The ecommerce retailer’s guide to driving online sales
Shopping—both the ways in which we go about it and the experiences we encounter in the process—has become more convenient, competitive, and personal. And while the way we shop has shifted over recent years, it’s evident that consumer spending isn’t slowing down any time soon—especially not during the holiday season.
In fact, holiday sales during November and December are forecasted between $843.4B – $859B, which is up 10.5% over 2020, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).
For online store specifically, sales are predicted to increase between 11% – 15% to a total of between $218.3B – $226.2B driven by online purchases.
With more people shopping online, online merchants have to constantly bear in mind some basic retail principles:
Be available where your customers want to make their purchaseSell the products they want to buy at a price they’re willing to payProvide outstanding customer serviceMarket to them with relevant messages and content they want to consume
Even with these basic principles, though, you still need a strategy and a game plan to stand out, be relevant, and drive success during the busiest and most competitive shopping time of the year—the holidays.
As you prepare your online store for the holiday season, you’ll have to optimize a variety of areas: Your website, emails, product assortment, promotional offers, and fulfillment options. These optimizations will be more important than ever as you get ready for an exceptionally competitive holiday season.
For this guide, we teamed up with our friends at MuteSix, Noticed, Swanky, The Taproom Agency, and Visiture, who are all experts in digital marketing, to help you learn more about how you can prepare your brand for the 2021 holiday marketing season.
Read on to learn
- What you need to know about the holiday shopping season this year
- How to set your goals and measure your performance
- How buyer personas can help you convert customers
- How to segment your audience and deliver a personalized experience
- How to merchandise and promote your products
- How to optimize your website for the holidays
- How to effectively use email and SMS marketing to drive more sales
What you need to know about the holiday shopping season
The 2021 holiday shopping season is going to pose unique challenges for online merchants.
New data privacy changes that came into effect in the last year have proven the importance of reducing reliance on third-party platforms and instead focusing on collecting Customer-First Data™.
Not to mention, continuing supply chain and distribution disruptions have highlighted just how important it is adapt, manage customer expectations, and create fail-safe systems around your marketing and business operations.
While these obstacles may present challenges for you, they aren’t stopping consumers from shipping. There’s no doubt that ecommerce will continue to grow and take up bigger pieces of the shopping pie, so it’s smart to invest in your ecommerce business and develop relationships with your customers now, ahead of the holidays, if you haven’t already done so.
Why? Because Cyber Weekend (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) impacts nearly all ecommerce businesses. Even if the holidays aren’t your peak selling season, it’s still one you can’t afford to ignore.
And as the holidays approach, retailers need a plan that takes into account all of the ways their customers want to purchase.
Nearly half (47%) of holiday shoppers plan to take advantage of sales or price discounts during the holiday season, according to an NRF consumer survey. Additionally, 49% of holiday shoppers will start browsing and buying before November in order to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping and to not miss out on key holiday items. This number is up from 42% of people who began holiday shopping before November in 2020.
Yet, in a year that’s been plagued with supply chain and logistical challenges, brands will need to be particularly attuned to consumer shopping habits and adjust their marketing strategies and messages to entice shoppers to make purchases earlier in order to receive them in time for the holidays this year.
Now is the time to build relationships with customers, new and existing, and to be nurturing all of the new customers who discovered your brand earlier this year.
60% of Cyber Weekend sales were driven by consumers who engaged with an email from a brand prior to Q3 that same year, according to Klaviyo data. Additionally, consumers who engaged with a brand’s email by clicking on it had a 10% greater average order value and accounted for 53% of total sales.
“It’s going to be very important for brands to start prospecting and looking for customers earlier. The marketplace for holiday advertising is going to be very crowded with a lot of brands making their shift to online. Brands need to get out there early and often to find new customers. As the fourth quarter comes along and as people are spending more money, consumers will know who those brands are and will be more willing to shop with them,” said Joshua Behr, director of ecommerce and digital marketing at the Amerex Group.
Read on to learn how to set your goals, measure your performance, and prepare your online business for the upcoming holiday season.
How to set your goals and measure your performance
Every online business needs a marketing plan. To make it a success, start by setting thoughtful goals and metrics—what do you want to achieve and how will you know you’ve done it?
Setting your goals and determining how you’ll measure your performance will help you drive your business strategy, improve your performance, and help you focus on the things that matter most to your growth.
Here are four steps you can take to set your goals and metrics for the holiday season:
1. Define your goal
Determining your number one goal for the holiday season will help you ensure that all of the strategies and tactics you put in place will lead you toward achieving that goal.
One common way to do this is to set SMART goals. They should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
Say you want to increase sales from repeat customers during the holidays. Using the SMART method, you could define your goal as, “I want to increase sales from customers who’ve previously made a purchase from me in the last year by 20% by December 31, 2021.”
“Another important question to ask yourself in order to set a goal is, ‘What percentage of sales have been made online this year and what percentage of sales are projected to be made online this year?’ More people than ever are shopping online this year, so look at your numbers from last year and consider the current ecommerce landscape in order to plan ahead for this year’s holiday season,” advises Sammy Tran, director of CRM, MuteSix.
2. Determine your metrics
With your goal in mind, what will it take to achieve it and how will you measure your success?
Set metrics for things like your revenue, website conversion rate, average order value, units per transaction, email open rates, email click rates, email conversion rates, SMS open rates, SMS click rates, SMS conversion rates, and overall email and SMS list growth.
To increase sales from repeat customers during the holidays, you might want to count how many repeat purchasers you have and examine their average order value.
Ensure the metrics you measure are actionable and allow you to optimize the performance of your marketing campaigns.
“Take SMS, for example. You could use a pop-up on your website and have visitors sign up to get access to your Cyber Weekend offers through SMS only. Then, you can segment your SMS audience and create engaged segments. When it comes time to send your messages, you’ll then increase the likelihood that people will open and clickthrough them since you’ve sent them to an engaged audience,” advises Sammy Tran.
While identifying metrics, make sure to include opt-in rates. You can test different offers to see where you can get higher opt-in rates.
Start building up your engaged segments now so that when the time comes, your engaged segments are large enough to help increase your open rates.
3. Figure out who will help your success
Once you’ve set your goals, figure out who your partners are that will help you achieve your goals.
If you’re looking to increase sales from repeat customers during the holidays, for example, at a minimum, you’ll probably need support from your product, creative, and marketing teams. Meet with each of them to discuss your goals, brainstorm ideas to make them happen, and ensure accountability.
“Another important action to take this year is to start planning early—even earlier than last year. Make sure you’re growing your email and SMS lists so you can get your messages across to your subscribers,” advises Sammy Tran.
4. Analyze, learn, pivot, optimize, repeat
With your metrics in mind, don’t let December 31st become the end-all, be-all for your goals. Monitor your results daily to see how you’re progressing toward your goals and test a new variable to see you can improve your results.
You could test things like your subject lines, calls-to-action, product placements on your website and email heros, and timing of your communications.
With the goal of increasing sales from repeat customers during the holidays, you might want to also see if there are continuing trends in the specific products your repeat customers are buying.
“It’s really important to constantly analyze, learn, pivot, and optimize your marketing strategies. Last year, one of our clients switched their strategies mid-promotion and saw a 3X return by using a more robust and engaged campaign strategy. What’s more, we worked with them to test two different offers as a pre-Black Friday promotion and saw a 30% lift in sales by using the winner of that test as the main message,” said Chanel DeVetter, head of lifecycle marketing, MuteSix.
Monitoring your data is a continuous process. It’s a great way to see how your results compare to your performance last year and to learn how to improve your business.
Aside from your employees, your customers are the most important people to your business. There’s nothing more important to your success than understanding them and their needs.
Read on to learn how to do just that.
How buyer personas can help you convert customers
Who are your customers? What are their preferences? How can you use this information to market to them effectively and ultimately drive sales?
Buyer personas are an incredibly helpful way to learn more about your customers. Mark Schaefer, a well-known marketing strategy consultant, says three to four buyer personas often account for more than 90%of a company’s sales.
With buyer personas in mind, you can tailor your product assortment, promotion, content, and messaging to your audience accordingly.
Here are some common holiday shopper personas with examples of how you might go about engaging them:
The deal hunter
Missy waits until the Thanksgiving turkey is put away, but then she hops online or jumps into her car to go looking for holiday deals. A suburbanite who loves to save money, Missy gets a thrill not by how much she spends, but by how much she saves. Her only brand loyalty is to the stores that gave her great holiday deals last year. Otherwise, she’ll shop wherever she can find the best savings.
“A deal hunter’s goal is to save money. Competing for the attention of the deal hunter means you need to put your deals front and center everywhere the customer is—email, SMS, social media. Deal hunters are much more likely to abandon their checkout, as well, especially if they’re hunting for a similar product with a better deal,” said Kelly Vaughn, founder and CEO, The Taproom Agency.
How to get the deal hunter’s attention
• Send her promotional emails with the promotion clearly called out in the subject line.
• Send a short and sweet SMS message with sale information, along with a visual to quickly catch her attention.
• Have a strong abandoned checkout flow to bring her attention back to your site.
• Build Facebook custom audiences and target her with your promotions on Facebook or Instagram—the social channels she frequently visits.
Example email subject
Confirmed: $5 Leggings + 30% OFF EVERYTHING ONLINE (you’re welcome!)
Deal of the Day: Take 50% OFF hundreds of styles
(*include an eye-catching visual of the 50% off sale)
The last-minute shopper
Rob usually misses the free shipping cutoff date for most online retailers, so he relies on expedited or rush shipping options to get his gifts in time. This young and single urbanite is likely making purchases on his phone from the subway or his office. His procrastinator persona is common. Last year, nearly 134 million people planned to shop the last Saturday before Christmas, according to the NRF.
“Last-minute shoppers are primarily concerned with ensuring their package will arrive on time. If they can’t find your shipping information, they’re not going to risk the purchase. Make sure you have your shipping times available on the product display page, at checkout, and in your email and SMS correspondence. If you offer curbside pickup or local delivery, be sure to highlight this as a benefit for last-minute shoppers,” said Kelly Vaughn.
How to get the last-minute shopper’s attention
• Email him with a sense of urgency called out in the subject line. Here’s an example: “Hurry, 20% off ends tomorrow!” or “Want free shipping? Order by 12/12.”
• Send him a text message letting him know time’s running out and include the shipping deadline.
• Update your website to include shipping cutoffs and make sure they can’t be missed. Your promotional bar, product display page, cart page, and checkout should all be clear about your shipping cutoffs.
• Offer expedited shipping options so he doesn’t make his purchases from a competitor.
Sarah purchases high value items and she buys them frequently. She’s also left a few positive product reviews on your website. If every customer was like Sarah, you’d be out of inventory or rolling in riches. She’s what you’d call a brand loyalist. She’s a generous gifter to others, but she also purchases for herself.
“Your VIP customers are your best customers, so you need to make sure you’re taking care of them. The VIP treatment goes well beyond a label—what are you doing to make your VIP customers feel special? Whether it’s a free gift with their next purchase, a surprise discount code, or a handwritten thank-you note, go above and beyond to take care of these customers,” said Kelly Vaughn.
How to get the VIP’s attention
• On Sarah’s next order, include a hand-written card and thank her for being such a great customer. Showing your appreciation will go a long way.
• Offer a VIP program and make sure Sarah is at the top of the list. Send an SMS to your VIP customers about your new launch or sale before alerting the rest of your customers.
• Award Sarah for spreading the love. Offer a loyalty program or send her an email with a discount code containing products she’s most likely to purchase based on previous orders.
The window shopper
Barry’s a browser, not a buyer. He often browses your website and he may or may not add items to his cart, but he almost always leaves your site before making a purchase. This indecisive urban shopper needs a nudge.
“It’s important to remember that window shoppers are still prospective buyers; they’re on your website for a reason. They may be interested in buying but not immediately, or they’re gathering more information before making a purchasing decision. Spend more time nurturing these customers by giving them a better understanding of who you are, what you’re selling, and why they should trust buying from you,” said Kelly Vaughn.
How to get the window shopper’s attention
• Remind him about what he’s left behind by sending him browse abandonment or abandoned cart emails.
• Dynamically populate these emails with product images so he remembers the specific items that previously caught his attention.
• Build Facebook custom audiences and target him with your products on Facebook or Instagram—the social channels he frequently visits.
• Ensure you have plenty of user-generated content, such as product reviews or images of your products shared by your customers, to help generate trust.
• Share a link to a blog post or an educational page related to the products he was viewing via email or SMS to help educate him on your brand and products.
The Impulse Buyer
It doesn’t take any time at all for Kristen to make a decision. In fact, as soon as you release a new product and alert your customers, her name is the first one that shows up in your new orders. An impulse buyer, Kristen has expendable income and makes snap decisions when items go on sale. The last thing she wants is to miss out on the discount or new release.
“Impulse buyers are counting down to the next sale. They’re subscribed to your emails and texts if it means they’ll be the first to get access to a limited sale. Make it as easy as possible for these customers to check out, removing any potential friction that would cause the customer to give up on placing an order,” said Kelly Vaughn.
• Add accelerated checkout buttons, allowing customers to check out in as few clicks as possible, including Apple Pay and Google Pay.
• Use urgency language in your email and SMS copy to get Kristen to visit your site and place an order.
• Utilize post-purchase upsell flows via email and SMS to keep Kristen engaged. You already have her attention, so keep it.
Try to reach your personas with some of these tactics and make them more effective with segmentation and personalization strategies.
Read on to learn how to segment your audience and create a personalized experience.
How to segment your audience and deliver a personalized experience
The holidays can present both a unique opportunity and a challenge for ecommerce brands, and two extremely active groups drive those opportunities and challenges—consumers and competitors.
There are few points in the year when you can guarantee your customers will be spending money and your direct competitors will be marketing to them aggressively, attempting to win their hearts, minds, and dollars.
Due to the relatively short window for holiday shopping, you need your brand to stand out from all the other marketing noise your customers consume during this season to be successful.
The best way your brand can stand out from the crowd: demonstrate you truly understand who your customers are, their interests, and their preferences. Also understand the global macroeconomic trends that drive consumer behavior.
You do this by using your customer data and your own digital channels to create a highly personalized, relevant experience for your audience so that every touchpoint you have with them feels personal and unique to them.
One of the most effective ways you can execute this approach during the holidays (and throughout the entire year) is to use segmentation and personalization techniques.
What is segmentation?
When you segment your audience, you use your customer data to sort your customers into groups with common characteristics that make them likely to be motivated by similar things. That motivation helps to drive conversions and revenue growth.
For example, all of your customers who’ve made a purchase in the last 30 days is an example of a customer segment. Or your customers who’ve ever placed an order from your children’s collection is an example of another segment.
The possibilities with segmentation are endless. While many people commonly confuse segmentation with a goal or a strategy, it’s instead a method to execute your marketing.
Say you’re looking for ways to jumpstart your holiday sales as Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach. You set a goal to drive revenue earlier than you did last year. You decide to support this goal with tactics like offering early access to a sale or launching a new product you know your customers will love. To effectively execute your strategy and tactics, you decide to use segmentation to identify the right people who will be excited by the advance discount or new product during the time you’re trying to achieve your goal.
Since not all of your customers will be motivated by either of these offers, creating an audience segment like this helps you share your new product or discount offer only with those who will be excited by them. By sharing these offers only with the people you know will be excited by them, you simultaneously build a stronger customer relationship with a message that’s relevant.
What is personalization?
With your marketing, personalization is about using your data to influence your one-to-one communications with your customers. It’s no longer just about using a customer’s name in your communication to infer you know them. It’s about the images and products you feature in your messages, the specific discounts you, and the perks you communicate to excite a group of people.
Brands that create personalized experiences are seeing their revenue increase by 6-10%—two to three times faster than those that don’t, according to Boston Consulting Group.
For example, say you sell fan-fared athletic clothing with all of the major college football teams on them. If you were able to segment your audience based on the team they love, now you would personalize your images and products at each customer touch-point to show the right team clothing to the right audience. Doing this allows you to maximize your relationships with your customers and drive sales.
What kind of data do you use with segmentation and personalization?
You can use two different types of data with your segmentation and personalization techniques: descriptive data and behavioral data.
Descriptive data includes specific details about a customer, including their gender, their location, their household income, or their age.
Behavioral data includes actions a person has taken, including purchases they’ve made, shopping carts they’ve abandoned, or products they’ve browsed.
When it comes to segmentation and personalization, behavioral data is much more important and useful because it’s based explicitly on an action someone has or has not taken. You can then break those actions down further by criteria like:
• How recently someone has taken an action
• How frequently someone takes that action
• The monetary value of their purchases
Behavioral data points like recency, frequency, and monetary value give you the key building blocks for segmentation. For effective segmentation, there are 12 key audiences grouped into four categories.
1. Core Marketing Audience: the people who you should communicate with the most
2. Winbacks: the people you have the best chance of winning back
3. Caution: the people you can potentially winback that you need to treat with caution
4. Avoid: the people you should avoid entirely
Your Core Marketing Audience is the most important of these four categories. It’s comprised of six individual segments, which include your High Rollers, Potential High Pollers, Nearly Theres, Brand Enthusiasts, Potential Enthusiasts, and Waiting for Wows.
Spend the bulk of your time marketing to and planning for your Core Marketing Audience because they’re the most engaged in terms of recency, frequency, and/or monetary value, and represent the most potential revenue for your brand.
Let’s take a look at an example segment, using the same business goal of driving early Black Friday sales.
Within your Core Marketing Audience, you have your High Rollers or VIPs—truly one of your most important segments. The people in this segment buy from you frequently and they’ve done so recently. As a result, they also have a high monetary value to you.
This audience is also very likely to buy from you no matter what, so you don’t likely need to offer a discount. But because they’re such good customers and could likely refer other customers to you, it’s a good idea to give them a special perk from time to time.
Say you’re planning to launch a new product for the holiday season. Giving the people in this segment early access to the new product is a great strategy. You could even let them share this new product with a friend by sharing a small discount for the new customer as an introductory special.
Let’s build on this example and add some subtle personalization.
Imagine your soon-to-be-launched product is a cashmere sweater with a high price point—an ideal product to announce to your VIP customers first. Rather than sending the same new product announcement to all of your VIP shoppers, personalize the creative to make the message really resonate with your audience. Showing your customers a picture of the sweater in a color they like, which you know based on their past order history. Send your VIP who frequently buys red clothing items an email with an image of the red cashmere sweater and send an email with a picture of the sweater in blue to the people who tend to buy clothing items in blue.
Segmentation and personalization can seem daunting because the sky is truly the limit with what you can do. Start by asking these three simple questions to build an execution plan that will drive results:
• Who’s going to be excited by this message?
• What am I going to say?
• Where will I say it?
When you combine segmentation and personalization together, you can create a truly winning, revenue-driving combination. With so many competing marketing messages during this time of the year, there’s no better time to invest in a segmentation and personalization plan.
Need inspiration? See what brands like Apt 2B, Custom Ink, Hylete, Princess Awesome, and Taylor Stitch are doing with segmentation to drive results.
Now that you have your goals, personas, segmentation and personalization techniques in place, it’s time to think about what product assortments and promotions you’ll entice your consumers with to encourage them to purchase. Read on to learn more.
How to merchandise and promote your products
With so many retailers competing for your customers’ share of wallet, what you offer to your customers is critically important. This is where product merchandising and promotions come in.
In your store or on your website, merchandising refers to the assortment of products available for sale and how they’re displayed to encourage customers to make a purchase.
The holiday shopping season is like the Super Bowl of retail since financial results can sink or swim your year-long efforts, and Q4 will be a crucial selling opportunity that you simply can’t afford to miss.
The role of the product merchant is robust and complex, and their responsibilities have evolved over time due to the changing needs of customers. Understanding both historical performance and current trends can help you fine-tune your own product assortment and make it attractive to your audience.
For the upcoming holiday season, with an even larger consumer shift to ecommerce expected than usual, consider how you can merchandise and promote your products online to attract new customers that traditionally do their seasonal shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to make a purchase during the holidays, but competitive incentives help to sweeten the deal.
The three most appealing offers to shoppers are:
• Price discounts (74%)
• Free shipping (72%)
• Buy one get one free (39%)
Free shipping is table stakes now and shoppers expect most brands to offer it.
Baymard Institute’s research notes that shipping fees are the top cause of abandoned carts, so if you can’t provide free shipping to everyone, perhaps provide a special offer of free shipping to loyalty program members, those who make purchases over a certain size, or those who order very early.
Beyond free shipping, here are a few ideas you can use to drive sales during the holidays.
Complementary products sell well together, so they present a good opportunity for a cross-sell (and a great way to increase average order value). Look at items that typically sell well together and offer them bundled together at a slight value. By offering a discount on a bundle, rather than knocking down the price on single items, the perception is one of a much better deal.
One way to execute this strategy is to let your customer dynamically build their bundle on your website.
Say you sell jewelry. If you want to sell a set including a necklace, earrings, and a bracelet, create a selection of items in each category that your customers can browse and choose from to make their own set. Make it an easy experience by including all the information on one page rather than sending them from product page to product page.
This approach helps you strategically create another sticky opportunity: if a customer doesn’t love one of the items, they may come back in the near future to see what other options you have available.
Australian streetwear and sneaker brand Culture Kings is an example of a company that offers a slick “build your own” bundling experience.
With a lot of money being spent by shoppers during the holidays, saving some of it through a promotional discount can be an attractive and popular incentive to offer.
According to research by Deloitte, 74%of shoppers put price discounts at the top of their wishlist when it comes to holiday promotions. What’s more, 47% of consumers would try a new online retailer if offered a coupon or discount.
While discounts are a popular way to incentivize shoppers, brands must be mindful of their profit margins and craft a smart strategy that rewards both their customers and their bottom line.
Need some discounting tips? Here are four to consider.
Offer discounts on products you may have too many of in your inventory.
Small and limited
If you discount a best-seller, try to keep the discount fairly small and the quantities limited so you don’t dilute your brand and condition shoppers to expect discounts.
Refer a friend
Offer a coupon for the buyer and one for her friend. Since 28% of shoppers are more likely to refer friends over Cyber Weekend (with 48% being equally as likely to refer), according to research by LoyaltyLion, this can help drive valuable traffic to your store during a crucial selling period.
As a Black Friday treat, women’s jewelry brand Monica Vinader offered shoppers and their friends a referral discount.
Encourage your shoppers to purchase multiple products within your portfolio at a value. For example, if you sell shirts and know the average order value on your site is $100, offer a tiered discount with an incentive. For example, “Spend $125 and get a $25 gift card toward your next purchase.” This is an excellent way to increase average order value and get a customer to come back and complete a repeat purchase.
Iowa-based fashion retailer The Pulse Boutique used a clever tiered strategy to increase average order value through spending thresholds on Cyber Weekend.
Create a curated collection of small and lower-priced items that are either sold together or bundled together.
For beauty retailers, one example of a stocking stuffer could be travel-sized SKUs or samples of skincare products wrapped festively in holiday packaging.
With stocking stuffers, you can strategically introduce your customers to many of your products at once in small quantities that they’ll soon need to replenish. This facilitates the discoverability of new products and often encourages repeat purchases if your stocking stuffers hit the mark.
Magazines like to put together collages of stocking stuffers to help their readers find the perfect gifts at lower price points. Take that same practice and create one for your customers.
Offer daily deals and steals on your website to create a sense of urgency and drive purchase frequency. Give shoppers a compelling reason to return to your store by unveiling a new deal each day, building excitement across your site and marketing channels.
Try to offer something different every day. For fashion retailers, you could offer a limited quantity of popular leggings on one day, an accessories bundle (hat, scarf, gloves) the following day, and holiday pajamas the day after that.
Make sure you’re offering attractive products, though. This isn’t the time to try to get rid of the 10,000 extra chartreuse wool fedora hats you happen to have. If you don’t offer compelling products, your customers may not come back for another daily deal.
Send email reminders to your subscribers to let them know about the daily deals so they don’t miss out. With your email call-to-action (CTA), send them directly to your website where you’ll have special landing pages that feature each deal.
Promote your deals across your social channels, too, to further add to the anticipation.
Powerhouse beauty brand Kylie Cosmetics caused quite a stir with its 2019 “12 Days of Christmas” sale. For 12 days in December, the brand revealed a new promotion on their Instagram account each morning, creating a festive frenzy among its followers!
Next step? Provide the ideal destination for your consumers to shop from—and make it both easy and festive. Add a bit of decorative holiday tinsel and flair to excite your customers and differentiate the shopping experience from other times of the year.
Read on to learn how to optimize your website for the holidays.
How to optimize your website for the holidays
When it comes to the holidays, your online destination needs to be ready for the big show. Your online store represents your brand, so how it looks and performs is vital during the busiest shopping time of the year.
Think of your website as a store window. You want your customers to easily come across the right products so they make a purchase.
Optimizing your website won’t only help you increase your conversion rates, but it can also help you to increase your average order value (assuming you’re receiving high quality traffic). These are two key metrics that influence revenue, so it’s no surprise that optimizing your website is very important.
“A massive reason as to why site optimization is so critical is because of the visibility it produces, which is critical during the holiday season due to consumer search patterns and buying behaviors,” said Ronald Dod, chief marketing officer and co-founder, Visiture.
Most customers research products before they make a purchase. The more expensive a product is, the more research they do.
67% of shoppers do research for items that are less than $50 and 89% do research for items that are over $100, according to a 2017 report from Retail Dive, so your website should be research-ready.
For this and other reasons, it’s vital for retailers to ensure your website’s fully optimized prior to the upcoming shopping season.
Here are some tips to get your website ready for the holidays.
Product recommendations are critical to increasing sales. Item suggestions account for up to 31% of ecommerce revenues, according to Barilliance product recommendation data. What’s more, those who engage with product recommendations are 4.5x more likely to add items to their cart and complete their purchase.
Given how many shoppers will convert based on retailer recommendations, prominently placing these suggestions on your website is vital to driving sales.
An engaging and alluring way to make recommendations is by creating a curated holiday gift guide. Feature it on your homepage in the hero spot and then direct the user to a page where they can sort and filter.
A powerful suggestion to organize your holiday gift guide for maximum appeal is to build it around different customer personas.
Create thematic personas for the person your shoppers are buying gifts for and curate a collection of products suitable for each persona. Thematic personas could include gifts for the cook, the swimmer, the hostess, the golfer, the fashionista, and more.
MPG USA, a lifestyle brand for performance-driven fashion, created several guides for each persona. Here’s an example of the gift guide they created for the running enthusiast.
“Our holiday gift guide campaign allowed us to personally connect to our customers by shining a spotlight on MPG staff members and their unique interests and activities that our customers could relate to. It also provided our customers with a curated shopping experience for easy holiday gifting, in a convenient one-click format directly in the email. This personalized campaign helped us reach our target Q4 sales goal and is a strategy we plan to implement again for the upcoming holiday season,” said Suzanne Harden, vice president of marketing and brand sales at MPG USA.
Alternatively, you can also structure your gift guides based on product prices.
Since holiday shoppers are likely to purchase gifts for a variety of friends and family members, the price will likely be an important consideration for them.
A great way to work with this awareness is to use your knowledge of your customers’ average order value across various categories to help you inch your order value up a little bit.
If your average order value for home essentials is $100, create a range of gifts that cost under $150 and include a few higher-priced home items as well.
The bottom line here is that a well-optimized holiday homepage must prominently feature product recommendations that shoppers can get a great deal on for themselves, friends or family.
Product category and product detail pages
Take your product pages one step further by adding these elements to them.
Product reviews or testimonials
As mentioned earlier, the majority of consumers conduct research on the items they’re considering buying. Product reviews play a massive role in that process.
97% of shoppers say that product reviews influence their purchase decisions, according to MarketWatch.
That’s why it’s wise to collect and showcase product reviews or testimonials to help persuade customers to make a purchase.
But to be an even greater resource to your customers, consider allowing shoppers to filter reviews to find the exact information they’re seeking.
Blenders Eyewear, a premier sunglasses retailer, takes their product review game to a whole new level, allowing shoppers to filter reviews by relevant keywords, ratings, and the inclusion of images and videos.
Knowing that shoppers use retailers’ recommendations when making holiday purchases, badges are useful tools to help establish authority. You can put badges like “Staff Picks,” “Bestseller,” or “Just Arrived” on your product pages to help shoppers more easily find a recommended product quickly.
BarkBox’s parent company, Bark, features all of its newest products with a “New” badge, thereby guiding pet owners to the season’s coolest chew toys for their furry little friends.
Make sure your return policy is visible and clear on your product pages—it’s an area where you don’t want to be vague.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) found that 75% of their holiday shoppers looked at a brand’s return policies before making a purchase and 22% didn’t make a purchase because of a poor return policy.
Death Wish Coffee nails this concept. The company is so confident in its product that it highlights its return policy on its category pages, as well as below the item description on individual product pages.
Categories of filters
The dropdown options or category groupings you use to organize your product collection on your website help to make it easy for shoppers to find what they’re looking for. During the holidays, turn your categories or filters into a gift finder.
For example, instead of using “Women” as a category, call it “Gifts for Her.” If you have a selection of small miscellaneous items (candles, blankets, etc.), call them “Gifts for the Home.”
Such filtering features are something that Nordstrom applies to its site year-round. Through Nordstom’s filtering options, shoppers can search for gifts for him, her, kids, or even shop by occasion.
On average, 70% shopping carts are abandoned, according to Klaviyo’s research. One way you can reduce cart abandonment is by optimizing the checkout process so the purchasing experience is fast and simple.
Need some tips on how to do that? Here are a few:
Ask the shopper to fill out as little information as possible in each step. The fewer the steps, the better the click-to-cart conversion rate.Ask for the shopper’s email address early on so you limit the number of steps at checkout.On the checkout screen, only show information about what’s required for them to buy, such as:What items they’re buyingThe price of eachA call-to-action with clear next steps to purchaseThe total calculated costShipping optionsInformation about customer service, returns, and terms and conditions links either on the checkout page itself or somewhere else like a header or footer
World-renowned women’s undergarment and activewear brand Spanx is a shining example of this principle. With a single page checkout process that only asks consumers for essential details, the company streamlines the purchasing experience, thereby minimizing frustrations that could result in shoppers abandoning their order.
Pop-up forms are a great way to show your customers any holiday offers you may be running. They also help you stay connected with your customers throughout the rest of the year, too, since you can collect their email address with a simple pop-up form when they come to your website.
Bokksu, Japanese snack subscription service, achieves this beautifully, offering potential subscribers a free ebook that will help them become more knowledgeable about Japanese foods and flavors.
Ensure customer service is easily accessible
Retailers should ensure that their contact information is placed prominently and is easily accessible from all pages of the store. While this may require merchants to have more customer service representatives available than they would for a normal holiday season, providing outstanding service to first-time buyers could result in earning loyal new customers.
Online shoe retailer Zappos is excellent in ensuring that its customers can always reach the company, boldly displaying its phone number at the top of every page.
Once someone has made a purchase on your website, offer them holiday packaging, gift cards, and tags to delight them even more and get them in the holiday spirit.
Beauty supplier Sephora provides its customers with a handful of gift wrapping options all year long, enabling shoppers to surprise their loved ones with high-quality products accompanied by personalized messages in either a gift satchel or box.
By adding a few of these suggestions, your website will be better optimized and ready for holiday showtime.
Next, read on to learn how to use email and SMS marketing to drive shoppers to your website, and keep them engaged during the holidays and throughout the year.
How to use email and SMS marketing to drive more sales
Want to drive first-time purchases from new customers? Looking to build stronger relationships with existing customers? Email and SMS marketing are some of the best ways you can accomplish those objectives.
With new customers, one of the first impressions you make on them can be with email. Ask them to subscribe to your newsletter, for example. When they subscribe to your list, you have permission to send them information about your brand, your product selection, educational content, promotions, and customer testimonials, for example.
With existing customers, using email is a great way to continue building relationships with them throughout the year. About 80% of your store’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers, according to Gartner.
But with the average customer seeing a 23% increase in the amount of retail-related email they get during the holiday season, it can be hard to stand out in the inbox.
The holidays are such a busy and profitable time, so it’s essential to stand out in your customers’ inboxes. But what if you’re short on time or resources?
Once you’ve mapped out your goals, your strategy, your key segments, and how you’ll personalize the experience you’ll deliver to them, you can begin to think about great ways to capture your customers’ attention.
How to use email marketing effectively during the holidays
Here are some ways email marketing can help your brand cut through the noise.
Automate your emails
Email automations can drive a significant amount of sales and save you time simply by staging them to send when a customer takes a specific action, so they’re really a no-brainer.
Here are some examples of effective automated emails that should be part of your holiday marketing strategy:
Welcome series email
A welcome series can create one of the first impressions your customers have of your brand during the holiday season. Make sure your welcome emails are on-brand and provide value.
Are you using them to ask your customers what types of content they’d like to receive and how often they’d like to hear from you? Great.
You can also use them to provide your customers with educational content as well, such as your wish list feature and your holiday gift guide.
Gorjana, a jewelry brand, sends out visually appealing and engaging welcome series emails. These emails help to set the right expectations of what your brand is all about and can help you stand out during the holiday shopping frenzy.
Abandoned cart emails
When shoppers add items to their carts but then leave your site, use abandoned cart emails to immediately remind them about what they’ve left behind and capture their limited attention during the busy holiday time period.
Abandoned cart emails are easy to set up and they’re profitable. Brands that have average order values (AOVs) between $100-$500 recover about 4-5% of their abandoned carts on average with abandoned cart emails while brands with AOVs less than $50 recover about 3% on average, according to Klaviyo’s research.
Here are two tips to create impactful abandoned cart emails:
• Dynamically show the products your customers left behind in their carts.
• Send an abandoned cart email one to three hours after someone’s abandoned a cart. You can send a second email a day or two later to those who still haven’t returned to your site to make a purchase.
Royal Design Studio, a stencil and design company, sends abandoned cart emails that are timely specific with images of what shoppers leave behind.
Thank you email
Shoppers get a lot of emails during the holidays, but a thank you email is a simple courtesy that helps you thank your customer for making a purchase from you.
In your thank you emails, you can also ask your customers to leave a product review so you can add it to your website. Since most customers look through product reviews before they buy, these reviews can help you gain even more customers during the holidays.
Thank you emails are also a great opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell some of your other products during the holidays.
Shinola, a watch and accessories company, is an example of a company that does thank you emails very well.
Do you have customers who haven’t made a purchase from you in a while? Win them back by sending them engaging content. Since they’ve purchased from you before, you can use winback emails to try to get them to buy again.
With winbacks, you can set up an automated email flow to recommend items that are complementary to the ones they’ve previously purchased. You can also show them your holiday and offer gift recommendations.
Custom Ink, a global leader in customized apparel and accessories, does an excellent job of sending winback emails.
How to manage timing and budget
Aside from the different types of automated emails you can send during the holidays, strategic elements like timing and budget are crucial to getting a holiday shopper’s attention in a sea of retailers and their offers.
Here are three ways to get timing and budget right.
Send time optimization
Send time optimization is a great way to help you avoid having your messages get buried in your customers’ inbox during the holidays. By automatically sending an email at the time your customer is most likely to read it, it’s more likely they’ll open your message.
Predict when your customers will reorder
Use features like predicted date of next order to figure out when your customer is likely to make their next purchase and send timely, relevant communications to them.
That’s how Rareform drives revenue and sales margin. If they see that a customer is likely to buy on a certain date, they don’t send them a coupon around that time frame and instead wait to see if the customer makes a purchase without it.
Combine social media ads with email marketing
Paid advertising during the Cyber Weekend timeframe is expensive. Instead, save your dollars and acquire new customers by targeting existing subscribers who haven’t yet purchased with a combination of your paid Facebook ads and email marketing.
Dynamically sync your customer segments directly into Facebook Audiences and target them with a coordinated Facebook and email campaign.
For example, Pair of Thieves did this and saw its year-over-year revenue increase by 5x.
How to use SMS marketing effectively during the holidays
Are your customers spending more inclined to check their email or their texts? Are they more likely to be at home or with friends after work? The only surefire way to communicate with as much of your target audience as possible is to have as many different ways for reaching your customer as possible.
Which brings us to SMS. Are you utilizing SMS marketing? If not, now’s a great time to start.
“SMS marketing can be effective across a variety of industries, and with both younger and older customers who are making impulse purchases and buying other expensive items. Communicating with customers through SMS is an indispensable communication and engagement channel for brands,” said Chris Gordon, senior email marketing manager, Noticed.
You may be wondering whether there’s enough time to build a decent-sized SMS list to support your holiday marketing strategy. The answer is yes! Here are some key strategies you can use to grow your SMS list fast.
Add an optional SMS signup field to your pop-up
“This one’s a no-brainer. But I highly recommend making phone number an optional field and leaving email as the sole requirement. Some people will be hesitant to give their phone number to a brand they’re not familiar with and that’s OK. You can easily convert them to an SMS subscriber later in their journey using other signup tactics,” said Chris Gordon.
Jofit’s pop-up is short, sweet, and effective.
Create an SMS signup landing page
A page that’s dedicated to SMS signups on your site gives you an extra avenue to collect SMS subscribers.
The form on this example page from Layla Sleep was built using a simple Klaviyo embedded signup form. You can even have the Klaviyo form pre-fill the customer’s email address for extra ease.
Add an SMS callout to your email footer
A callout in your email footer is a constant reminder to your subscribers that they can save even more if they sign to receive SMS notifications from your brand.
“Make it enticing and play up your SMS welcome offer to spur someone to sign up. Link to your SMS signup landing page for a smooth customer experience. You can also use Klaviyo’s dynamic content features to only show this slice to customers who have not yet signed up for SMS,” advises Chris Gordon.
This example from Layla Sleep does a great job of teasing potential savings.
Send a dedicated campaign email about SMS
Get the word out directly to your current email subscribers upon launch of your SMS marketing program so both your loyal customers and new customers can sign up.
This campaign example from Jofit introduces all of the benefits of signing up for their SMS program in a succinct and convincing way.
Spice up your deals
To help retain SMS customers, follow through on the promise of providing them with SMS-specific deals. They can be anything from slightly higher savings on sitewide deals to SMS-only flash sales. Basically, make sure you follow through on treating your SMS subscribers as VIPs.
This example from Layla Sleep communicates an SMS-exclusive offer.
Don’t fear sending, but bring the goods
“I’m going to be blunt here, and some people may disagree, but in my experience, I’ve found that Black Friday and Cyber Monday is NOT the time to tiptoe around sending. Yes, customers are overwhelmed by the number of emails in their inbox, but they’re also glued to them looking for deals. The best chance you can give yourself to cut through the noise is to send consistently, but to be segmented and engaging with each and every send,” said Chris Gordon.
Say you’re planning to start Black Friday early with a preview sale. You can create emails for early morning, mid-day, and final hours sends. You can also consider extending your Black Friday deals into Cyber Weekend.
“I’ve worked on many Cyber Weekend campaign plans and not once have the learnings ever been ‘let’s send fewer messages next year.’ That said, if you’re going to increase how many emails you send, you have to bring the goods with each one. The same sale details and creative sent in every message probably will end up driving your customers up the wall and spur unsubscribes. The best way to be engaging throughout all of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to vary your main deal in each email and provide supporting deals below it,” said Chris Gordon.
Let’s say your site’s only Black Friday deal is a sitewide coupon. You can still vary your content by featuring a certain item that you expect to be a top seller or focusing on a different product category in each email. If you have multiple deals running on your site, then you can cycle through them throughout the weekend with each email send.
No matter what your sending strategy is, monitor your results, engagement rates, and the unsubscribe rate throughout the weekend, and be ready to make any necessary adjustments necessary to your strategy.
Wrapping up (with a holiday bow)
For most ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retailers, the holiday shopping season is normally the most important time of the year for your business.
If you fail to properly prepare your brand to capitalize on consumer spending during this period, you’ll miss out on substantial revenue for your business and risk losing customers to your competitors.
Your success starts with having a plan:
• Determine the goals you want to achieve
• Figure out who your customers are
• Segment them into relevant groups to create personalized experiences for them
• Use merchandising and promotion strategies to create compelling offers
• Optimize your website to create an easy online shopping experience
• Use marketing automation to create specific and relevant emails and SMS messages that help you acquire and convert your customers—both those who are new to your brand and those who are coming back again
Use this guide to create a plan for the upcoming holiday shopping season, and use the tangible recommendations and easy-to-implement tips so you’re prepared for success during this crucial and competitive time.