July 31, 2011, 12:00 PM

Sponsored Supplement: Holiday hint

Last year's strategies won't work during the 2011 holiday season. Here are some tips on what will boost sales this year.

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The countdown has begun to the 2011 holiday season. If recent years are a guide, online retailers will be heavily promoting holiday sales well before Thanksgiving weekend. That gives web retailers three months to make any design changes to their web or mobile sites, and to prepare their marketing strategies.

Pulling out last year's playbook will be of limited value in 2011, because so much is changing in consumer behavior that will impact how shoppers research and buy gifts this holiday season. Among the biggest changes has been the growing use of sophisticated mobile phones and tablet computers, particularly Apple's iPad.

"Use of mobile devices, in particular the Android phone, iPhone and iPad, has exploded since the last holiday season," says John Squire, director of product management, Enterprise Marketing Management Group, IBM Industry Solutions. "From October 2010 to April 2011 the mobile channel as a percent of total web site sales grew from 3.4% to 6.5%. We expect mobile site traffic to be in double digits by the start of the holiday season."

Retailers will want to make sure their web sites look great on these mobile devices. And that's not the only way retailers can reach mobile consumers. Because mobile shoppers always have their smartphones with them, retailers can cater to them by displaying QR codes in-store, in print ads or on billboards; consumers can use their smartphones to scan those square codes, which are designed with grid-like patterns, to receive a coupon or more information about a special deal or product.

"Retailers can even design QR codes that connect mobile users to their web site so they can make the purchase then and there," says Squire. "QR codes will become an extremely popular, broad and personalized marketing tool during this upcoming holiday season."

Digital coupons

One thing that will remain the same this holiday shopping season is that consumers are going to want bargains. With digital couponing rapidly eclipsing the hoary practice of clipping paper coupons, retailers can't afford to miss the boat on this trend.

Creating a digital coupon center that online shoppers can access once they place an item in their shopping cart can help e-retailers boost their average ticket. "A lot of times when consumers get to checkout or check items in their shopping cart, they may have second thoughts about the price or be thinking about how they can get a better deal," says Squire. "Offering customers information on all the valid deals available while they are still in the shopping cart grabs their attention and can help keep them from abandoning the site."

Squire adds that Coremetrics has worked with retailers that split-tested highlighting a coupon center on the home page and in the shopping cart and found the latter to be more effective.

Offering gift cards for use after the holiday season with a purchase over a specific amount is another way retailers can entice consumers with deals. "This is a way to drive post-holiday sales," says Squire. "Consumers still feel like they are getting more value and are likely to spend more than the value of the card when they use it."

Creating gift centers featuring specific price points, such as items under $25, or gifts segmented by gender, make it easier for busy consumers to find last-minute gifts or zero in on gifts within their budget. "Busy consumers prefer the retailer show them what's available, rather than having to browse the site to find the right gift," Squire adds.

Nor should retailers overlook using Facebook and Twitter to promote themselves this holiday season. Social media is an effective way to promote gift guides, deals and sales, or to direct consumers to product videos.

"Social media is a great place to reuse many of the promotional assets retailers create for the holidays, because users of social media tend to be predisposed to respond to offers though social media and purchase. Plus, they are likely to take offers viral," says Squire. "There is no shortage of ideas for how retailers can boost their sales this holiday season."

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