June 23, 2011, 10:23 AM

Retailers need backup plans for holiday promotions

Retailers need plans to deal with holiday promotions that fall flat.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

Lauren Freedman speaking last week at IRCE 2011.

There’s no way to know what will work in online retail, says Lauren Freedman, president of the research and consulting firm The E-tailing Group Inc. What draws shoppers to one e-retailer might not work for the next. And that means that retailers have to be prepared for when their holiday promotions fail to ignite sales.

“Retailers need to develop a range of promotional strategies in mind,” she says. “They need to save a few in their back pocket for when something they thought would work doesn’t work.” Those types of strategic shifts happen all the time, she says.

For instance, 1-800-Flowers was the first online retailer to launch a store on Facebook as a tab on its Facebook page, and gained a lot of publicity for the initiative. However, the store failed to gain traction and, prior to Valentine’s Day, which is one of the retailer’s major holidays, the web florist changed its approach and began pushing out special offers that feature select items to its fans’ news feeds. Fans can complete a purchase without leaving the news feed.

Key to retailers’ success this holiday season is finding the right way to communicate to consumers, says Freedman. “Retailers need to think about how they can reach people in new channels,” she says. And mobile is the most important new channel.

Having a mobile commerce site is growing increasingly important, she says, as more consumers use their smartphones to shop and browse and compare prices.

“People are willing to take the time to research their purchases, which is easy to do on a smartphone,” she says. “They’ll do anything to find the right price.”

For bricks-and-mortar retailers, cross-channel strategies—such as prominently featuring tools to check whether a product is in stock or the location of the nearest store—are important, as stores have to differentiate themselves from their online and offline competition. Freedman says, “They need to think to themselves, ‘Why would a shopper buy from us rather than someone else?’”

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