June 24, 2010, 1:31 PM

Holiday newbies

Online retailers can snag new shoppers by improving site tools and features.

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The holiday shopping season will bring new shoppers to retail web sites, which means that no merchant should make the mistake of thinking all those visitors are familiar with how the site works, says Brian Gallagher, director of strategy services at technology and services firm GSI Commerce.

With fewer than 90 business days until the start of the holiday season, Gallagher recommends that retailers start preparing for that peak shopping period by improving tools and features that make it as convenient as possible for shoppers to find gifts.

One important tool is cross-selling. “There is a lot of opportunity there to drive average order value,” says Gallagher. For example, an apparel retailer could offer shoppers the option of buying entire outfits or provide product information for coordinated wardrobe pieces. Retailers can also suggest other products at checkout or post-checkout, adds Gallagher.

Retailers also should evaluate the shipping options that they offer holiday shoppers, who usually have multiple recipients on holiday lists. Giving shoppers the option to ship items to multiple addresses with a single checkout offers a hassle-free way to purchase gifts, he says.

Another important feature that appeals to holiday shoppers is gift wrapping. “When speaking of the convenience factor, don’t forget to make it special for people receiving the gift,” notes Gallagher.

Something that many gift givers look for are gift cards, says Gallagher. He recommends that retailers offer those in convenient places and several varieties. During the last holiday season, Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., No. 37 in the Top 500, offered three versions of gift cards, Gallagher says.

Some other simple changes that can yield big returns are the prominent display of free shipping promotions or liberal return policies. These changes underscore convenience and take away lingering doubts about purchases, he says.

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