It’s clear a thought through, well executed multi-channel strategy can have huge benefits for a retailer’s bottom-line – but how can sellers optimise their use of online channels when it comes to big seasonal shopping events? With Christmas fast-approaching, Keith Bird, CEO at e-commerce software supplier, eSellerPro, explores some strategic planning techniques to help online retailers sell more this festive season
Christmas, Mother’s Day, Diwali, Valentine’s Day, back-to-school…the number and diversity of seasonal events in the retail calendar seems to be endless. For small and mid-sized online sellers, there is a huge opportunity to market products that match the events for which their customers will be making purchases. After all, we are clearly in a consumer-driven era that is all about convenience; giving the customer what they want, when they want it, through their channel of choice. But how can that fluid process of continually updating and marketing different products be managed effectively, on an on-going basis, across multiple channels?
Getting the mix of products and price points right at the correct time of year can be a huge challenge for retailers, especially if they’re operating across multiple online channels in multiple markets. How soon is too soon to list a seasonal product? When should a marketing push start? How should post-event discounts be managed? Of course, there is no single definitive set of rules that suits all businesses but the key, regardless of the size of your business, or who your target market is, is planning. This involves getting an in-depth view of what has happened in previous years and thoroughly understanding your audience.
The first step in this process is reviewing the past year and looking at what you want to achieve in the coming year. A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats analysis (SWOT) is a great, relatively simple way of doing this. You might already have all of this information in your head, or noted down disparately, but bringing it all together in one place provides the perfect platform for a more strategic approach to selling more online. Only when you thoroughly understand exactly where your business sits with regards to competitors and the wider market can you put a solid, meaningful 12-month plan in place.
January is also when you should be planning for the coming year from a logistical and inventory perspective. Rather than viewing each seasonal event you’re catering for individually, retailers should take time out at the beginning of each calendar year to map out the coming 12 months. For each calendar event, plot back 60 days – this is when you should have identified the entire inventory you’re going to need. 45 days in advance you should have the majority of that inventory listed and available, and by 30 days to go you should plan to have 100% of that inventory available. By 15 days ahead of the event, 505 of that stock should already have been liquidated.
Also think beyond the event. We always advise retailers to pull seasonal content pages immediately after the event and have the next pages pre-planned so they can be switched to go live straight away. Working across multiple marketplaces, it’s also vital to have a good solution in place to keep inventory up to date across all your channels. With this structured approach to inventory planning, it gives sellers an at-a-glance snapshot of key events through the year and what the priorities need to be in terms of inventory and marketing.
This kind of structured approach is also key from a marketing perspective. With the rise of social media, email marketing is increasingly being neglected, but its value to smaller retailers cannot be underestimated, it remains a key promotional channel. For example, in the run-up to Christmas, retailers should be sending their first mailers to their database this week (45 days to go) informing them about the festive stock available. With 30 days to go (w/c 21 November 2011) you could consider sending out discount offers via email and when there’s just 15 days to go (w/c 5 December 2011) it’s a great time to be offering free shipping or further product discounts.
Beyond email, it’s also worth considering other quick wins when it comes to marketing and promotions. Keyword optimisation on product listings is simple to do and our research shows, if done properly, it can lead to a 35%-55% uplift in traffic on eBay alone. You can also make sure that custom pages are optimised for seasonal selling, with each viewed as a separate landing page. You should also make sure each of your listings follows best-practice – ie using all the variation and item-specific fields your website, eBay, Amazon and other channels allow. Using a selection of good quality images, short snappy descriptors and detailed shipping and ‘about us’ information all help to make the browsing experience as simple and engaging as possible for the customer.
Social media can also have a significant role to play in customer acquisition, engagement and retention. Engaging with your customer-base year-round using tools such as Twitter and Facebook gives online retailers the opportunity to put information about news products and offers directly into the hands of your customers. If managed well, social media channels will also open-up a two way dialogue, giving customers the opportunity to provide feedback and help you to grow your business strategically – with customers at the centre of your planning.
It’s also important to remember to keep your messages consistent across all channels through which you’re selling and communicating – whether that be your website, third-party retail channels, social media or physical and electronic mailers.
Essentially, customers want choice and they want convenience – they want access to the products they want, on their channel of choice, at the right time, at the right price. If you’re not able to meet those requirements, there’s a serious risk of losing out to competitors that can. It’s clear the world of online retail is changing fast, and it’s not just the big high street names that are being affected. Whilst competition has never been so fierce, the opportunity for retailers to reach, sell to and engage with potential customers is huge – and growing. With a practical and pragmatic approach to seasonal selling, smaller online retailers can really capitalise on this increasingly consumer-driven era. Now is not only the right time to review what and how you’re selling this Christmas – come January, why not take a few hours out of your day to sit down and start working on that 2012 master plan?