October 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Harder sell, softer landing

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E-mail is retailers’ top marketing and advertising tool this Christmas, especially segmented campaigns that target groups with special offers. A total of 61.7% of merchants in the survey list more e-mail marketing as their best chance to reach shoppers, followed by paid search at 54.4%, 34.2% with direct mail, 23.3% with affiliate marketing, and 22.8% with social networking and alternative marketing such as blogs and really simple syndication. The survey also shows that retailers rely mostly on conventional marketing to drive Christmas web traffic and sales and less so on third-party channels. For instance, 45.7% of companies rate third-party shopping portals and engines as not very important to their holiday sales performance. 63.2% also reveal that leads from third-party shopping sites account for 5% or less of holiday sales.

“There are so many merchants offering the same merchandise at the lowest price this Christmas that to stand out a merchant needs to mix up their marketing and advertising in ways that make them look unique to shoppers,” says Johnson. “Some segments like apparel and toys can break out because they may have a limited supply of the latest fashion or toy, but it’s going to be tougher to do that in mass merchandise or consumer electronics.”

Some retailers are planning to differentiate themselves by implementing more advanced e-commerce features and functions, especially tools and programs that enhance product knowledge and expedite transaction processing. One-fourth of retailers in the survey are adding customer reviews in time for the start of serious Christmas shopping, while 26.9% are implementing faster check-out and order tracking, 17.1% are rolling out improved gift registries and wish lists, 15% have new shipping cost calculators and 14.5% now have product ratings.

Christmas bonus

Adding a major e-commerce feature or function is expensive and can take months to plan and implement. But industry analysts and researchers say the time and money spent on web site technology upgrades earlier in the year will pay off in December. “Better technology will be a huge differentiator among merchants this holiday shopping season,” says Donna Hoffman, co-director of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the University of California, Riverside. “Retailers that make product selection and order processing easy for shoppers are the ones that will look back in January at a better fourth quarter.”


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