June 13, 2010, 2:44 PM

It’s never too early to start preparing for the holiday season

Retailers should start preparing strategies to reach holiday shoppers, IRCE attendees are told.

With 98 business days left before holiday shoppers start scouring web sites for perfect presents, retailers should be readying their own checklists with strategies to reach those consumers, said Brian Gallagher, director of strategic services at GSI Commerce, at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition last week in Chicago.

Gallagher told attendees yesterday at a session entitled "What you need to do to get ready for holiday shopping 2010" that it's important for merchants to understand who is likely to be shopping their sites.

“The holiday shopper is not necessarily going to be the same person shopping on your site at other times of the year," said Gallagher. "Assume they have no idea about what they're going to buy."

Retailers can facilitate purchases by setting up gift centers on their sites where visitors can search by such characteristics as age, gender or price points, he added. For example, Toys 'R' Us Inc., No. 37 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, featured a Find the Perfect Gift tool on its home page during the last holiday season, Gallagher noted.

Retailers can also help visitors find products by improving site navigation, he added. "Picking up spelling mistakes by the search engine or do synonym mapping," Gallagher recommended. 

 He also recommended that retailers:

 ·         Improve product content and imagery

  • Consider ratings and reviews
  • Assure customers that gifts will be delivered by certain times to remove any uncertainty
  • Feature hassle-free returns or free shipping offers prominently

"Give gift givers confidence that they're going to be able to return the product," he said.

 Gallagher said that retailers should also consider offering ways to pay beyond credit and debit cards. "Alternate payment usage has gone up year after year. If you don't offer them already, think about Bill Me Later and PayPal," he told attendees.

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