Holiday Online Wish List

News

As we roll closer to the critical holiday shopping period, shoppers are still penny-pinching. The economy remains weak and gas prices are not getting any better.

But as consumers look online to research, compare gift prices and shop in the comfort of their own home, e-commerce could benefit from this situation come the fourth quarter.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is projecting that 2008 e-commerce sales will reach $158.3 billion, up from $136 billion in 2007. Online retailers looking to cash in on this slice of the market will need to pull out the stops this year—not only to shine in the current economic climate, but more importantly, to survive the stiff competition.

During a recent Chain Store Age Webinar, “End of the Year E-Commerce Survival,” Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based the e-tailing group inc., offered suggestions on how retailers could move ahead. Here is a list of small tips that can make a big difference:

Ratings and reviews: Customers love reading ratings and reviews when making an online purchase. In fact, 65% of the time, shoppers will read them prior to making a purchase decision, Freedman said. That said, retailers should highlight their best-selling and top-rated products on the homepage or via e-mail promotions. This draws attention to the products and extends the value of user-generated content.

Gift-card promotions: As the season progresses, gift cards play an increasingly important role in the purchasing process—and so should their placement and visibility on sites. Add them on the navigation bar and shopping cart, and don’t forget to plug them in on thank-you pages and post-order e-mails.

“As seen in …”: According to the e-tailing group’s 10th Annual Mystery Shopping Study conducted in the fourth quarter of 2007, based on feature presence among 100 retail Web sites, 37% of those retailers said if they received media attention, they hyped it on their site. Besides creating credibility, it acts as an endorsement.

Limited-hour specials: They add immediacy and encourage shoppers to buy now, but only 18% of retailers surveyed in the Mystery Shopping Study said they deployed this tactic last year. Freedman said, however, that this tactic is on the rise.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Merchants should give these two high-trafficked days good play on the site—and via e-mail—to capitalize on promotional events. Don’t just get the message out, be creative—from witty taglines to colorful and engaging images and incentives.

Contact information: Give toll-free customer-service numbers the real estate they deserve on the homepage. While 99% of the Mystery Shopping Study retailers had toll-free customer-service numbers on their sites in the fourth quarter of last year, only 63% made them visible on the homepage. Showcasing the number lets customers know whom to contact with questions.

Pre-orders, back-orders, out-of-stocks: Let shoppers know when an item is not available right away to avoid frustration. And if an item is out-of-stock, send shoppers an e-mail alert when it’s available. Only 7% of 2007’s Mystery Shopping Study retailers took this approach, but more should take advantage of techniques like this to exceed customer expectations.