The tools build on the vast amount of information Google knows about consumers.
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An e-commerce site that offers coupons or promotional codes should make sure consumers know it. Many coupon sites let e-retailers submit coupon codes for free, such as RetailMeNot.com and CouponChief.com, even if they are not in pay relationships, so use them, Hernandez says. Retailers also should list promotional codes prominently on their sites, such as in the home page header and on payment pages.
If a shopper uses an invalid code and abandons the purchase, send her an e-mail with a valid code in it if possible, Nicholls says. "This is somebody who is clearly looking for a deal and captured a code from an affiliate," he says. "The cost to getting someone to that point in the funnel is expensive, sending them a valid code that convinces them to purchase is not."
Tip #7 Find a free delivery break-even point
Let's get real about delivery. Santa may deliver for free on Christmas morning but UPS and FedEx do not. But consumers love free delivery like Santa loves cookies, so e-retailers should find a way to offer it in some form. Your competition will be offering it, too. A recent survey from The E-tailing Group Inc. found that 86% of online retailers plan to offer some form of free shipping this holiday season.
The key is to determine the break-even point where absorbing the cost for shipping still leaves an acceptable profit margin. For an e-retailer whose average order value is $45 a "free shipping on orders greater than $49" offer can induce many shoppers to throw in one more item to get free shipping. That means incremental revenue for the e-retailer and a satisfied customer.
Tip #8 Tweet your way to holiday sales
80% of U.S. online users engage with social media, according to Forrester Research Inc. If you're an e-retailer that hasn't yet tried using blogs, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, you are missing out on sales-raising opportunities, says Adam Boyden, president of Conduit Inc., a company that offers a platform for publishers to develop social media applications.
Even though the peak holiday shopping season is around the corner, there are still several ways to use social media now to position your e-retail site as an authority; the biggest investment is the time it takes to do it. "First, come at it from the consumer angle. What are their problems? They have no time, need information and want to know the best deals available. Your job in using social media is to make it easy for them to get that," he says.
He suggests e-retailers distribute discount codes through Facebook and Twitter and create relevant gift guides—such as a toy e-retailer offering age-appropriate toy selections—to post on the e-retailer's blog and to send to other bloggers who write about the retailer's category. If an e-retailer doesn't have much of a social media following, Boyden suggests running a quick sweepstakes or offer that encourages consumers to Like an e-retailer's Facebook page or to follow it on Twitter. He says such promotions can quickly boost social media engagement with an e-retailer's storefront. For example, Invisible Fence of the Midwest and Canada ran a vacation sweepstakes that encouraged Facebook Likes this fall; it increased its Likes by 260% in just three weeks.
Tip #9 Spend money to make money
When paid search-generated traffic and sales rise, so should e-retailers' search investment, says Matt Lawson, vice president of marketing at Marin Software, a search marketing firm. Planning a paid search boost schedule that shows when an e-retailer should increase paid search spending can help. Lawson says e-retailers can create a rough estimate of how customers will behave this holiday season by analyzing last year's behavior. For example, online shoppers do their most shopping during the holidays on Sundays and Mondays, and retailers will do well to adjust their search bidding accordingly. That may mean bidding more on a keyword on prime shopping days.
"Behavior changes post-Thanksgiving and so do conversion rates," he says. "Understanding the value of every click you acquire and bidding accordingly can have a big effect." E-retailers also should set alerts that tie their paid search terms to inventory levels so they can pause keyword bids when inventory runs low or goes out of stock. "E-retailers shouldn't waste money in paid search paying for clicks they can't convert," he says.
Tip #10 Searching for sales
An online retailer should keep in mind that someone searching for a gift on a site may know less about the category than the retailer's regular customers. Hernandez sells auto manuals and how-to books at TheMotorBookstore.com—and the casual gift buyer may not know much about how to find those items.
In order to figure out what terms such shoppers might use, he suggests polling friends and associates about how they would search for a particular item. Then the retailer can experiment with bidding on those terms for paid search ads. "Search terms that are a little more obscure can be both affordable and profitable," he says. And for shoppers struggling to find that perfect gift, Lawson says holiday shopper-friendly keywords, such as "gift card," also should get a boost in an e-retailer's search budgets.
Retailers that think like the consumers who visit their sites around the holidays—and who recognize that those shoppers may be quite different from those who visit the rest of the year—can pick up sales they might otherwise have missed. And it doesn't cost anything to think.