August 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Preparing to bag a successful holiday season

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“Retailers will be using Facebook and Twitter to promote themselves this holiday season, so they ought to be thinking about using those channels to promote new payment options, and any incentives they will be tying in to the use of those options,” says Heide Lasiewski, vice president of strategic development for ClearCommerce. (ClearCommerce is a part of Certegy, an FIS Company). “It’s another way to drive home awareness of alternative payment options to consumers.”

Social e-mail

With many retailers creating their own Facebook fan pages, where their loyal customers go for deals, product information and previews of coming products or sales, the extension of promotional tie-ins through e-mail is a natural evolution of social networks when it comes to multichannel marketing.

Cutting through the glut of holiday e-mail is a big challenge for all retailers in terms of garnering consumer attention. One way to get consumers to respond to e-mail is to include links to the retailer’s Facebook fan page that consumers can download to share holiday photos or play a holiday-themed game that rewards them with discounts and other incentives for holiday purchases, or to a widget that prompts interest in repeated visits to get updates on the promotion or drives traffic to an e-commerce site.

The subject line is also crucial in prompting consumers to open e-mail, and subject lines that highlight fan page events or promotions can boost open rates. “Social media is so popular with consumers, retailers can’t afford not to find ways to leverage it and tie it in to their e-mail campaigns this holiday season,” says Yesmail’s Kleweno. “Retailers should be pulling out all the stops in their e-mail marketing this holiday season.”

Measuring the ROI

As popular as social networks are among consumers, retailers are still struggling to get their arms around how social media directly impacts sales. The most common method of tracking the return on investment from social media is to track the number of consumers visiting the retailer’s fan page that click through directly to the web site or that make a purchase through a micro-store on the fan page.

What’s more difficult is tracking consumers that visit the fan page, leave it and then later click onto the retailer’s web store via another navigation path. These visits, known as view-throughs, can be captured using sophisticated techniques, such as by employing analytic impression tracking unique to each widget, video or event deployed on a retailer’s fan page. A cookie placed on the consumer’s computer or mobile device tells the retailer that the consumer previously visited the merchant’s fan page or viewed a particular YouTube video prior to the consumer arriving at the retailer’s web store.

Using that data, Coremetrics can compare the performance of each social media channel, such as Facebook or YouTube, as well as how those sites compare in terms of finding new visitors or generating sales to display ads, paid search, organic search, e-mail and other online marketing and ad channels.

“To understand how social media impacts ROI, retailers need to be able to track how it directly and indirectly drives traffic and compare those same metrics to other ad and marketing channels,” says Coremetrics’ Squire. “If retailers are to keep budgeting for social media, they need to know if it delivers the desired results and what social media sites deliver the best results.”

Get the goods

Social media and m-commerce are just two pieces of retailer’s holiday merchandising and marketing strategies. The last thing any retailer wants is to be caught short on inventory or stuck with large amounts of inventory after the holiday season ends. Hence, inventory management tools are a core element for any successful holiday season.

“Retailers need to be sure they have inventory to support their marketing and merchandising efforts,” says SpeedFC’s Zisk. “Without a plan to make the sure the merchandise consumers want this holiday season is available, they are at risk of losing sales.”

SpeedFC helps retailers determine needed inventory by providing historical sales data around merchandise categories, such as electronics or apparel, inventory turnover rates, holiday sales in prior years, sales for the latest product releases by category, and how products merchants carry have sold through the first part of 2010.

“Insight in to past and current sales trends and what kind of demand retailers can expect for the holidays is crucial for retailers to be sure they have the inventory to support consumer demand,” says Zisk. “Retailers need to be able to make intelligent choices when it comes to ordering holiday inventory because inventory planning for the holidays starts before summer, so retailers want to take as much of the guesswork as possible out of the ordering equation.”

Closely tied to inventory management is effective use of content management applications that arrange merchandise on an e-commerce site in a way that draws consumers in and promotes sales.

Retailers will want to feature on home pages and category pages items they expect to be hot sellers that are likely to lead consumers to explore the retailer’s site. Retailers can back those items by promoting accessories as the consumer moves deeper through the product category.

“As retailers expand their inventory for the holidays they need to think more about how to arrange the order of products displayed so they can get the products ordered in anticipation of demand in front of the consumer right way and throughout the web store,” says Zisk. “Inventory and content management are related.”

Fighting fraud

But hot sellers don’t just appeal to honest shoppers—they also attract criminals bent on committing fraud. Criminals typically target merchandise that is in big demand by consumers with a high resale value. Two products the bad guys are likely to target this holiday season are Apple’s iPhone 4 smartphone and iPad tablet computer.

The challenge facing retailers is how to detect and reject fraudulent transactions without creating rules so strict they prevent good customers from completing their purchases. Successfully balancing these needs requires huge amounts of transaction data from across multiple sales channels and payment types because criminals rotate fraud schemes between offline and online channels, and among payment types, to avoid detection.

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