Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Holiday Season To Do: free shipping

Try doing your best to offer free or discounted shipping. This is always important for the reasons mentioned below, but it will be particularly important this Holiday season. Consider the following:

  • Expensive Gas = More E-commerce.
    Research has been done showing that people do tend to shop more online when they feel like getting in the car is costing them more money. For example, see Gas Prices Boost E-Commerce.
  • Shipping Costs = #1 Drop-Off Reason.
    There is a lot of evidence indicating that the number one reason for a serious prospect (customer that added products to the shopping cart and began the checkout process) to abandon the order is high shipping charges. For example, see Shopping Cart Abandonment Rises.

So - in practical terms - what can you do?

  • Consider keeping prices a bit higher, but offer free shipping (e.g. ground shipping). Customers often make a final purchasing decision on the total cost of the purchase, not on the initial product price (which is why the drop-off is so high during checkout, when the total cost becomes clear).
  • Let them know! Strongly advertise on your store that you offer free shipping (e.g. with a very visible graphic that becomes part of your store interface)
  • Use free shipping to promote repeat purchases. For instance, consider sending a coupon to those who buy inviting them to purchase again and obtain free, faster shipping (e.g. an electronic coupon that makes "Second Day Air" free). Remember that your margin on a repeat purchase is by definition higher as there are no marketing costs associated with acquiring that customer, since this is an existing customer.
  • Last minute gifts. Consider offering free, fast shipping right before Thanksgiving and Christmas (last minute gifts).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Holiday Season To Do: Clearance and Gift Items

Two quick tips that are easy to implement and can certainly help you make your Web store visitors feel at home during the holiday season: place visible links to clearance and gift items on your store interface, then help them visualize how your products could make some great gifts

Gift Items

It goes without saying that during the holiday season people are looking for gift ideas. We all are, we're short on time, and we need some help. Make it easy for them. Show them that you have plenty of gift items, and tell them why they'll make perfect presents. How? Here are some tips that are really easy to implement, regardless of the e-commerce system that you are using:

  • Add new categories to your category tree. For example: create a new top level category "Gift Ideas", with sub-categories "For him", "For her", "For the kids", etc. then link to them from your category navigation and from graphics positioned in different areas of your store design (e.g. see the example below).
  • Assign products. Take products from your existing catalog and assign them to these additional categories. You don't need to move them there. Just add these categories to the existing category assignments.
  • Make your pitch. Create some "content pages" (from within your e-commerce system or using your favorite HTML editor) that tell people more about the product(s) and how/why they will make a great gift, then link to these pages from the product description (similar products will all link to the same "content pages"). Many times people need some help envision how a specific product can turn into a gift item (especially the less creative of us). Show them how.
    • Do you have a online hardware store? Show customers how stuffing a toolbox with chocolates and colorful gift paper can make a fun gift idea for dad.
    • Do you sell books? Show customers how adding a couple of hand-written recipes to a cookbook can make for a personalized, thoughtful gift for mom

Clearance Items

There's little doubt that this year people will have less money to spend on their Christmas shopping. Show them that they came to the right place: your store has plenty of inexpensive products that they can buy! You offer free shipping? Make it very visible! Special discounts if they order more than $100? Tell them with a graphic they can't miss.

One quick way to convey the idea that you have lots of affordable stuff is to create a "clearance" section where you sell your most discounted products.

  • Make it visible. Use a nice graphic to draw your customers' attention to this area of your store. Remember, the most important aspect of this is that you are conveying the idea that you indeed have plenty of inexpensive products. That they landed on the right store.
  • Cross sell higher margin products. Do your best at cross-selling higher margin products on clearance item pages. A list of cross selling products (e.g. bottom of the page) is definitely NOT the most effective way to do this. The right way to do this is what in fancy terms is often called "contextual merchandising": talk about and link to other products while you are telling a story. That is: build links to other products right into the clearance item description. For example, highlight complementary items. Let's go back to the example above: the "toolbox" in your hardware store is a clearance item: list a few "perfect" additions to the toolbox (e.g. "add a multi-purpose screw driver to this toolbox for just $14.95). The more visual your cross selling is, the better (people tend not to read much).

All is all, anticipating your customer needs ("show me some gift ideas... affordable too!") will take some extra work, but will definitely pay off.