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Top 10 Tips to Boost Holiday Online Sales

BY Marianne Wilson

The holidays are fast approaching, and experts across the board agree that online sales will be crucial to retailer performance. To help online merchants optimize the expected uptick in holiday traffic, e-commerce provider Volusion has released its “101 Tips to Boost Holiday Sales.” The tips range from logistical improvements in shipping to innovative marketing tactics.

Here are Volusion’s Top 10 suggestions:

1. Ensure the mobile-optimized version of your online store has its logo and the categories are arranged properly.

2. Share holiday discounts and highlight featured products daily via social media — this creates a sense of urgency and helps extend your online reach.

3. Enable social sharing features such as Add This and the Facebook “Like” button on your product pages. This allows your site visitors to plant the idea for the perfect gift directly on various social media pages.

4. Update your homepage graphic or slideshow to be completely holiday focused, pointing customers to holiday-related categories or your top-selling products. (Volusion has released free holiday graphics [onlinebusiness.volusion.com/articles/free-holiday-graphics-for-your-online-store] to help get customers in the mood for shopping.)

5. Never, ever let holiday shoppers be surprised by shipping charges once they reach the checkout page. Explicitly state the shipping cost before they push the final “Checkout” button. Surprise shipping charges are the No. 1 reason for abandoned shopping carts.

6. Don’t skimp on the time spent analyzing orders for fraud. With an influx of orders, it becomes easy to quickly process them without looking for the tell-tale signs of fraudulent activity.

7. Create bundles or gift baskets of your products and create a specific category for them. You can also place these bundles in other categories you already have.

8. Offer exclusive discounts for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

9. Resubmit your site map sooner than later with your new holiday products and categories so search engines can index and rank them before the selling season takes off.

10. Submit your products to Comparison Shopping Engines. If you’re new to the game, get started by listing products on free search engines such as Google Product Search, Bing Shopping and TheFind. Once you do some testing to see which perform the best, consider moving to paid CSEs or hiring a CSE management service. While not as many use CSEs as typical search engines, those who do use this type of product search are more likely to buy.

Click here for the complete list.

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Results improve at ODP, search on for CEO

BY CSA STAFF

Two days after announcing the resignation of chairman and CEO Steve Odland, Office Depot on Wednesday announced improved results for the third quarter ended Sept. 25 despite a challenging economic climate which pressured sales. The company said it achieved third-quarter profits of $54 million, reversing a prior-year loss of $413 million, while earnings per share rebounded to 18 cents compared with a prior-year loss of $1.51. Total sales declined 4.3% to roughly $2.9 billion, including the unfavorable effect of foreign exchange rates.

The huge swing in profits was not as extreme as it might seem due to the inclusion of tax and interest expense benefits during the current third quarter, which caused a 15-cent-per-share favorable impact compared with a prior-year period when reported profits were negatively impacted by $1.43 due to charges for deferred tax asset valuation allowances, the reversal of tax benefits and restructuring activities.

Board member Neil Austrian, who became interim CEO on Monday when the departure of Odland was announced, said the company was executing very well across the entire enterprise and is well positioned for a rebound. He also singled out the company’s North American Retail Division for its best sales performance since the fourth quarter of 2006. The 1,150 retail division reported same-store sales that were flat with the prior year and operating profits that declined to $30 million compared with $35 million. Profits were pressured as the company engaged in a highly promotional and competitive back-to-school season, which prompted increased advertising expenditures.

In addition to improved profitability, the company highlighted its free cash flow of $109 million and cash on hand of $679 million at the end of the quarter.

“We are pleased with our strong cash flow performance in the third quarter, which was driven by both earnings and good working capital management," said Mike Newman, Office Depot’s CFO. "We have been executing very well across the entire enterprise as we focus on returning to sales growth and delivering improved profit as we go forward."

Austrian indicated the company’s liquidity and positioning in the marketplace will enable the company to attract a quality executive to replace Odland although he declined to offer a timetable during a conference call with analysts.

“I don’t think we want to set a timetable because we want to find the best person we can.”

Austrian also said the timing of Odland’s departure was unrelated to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to inappropriate communications with investors.

“It has nothing to do with the SEC issue. It is unfortunate that it has come out that way, but it is not the facts,” Austrian said.

The change in leadership is intended to provide a spark to a company positioned to capitalize on improved economic conditions.

“We want a hall of fame guy. We want someone who is a proven leader and has run a major business and can grow revenue,” Austrian said regarding the search for Odland’s successor. “We are not going to cost cut our way of the problem.”

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B&N to sell e-reader at Books-A-Million

BY CSA STAFF

NEW YORK – Barnes & Noble announced a strategic partnership with Books-A-Million, to bring its NOOK e-readers to Books-A-Million’s 229 stores as the company’s exclusive e-reading devices. The announcement marks the first partnership of its kind between two major bookselling retailers in the United States, Barnes & Noble reported.

“We’re excited to work with another bookselling leader to introduce our bestselling NOOK e-reading line to an even greater audience of readers,” said Chris Peifer, VP digital business development at Barnes & Noble. “Our NOOK products will support Books-A-Million customers’ love of reading by providing access to the most expansive catalog of digital bestsellers, magazines in vivid color and children’s picture books.”

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