October 12, 2011, 4:10 PM

Free shipping offers can lead to more holiday sales

Forrester Research also suggests that retailers have live chat in place.

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Shoppers will be on the hunt for free shipping offers more than ever this holiday season, according to Forrester Research Inc.

“Free shipping was likely one of the key drivers that helped the 2010 season achieve such extraordinary growth,” Forrester analyst Diane Clarkson said in a holiday readiness webinar this week. More than half of all transactions included free shipping, she said.

 “We anticipate that free shipping is going to be even more important this year because expectations were embedded last year that free shipping would be available at least for a minimal period of time and these expectations are not going to subside,” Clarkson says.

In addition to free shipping offers, Forrester also recommends retailers focus on removing barriers to shoppers completing their purchases this holiday season.

Some suggestions include:

• Avoid requiring registration to purchase, as shoppers often forget their usernames and password and can become frustrated with the extra time it takes to fill out a new registration form.

• Consider alternative payments such as PayPal.

• Ensure the checkout process is simple.

• Include key information about returns, exchanges and shipping costs up front, as opposed to buried in separate sections on the web site.

Live chat can help retailers to improve upon customer service, as many shoppers find it to be the simplest way to get quick answers to their questions, Clarkson said. Live chat is a feature that Forrester estimates garners 105% return on investment, as its cross-sell and up-sell potential can improve conversion and average order value.

Clarkson recommended choosing a live chat vendor that focuses on proactive chats based on sales, as opposed to a mere customer service feature. To better combat shopping cart abandonment, retailers should tailor their live chat service to activate at predetermined points during the shopping cycle, such as if a shopper is idle on a checkout page for too long.

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