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GUEST COMMENT A Christmas Countdown: Is your ecommerce strategy in shape?

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by Simon Heyes

In spite of the gloomy economy, Christmas 2010 was one of the most successful ever festive seasons for online retail. According to Econsultancy, last December there were over 2.1 billion UK visits to online retail websites, with 44% of Britain’s online adult population spending £2.8bn in online purchases.

With customers willing to spend more online than any other time of the year, it’s essential that as a retailer you develop an ecommerce strategy which leverages the right blend of digital marketing activities to maximise cross-channel opportunities and ensure a connected approach.

Christmas is less than three months away, but don’t panic – there’s still time to revise your strategy.

Three months and counting

Mobile commerce is set to be huge this Christmas. If you’ve not thought about a mobile strategy, now is the time to do it. For those who already have a mobile strategy, your website should now be optimised for mobile and tablet devices. As such, it’s time to activate your mobile search strategy and begin harvesting any organised individuals already starting their Christmas shopping. If your mobile site is transactional then your paid search keywords should be directing traffic to mobile landing pages. Key information such as opening times, store locators, delivery tracking, and in-store promotions should be available on your site.

From an search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a copywriting team ready to react quickly to any developments or opportunities in run-up to Christmas. In pay-per-click (PPC), keep monitoring your key performance indicators (KPIs) and adjust your efforts if your paid search ads deliver good conversion. In addition, piggyback on your display activity by writing ad copy that aligns with offers or product banners to give a consistent message, which is essential for good retargeting work.

If you haven’t already lined-up your display ad placements then you might need to look for alternatives. Keep checking your adserver tracking to measure the KPIs as the campaign develops, and allocate budgets based on performance. Ensure that any media partner tags are in place so you can build on re-targeting your audience and track conversions accurately. Your affiliates should also be in position, so have ready all the information and creative materials they might require, including improved feeds, gift finders, searchable banners and product-specific Christmas banners.

Two months and counting

Many sites get a new design around this time, and this festive look is likely to attract Christmas shoppers. Your analytics reports will reveal whether your content is driving the right kind of visitors, so optimising your best performing keywords should deliver a steady increase in unique visitors.

Keep pushing out new Christmas product information to your affiliate partners, sending approved copy which they can simply copy and paste onto their sites. Highlight any exclusive content and don’t forget affiliate incentives.

Your display campaign should be ramping up nicely, but keep refining your creative messages, making sure your display media is optimised on an ongoing basis to maximise conversions and clickthroughs.

In the social media space, you should be tweeting regularly and growing your followers and fans. Give Facebook and Twitter a little festive re-decoration too. Your social media platforms should be an extension of your site, so using consistent logos gives your brand uniformity. Why not create a tab where users can purchase, “like” and comment on your products within the brand’s Facebook page? Be sure to introduce Facebook’s Open Graph API into your webpages to customise snippets and to monitor ‘likes’. But above all, remember to give your followers good reasons to remain engaged once you’ve captured their interest. For those who have, or want to go one stage further, capitalise on Facebook activity by launching F-commerce initiatives to boost preorders and enhance people’s perception and awareness of your offers.

Online influencers can have a massive impact in social media, so now is time for some blogger outreach. Think carefully beforehand – besides needing a compelling proposition you need to get the balance right for this kind of initiative to work.

Align any social media activities with your other online channels and activities to get much greater impact and more bang for your buck. Even better, add your offline channels to the mix: why not add QR codes to any print ads to drive users to your site or Facebook page? Integrated multi-channel messaging is very powerful.

While the run-up to Christmas can be all-encompassing, don’t lose focus from your overall revenue goals and be prepared for post-Christmas activity. According to Experian Hitwise data, Boxing Day in 2010 was the single biggest day in online retail for the fourth consecutive year in the UK, with December 27th a close second. Think about how you can build on your pre-Christmas strategy with end of year, post-turkey marketing activities. If you’re using a social CRM system you may be able to follow up on sales to new customers with tailor-made offers, promotions and specific email campaigns.

One month and counting

25th November 2011 is Black Friday. If you’re a retailer who operates or delivers to the US, Black Friday is the perfect litmus test to see which products will be big sellers over the next four weeks.

It’s time to be extra vigilant with any affiliate programs: affiliate partners should be using the most up-to-date content and continue to promote your products using affiliate newsletters, forums and affiliate networks. If you’re using voucher codes, make sure they are working correctly, and consider working with key cashback sites to offer a tactical increased commission on your key products in return for additional exposure.

It’s time to ramp up any display activity, making sure you’re constantly optimising and monitoring placements, and change your strategy if results can be improved. Personalised re-targeting is a particularly effective tool for driving retail sales for a large variety of products – but remember that you’ll also need a robust product feed to power such a solution. And make sure you set appropriate rules for your re-targeting campaign– you want to engage and encourage, not stalk!

Keep monitoring your PPC spend, continuously investing where it makes the most sense and be prepared for change. For example, some retailers were quick to see last year’s bad weather as an opportunity, publicising their altered last shipment dates giving customers’ much-needed confidence. Your PPC strategy should also be beginning to focus on click through success, so ensuring you have sellerratings will help reinforce your credibility, and help your ads stand out from retailers who don’t.

Two weeks and counting

Time to up the ante. If a certain product is not shifting as quickly as anticipated, then consider tweaking your PPC or affiliate campaign offering a more attractive price (where margins allow), whilst monitoring competitor pricing.

As stocks dwindle keep a firm eye on your PPC and display spending – you don’t want to waste money promoting products that are no longer available. This also applies to your affiliate marketing, so provide regular updates of your product feeds or look into using a dynamic response system.

Make sure your social media efforts continue to be targeted and relevant. Keep an eye on your web analytics data. Breathe, you’re doing great…

One week and counting

It’s all about the last delivery dates, so make sure this information is clearly visible on your site, social media platforms, as well as PPC and display ads.

Affiliate and PPC sales should be ticking over nicely, but remember to check stock levels and associated feeds to ensure budgets are not being wasted on promoting products with no stock left.

Mobile PPC activity should now be ramped up, especially on gifts and product specific search terms. With more local searches taking place, set up Adwords Express ads to make your store location stand out to both mobile and desktop searchers.

Two days before

Genuine last-minute shoppers will not lift a finger until December 22nd, so depending on delivery times online shopping may no longer be an option, but show your buyers what’s left with inventory integration and by encouraging in-store sales. If you haven’t done already, now is the time to set up the Click-to-call ad extension to capture last minute mobile phone orders.

Shoppers in a last minute rush will be searching for opening and closing times of your stores, so ensure PPC ads cover off these search queries and that your Christmas shopping times are clearly visible on the site. According to Google, “44% of total searches for last minute gifts and store locator terms will be from mobile devices.” Whilst this is a US statistic, the UK won’t be far behind. Double checking opening times, store locator and gift content are easily accessible by mobile devices through organic searches and PPC ads will ensure you capture those last minute shoppers.

You’ve made it to December 24th! Crack open a bottle of champers, and toast to yet another impeccable Christmas campaign. Relax for a day before the Boxing Day madness begins!

Simon Heyes, is head of international media, bigmouthmedia

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