.
3. Sell creatively. Once you understand your customer’s preferences, interests and habits, you can suggestive sell in ways that are truly helpful. Did your customer just buy home theater speakers? Chances are the person is considering upgrading the living room/family room and would consider suitable accessories. Educational materials, resupplies of consumables, and product bundles are all options. So are “intrasite deals” with retail partners; if you sell digital devices, for example, consider a deal with a software vendor to increase interest in both companies.
4. Maintain cross-channel consistency: Presenting a unified front across all marketing campaigns is important to maintaining brand consistency and ensuring shoppers feel comfortable with a familiar shopping experience. Ensure your campaigns are consistent across the Web, email, social media, display and in-store advertising, and double-check that the display is consistent on multiple devices. Your customers are already moving from device to device while shopping, and a disjointed experience can quickly confuse them, and result in lost sales.
5. Go mobile: The proliferation of mobile devices means that more people than ever are shopping online using a smartphone or tablet, giving you even more opportunity to engage these shoppers with your brand Optimize your site for tablet and mobile viewing, and with speed and usability features suitable for touch-screen shopping. Responsive design is an incredibly important function that is expected by today’s connected consumers. Limit the use of Flash and minimize scrolling to make your site compatible with the widest range of devices. Consider creating a mobile app for your store and an email or MSM/text-message opt-in program that directs customers to your store.
6. Maximize marketing and merchandising: Now is a good time to overhaul your site to capture and maintain your customers’ attention throughout the year. Put special offers, purchasing options, etc., in front of shoppers quickly. Add special landing pages to your site, create shopping tabs that make it easy to navigate to special deals, and offer shopping assistance, like top seller lists and volume discounts. A countdown timer to get the best deals, free shipping or other key “calls to action” adds urgency to spur sales. Keep it fresh, and commit to a testing program. The data you gather will guide your future merchandising and marketing efforts.
7. Get customers’ attention fast — and hold it: Getting and holding site visitors’ attention has to happen quickly — and it must be “sticky.” Make sure your site loads quickly and delivers compelling, well-organized content to snag fickle shoppers. Ensure your site navigation and linking strategy are up to the task, and place items that receive high traffic “above the fold” to keep customers from having to scroll too far to find what they need.
8. Deliver an outstanding experience to every customer: The bottom line: Customers expect a hassle-free, secure shopping experience. And, since they have many, many options to choose from, it’s absolutely critical that you meet or exceed their expectations to stand out among the competition. Be bold in promoting product guarantees, price match offers and a fair returns policy, and always prominently display security information to give shoppers added peace of mind. Offering 24/7 customer service and multiple language support via phone and email also goes a long way to making your customers feel like you have their best interests in mind. Consumers can provide you invaluable feedback regarding their experiences on your store. Engage them and measure their satisfaction to tune your overall store experience.
Whether it’s Dec. 14, Feb. 14 or July 14, the basics of high-quality online retailing remain the same. It goes without saying that a well-stocked inventory and solid logistics system for order fulfillment is important. However, it’s also crucial to position your e-commerce business for maximum profits by addressing new shopping trends, extending new sales opportunities, optimizing your site for mobile shopping, and targeting customers with relevant, compelling messages and contact options. Give your e-commerce site this kind of attention, and you’ll succeed as that “smart merchant” who ultimately wins the sale.
Brad LaRock is VP global client marketing services at Digital River, revenue growth experts in global cloud commerce that build and manage online businesses for software and game publishers, consumer electronics manufacturers, distributors, online retailers and affiliates email@example.com.