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Guest comment: eRetailing at the most wonderful time of the year

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by Peter Rowe

Christmas may still seem some way off for consumers, but planning activity for the festive season will already be well underway for many e-tailers. The consumer stampede online to buy Christmas gifts offers businesses the chance to seriously boost profits, so carefully planning marketing activity to outdo the competition takes time.

Identifying when to man the tills

Different businesses will have varying busy periods in the run up to the Christmas period. Last year, 7th December was cited as Cyber Monday, with the peak being £3 million being spent online in the UK in one hour between 1pm and 2pm. However, looking at the timings of transactions of others will not necessarily be the best indicator of when campaigns are going to be effective for every company’s business. Instead, e-tailers should work with affiliates and their networks to establish the shopping trends associated with their business last year. This should not just be carried out prior to the festive season, but at the beginning of the year to identify other dates in the calendar that will give good reason for a concerted marketing push. For example an online florist will probably also notice that Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day will be additional key times in the calendar that will require a considered approach if sales are to be maximised.

Talking to the offline world

A joined up online and offline approach to marketing is something that is talked about in the marketing and retail press, but in reality is something that can quite easily be cut from execution, sometimes neglected because of resource, more often down to time pressures. Nevertheless, the fact remains that both offline and online teams can learn much from each other about how best to build a strategy that will maximise sales. Debenhams is particularly good at integrating internet and high street activity. Through regular contact between the teams, the company regularly makes sure that online campaigns around a particular product reflect those items being pushed on the shop floor. This helps to put Debenhams front of mind for the sale, even when consumers arrive home from the high-street after closing hours. This also helps to have an effect on consumer perception and loyalty with a retailer, as they will expect to see aligned promotions online and offline.

The exclusive offer

With many consumers increasing their interaction with the online world significantly during the festive season, Christmas is a key time in terms of how customers’ experiences of a retailer are shaped. So if you can provide customers with exclusive offers through select publishers, that aren’t widespread across the web, they will probably be more likely to show favour to that retailer in the New Year. Retailers need to work with their publishers and networks to pick out any niche promotions that will have particular resonance to a particular affiliate, providing the visitors to this site with a special, exclusive incentive to make a purchase, without the fear of devaluing the brand long term.

You can’t plan for everything

Planning can’t account for every eventuality. It won’t always be evident to retailers which promotions are going to sell products quickly and which will leave a bulk of stock behind. This is one reason why affiliate marketing plays an important part in the online marketing mix at Christmas. The affiliate channel is extremely dynamic allowing marketers to quickly interchange offers in order to help control stock levels of certain products in the festive season. This is one channel used by Debenhams to avoid consumer disappointment by making sure that promotions are stopped if stock runs out. It will also mean that these promotions can be replaced with new ones that push products that are not shifting as easily from the shelves.

Maximising sales at the Christmas period

Using meticulous planning techniques to drive sales in the run up to peak periods will pay off. Looking for online and offline consistencies, special publisher offers and popular sales times from previous years will offer insight that will directly translate into a better understanding of how to market to the consumer prior to Christmas. However, the planning strategy also needs contingency plans. Affiliate marketing provides a measurable framework that allows retailers to constantly review and reprioritise different aspects of the campaign, which helps to maximise sales at key times of year and generate boosted campaign return on investment for the business.

Peter Rowe is managing director of affilinet UK.

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