April 24, 2008, 12:00 AM

When planning holiday recommendations, have a back-up plan, expert says

It’s never too early to plan for the peak holiday shopping season, and e-retailers should act now to ensure their product recommendation engines can dynamically switch to new products after the hottest ones sell out, Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez says.

It’s never too early to plan for the peak holiday shopping season, and e-retailers should act now to ensure their product recommendation engines can dynamically switch to alternate products after the hottest ones sell out, Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez says.

“A traditional holiday season challenge is figuring what products will be hot, but it’s also a challenge for online retailers to continually make recommendations,” he says. “Their recommendation engines must be dynamic enough so that when they sell out of one recommended product they can immediately offer something else in its place.”

A retailer selling a popular product like Apple Inc.’s iPod Nano media player, for instance, should configure its site search and navigation and cross-selling engines to present the most popular alternatives in case a run on the Nano depletes inventory. If a retail site shows the Nano is out of stock, it better present the next best thing to make it less likely shoppers will leave for another retail site, Alvarez adds.

Alvarez also notes that retailers should consider new Web 2.0 tools to help shoppers find the exact product that meets their needs. In a new report he’s making available this month, “Nine Web 2.0 Tools to Boost E-Commerce Sales,” Alvarez notes that tools like Ajax-enabled sliders-or bars that shoppers can manipulate with a mouse to show a broad variety of product options-put more control in the hands of shoppers to choose from multiple configurations and combinations of products.

Combining the use of such technology with effective merchandising and inventory management can help retailers maximize sales volume in a tight market by providing a better shopping experience, he adds. “Online sales are slowing for some organizations as buyers grow increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied with the web shopping experience,” Alvarez says in the report. The most important step retailers can take, he adds, is take advantage of new tools for helping shoppers view and find products.

Alvarez is speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 9-12 in Chicago, in a session entitled Making your e-commerce technology shopping list, in the From Entrepreneur to Enterprise Workshop, 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m., June 9.

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