July 10, 2008, 12:00 AM

For holiday planning, think multi-channel, shipping and new practices—now

Aligning efforts between store and online channels, ensuring shipping requirements are clear, and using successful new strategies should be considered today to prepare for the holiday shopping season, one expert says.

It’s Christmas in July. Or at least, retailers should be thinking long and hard about the holiday season during the dog days of summer, says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant at J.C. Williams Group Ltd., a global retail consulting firm.

The all-important holiday shopping season requires retailers to plan ahead to achieve their goals and ensure smooth operations. Multi-channel retailers should begin by coordinating efforts between channels, Daugherty advises.

“The offline channel is planning print media, in-store signs, event promotions and more right now,” she says. “The web team should work with key people offline both in marketing and merchandising to coordinate their efforts.”

The difference in planning cycles between the online and store channels can be extreme, Daugherty adds. E-commerce staff today can be planning ways to extend the presence of the web in stores during the holidays, she says. Holiday promotions in store can include messaging about the web channel, including reasons to shop the e-commerce site such as the ability to shop 24/7, finding additional products not available in stores, saving time when time is of the essence, and buy online/pick up in store.

One hotspot during the holidays is shipping, and retailers should be studying the best ways to handle what is key to holiday shopping, Daugherty advises.

“Merchants always get hung up on shipping dates for the holidays,” she says. “When are your cut-offs, when will you offer expedited shipping? You have to coordinate it with your order management, call center and other departments. This needs to be unified across the entire business.”

And an important factor not to be overlooked in planning ahead for the holidays is what has been added to the e-retailing arsenal since last year’s holiday season that could be used this year, Daugherty says.

“Have you done new shipping promotions, have you added wish lists, have you tried new marketing campaigns, have you branched out into social networking, have you used customer reviews in marketing efforts,” she says. “Anything you used over the course of this year to date that has proven successful can be put into practice for the upcoming holiday season.”

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