Are you ready for Christmas 2012?
John Hayes is currently EMEA Business Development Executive at iContact and previously worked at multichannel management specialists ChannelAdvisor. He’s seen many Christmas seasons come and go and today looks forward to Christmas 2012 which should already be at the front of all retailers minds.
Oh, I Wish It Could Be Q4 Everyday!
There are a couple of very good reasons for this.
Firstly, according to the Office of National Statistics, British online shoppers spent upwards of £837million every week during December 2011. Who wouldn’t want a slice of this rather lucrative festive pie?
And secondly, and this is equally important and perhaps the main reason why us techie folk start worrying about Christmas a little earlier each year, making the most of your Christmas ecommerce sales takes a hell of a lot of planning.
Optimising your stock levels, campaign strategies, marketing budget, staffing resources, etc. etc. (the list is undoubtedly longer than you might think) is quite a project, especially if you want to be rewarded with a significant profit at the end of all your hard work.
But be warned, a great Q4 trading period isn’t just about generating Christmas profits. In fact, with all the extra marketing spend, increased competition forcing margins down and the costs of scaling up your operation for the Christmas period, profits can be more difficult to achieve than you might imagine.
However, if you get Q4 right, it will set you up for the rest of the year and help make your next couple of Christmas campaigns potentially more lucrative.
Most online retailers, quite rightly, will be planning on increasing their marketing spend in the run up to Christmas. But as many retailers will be painfully aware, the cost of generating that additional visibility will also be on the rise as competition floods marketplaces and pushes up prices on the paid search and comparison shopping sites.
There is nothing wrong with increasing your advertising budgets at a busy time, but before you do, I recommend you focus on some other key areas of your business. These areas are conversion, customer data and logistics.
Is your website actually costing you money?
There is no point in paying to send traffic to a less-than-optimised website or product listing. Before spending another penny, take a good long look at your website/listings and ask yourself the following question: Would I buy from a site like this?
Be honest with yourself. Do your product pages look dated? Is your design amateurish? Do your photos look like they were taken with a Box Brownie? Does your content lack the polish it needs to actively sell your products? Are any additional costs (such as delivery) hidden from view? Is your checkout clunky and difficult to understand? If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll probably be turning more trade away than you are actually winning and this can be expensive. Take this as an opportunity to fix your site now before it eats away any more of your margins.
When optimising your site, you should also plan for non-sales related conversions. These could be generating email registrations, recruiting social media followers or soliciting question via email, chat or phone.
The bottom line is, make it as easy as possible for your potential customers to do business with you and your marketing spend will suddenly become more efficient (perhaps even returning a positive ROI).
How well do you know each other?
Acquistion marketing (such as PPC, Comparison Shopping and even good old eBay) can be expensive and have a significant impact on your profitability (particularly if your conversion strategy isn’t great). Retention marketing (such as email marketing) is much cheaper and if executed properly will generate some of the highest ROI figures of any marketing strategy.
If email marketing has been sitting on your ecommerce wish list for some time, remember this: If you are paying acquisition marketing fees to sell to your existing customers – you are throwing money down the drain.
Get your email marketing strategy in place NOW. iContact recently produced a free 30-Day Starter Kit (www.icontact.com/email-marketing) which gives you all the tools you need to set up an account, upload and segment your customer data, and start sending targeted and engaging campaigns in time for the Christmas rush.
Scaling up, scaling down and getting stuff out the door
The term “logistics” incorporates a whole multitude of tasks that are vital to the success of you ecommerce operation. Sadly, things like warehousing, packaging, couriers, etc. are not deemed very sexy and probably don’t get enough attention in the ecommerce press or blogosphere.
If you don’t have the capabilities to scale up at Christmas – and this could mean finding additional warehouse space, picking and packing staff, customer service agents – then Christmas can be a stressful and even reputation busting time.
Services like Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) can help you take some (or even all) of the logistic pressures off your business, allowing you to concentrate on marketing and customer services.
But what about all those unforeseen issues such as weather and industrial action?
Ask any eCommerce operation about the winter of 2010, when heavy snows virtually closed the country down for weeks and snarled up deliveries prior to the big day, and they’ll tell you it’s always good to have a backup plan.
Christmas is a huge opportunity for online retailers and if you get it right can be extremely lucrative. Get it wrong and all your hard work might as well go out with the Christmas tree come the New Year. How are you gearing up for the Christmas rush? Use the comments box below to share your experiences of the busy Q4 sales period.