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Tis’ the Season Before Holiday Shopping – Preparing Your e-Commerce Store and Checking It Twice

by Steve Fisher on July 12, 2010

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So are you ready for the holiday shopping season? Yes, I know it is really warm out there and summer vacation is probably top of mind. However, if you have an e-commerce storefront or are thinking of launching one for the holiday season, the time to prepare is now. So to get your e-Commerce store in shape we have prepared a little holiday checklist for you to review and in the words of St. Nick, “Check it Twice”.

These seven steps include excerpts from the Network Solutions Guide “Is Your Business Ready For the Holidays?” and set to a modified version of the poem “Twas’ the night before Christmas“**. So let’s get started…

1. Update your product catalog and inventory:

“Twas the Season Before Holiday Shopping, when all through the web house

Not a Shopping Cart was stirring, not even a clicking mouse

The products were posted on the storefront with care,

in hopes that customers soon would be there.”

Stock up and make sure your inventory numbers are visible on your site. The last thing a holiday shopper wants to see is a backorder — it is estimated that half of shoppers will leave your site to visit another store when an item is out of stock.

Look through your sales logs and determine which are the most popular or best-selling items, then make sure you have plenty available. Also, be sure that you have good stock of anything that you highlight on your homepage or in special categories.

2. Make it easy for your customers to shop for gifts:

“Customers shopped online while laying on their beds,

while visions of deals and discounts dance in their heads.

With our storefront ready and support on standby,

We readied the fulfillment house for those ready to buy.”

Navigation is critical to users buying gifts – it’s how your customers find what they’re looking for. While the visitors to your website may have been looking for long sleeved t-shirts in May, in December they could be looking for a gift for Mom. Add category pages that make it easy for them to locate various products in a gift-giving mode.

Make sure that your navigation supports the holiday shopper with pages like “Gifts for Her” or “Gifts for Dad”. Your shoppers always should be able to browse by price and it’s especially important during the holiday season because gift-buyers often have a set budget in mind.

3. Enhance your site design with holiday flair:

With our store online and our checklist in hand,

we prepared for the season with a detailed plan.

Enhance the site with themes for the occasion,

To give people an experience with tons of persuasion.

You may not be sold on the idea of adding holiday themes to your storefront design, but it’s still a good time to consider updating your design to keep it fresh. Try adding some holiday flair to your store design when the holidays get closer. You will get many new customers finding your site and this is the only chance to make the first impression. If a customer remembers a positive holiday buying experience, they’ll come back when the season is over.

4. Make potential buyers comfortable about your business:

As potential buyers clicked and wanted to feel sure,

we made certain that all was safe and secure.

Certificates and policies were published and forthright,

so all our customers can sleep soundly at night.

In addition to a holiday facelift, make sure that your shoppers feel comfortable purchasing from your website by ensuring that your SSL certificate, demonstrating that your site is encrypted and secure, is prominently displayed. If you don’t have an SSL certificate – there has never been a better time to get an SSL Certificate that fits your needs.

Also, make sure everyone can see that it’s safe to shop on your store. Publish your store policies regarding refunds, exchanges, cancellations, and shipping, and make it easy for your customers to access this information. This will also help your shoppers feel more secure about giving you their financial information during a purchase.

5. Provide specific delivery lead times:

And then in an instant, we needed to ship,

It must be delivered on time with the proper zip.

So up to the storefront we published the dates,

We can deliver it anywhere if you pay the right rate.

Make sure that your shipping policy is highlighted on every page that the holiday shopper sees. Make sure you update your shipping options so that there are some fast, last minute choices and make them known. The best ecommerce sites go as far to specify specific delivery dates.

For example, “Orders placed by December 17 will be delivered by December 24.” Holiday shoppers need to know that their gift will arrive in time, plus the countdown reminds late shoppers that time is running out!

6. Use Pay Per Click advertising to drive traffic to your site:

We then searched for great keywords and optimized the site,

with stellar content that would inform and excite.

Targeting search engines with words that were spry,

drew the all the customers who were ready to buy.

Once you have your website ready to take the extra traffic, it’s time to focus on how to deliver the traffic. 80% of all Internet visits begin at a search engine, so Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is an immediate win. PPC allows you to target a customer audience by the search terms, or keywords, you think that the customer will enter when they begin their holiday gift searches. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad, so once you have your keyword list you should determine how much you are willing to pay, or “bid,” per keyword. Your bids, along with the relevance of your offerings to that particular keyword, determine what placement on the search engine page you will get. Choose keywords that are specific to what you offer and you’ll get better rankings with lower bid prices.

PPC advertising looks very easy, but there are many insiders’ secrets that can increase your success or keep you from making beginner’s mistakes. There are blogs and newsletters on the subject that you can study, or if you’d rather spend your time running your business, you can outsource your advertising to a professional PPC firm.

For some great in-depth advice on PPC, check out the Smart e-Commerce blog post “Maximizing Your PPC Campaigns for the Holidays”.

7. Use holiday specials to convert shoppers to buyers:

We rang up our ad team and gave them a task,

And away they typed PPC ads with a powerful ask.

I heard them exclaim “Free Shipping” and “Delivered Overnight”

Our year-end sales were great for all and what a wonderful sight!

Now that you have your website optimized for traffic and have a plan for driving traffic to your site, it’s time to decide how you’ll entice your audience. There are many ecommerce stores on the Internet. In this busy season, how will you differentiate yourself?

One great approach is to determine your most popular categories and offer discounts on commonly purchased items. Make sure that you have something to set yourself apart from the crowd. Also make sure you update your advertising. Calls to Action like “Free shipping” or “Free Gift Wrapping” makes a wonderful call to action in a PPC ad! With these pointers and a solid product offering, you’re sure to increase your chances for a successful holiday season.

Other Great Resources on Getting Your e-Commerce Storefront Ready for the Holidays

This checklist was only a start and there are tons of great resources out there. Here are a few other valuable links to help you get ready for the holidays:

Fresh Content in Now for More Holiday Shoppers Later

Black Friday Press Releases: Get a Head Start on Your Online and Media Marketing for the Holidays

Holiday Season 2009: Prepare Now, Profit Later

Maximizing Your PPC Campaign for the Holidays

and of course, the white paper with the awesome checklist: Network Solutions Guide “Is Your Business Ready For the Holidays?”

** The original poem “Twas’ the night before Christmas” written by Clarence Clarke Moore and is in the public domain.

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