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GUEST COMMENT How online retailers can avoid getting left out in the cold this Christmas

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With Christmas looming large on retailers’ horizons, the attention of ecommerce teams everywhere will be turning to how they can maximise the impact of their online activity over the course of this year’s festive period. However, with more and more shops and brands coming online, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. Here are five key points for online stores to consider when executing their festive campaigns.

Create landing pages and theme worlds

A study from February 2013 by the Institut für Handelsforschung Köln”, a research centre focused on retailing, reveals that more than half of shop visitors perceive a significant added value through customised and emotionalised product presentation. By creating compelling brand experiences online retailers can offer a full range of possibilities to stimulate visitors’ emotions and to differentiate themselves from competitors. This not only increases the time customers spend in your shop, it is also proven that it motivates to pursue a purchase.

Theme worlds create strong visual incentives to buy – not only for the searched product but also products of higher value or from a completely different category. For example, creating landing pages with ideas of gifts for different members of the family, different decoration styles for Christmas or ingredients and recipes for Christmas dinner gives the retailer the opportunity to cross sell a wide range of different items. Grouping things together under the theme of “Christmas” can give retailers a powerful route to generate valuable additional sales.

Meanwhile, dedicated product or brand landing pages allow customers who know what they want, to be led to their products without a detour. For a good reason: in most cases, a loss of time results in a loss of customers. Customers increasingly enter online shops via SEA, Product Listing Ads or via organic product search. When potential customers click on the relevant search results they should not be led to the start page of the shop but to specially designed landing pages that are precisely tailored to the individual interests of each customer.

Advisory campaigns give you the feel of a real sales assistant

A good sales person determines the success of a bricks and mortar store. So how can we replicate this online? The answer to that, today, is actually relatively simple: by creating an advisory campaign. These are effectively online questionnaires that ask the exact questions that a normal sales person in a local store would address when helping them to find the perfect gift – this could be everything from personal preferences to how much they want to spend and who its for (for example, for my 10-year-old sister). Based on the given answers, suitable products are then displayed.

This is a neat selection that supports your customer in finding the right product without much effort. Unlike any other tool in the ecommerce sector, advisory campaigns are able to address customers directly and convey a feeling of comfort in their decision to purchase. This represents an indisputably strong argument for every online shop that offers this extra service.

Product data marketing means better quality search results

Everything that people see and experience in the digital sales channels is generated on the basis of product data. The quality of this data is therefore crucial to your success in ecommerce. In addition, better data can bring in more visitors. Google Product listing ads (PLA) and Google Shopping Campaigns require structured data: “a low impression share could mean you’re not bidding enough […] but also, that you have a poor data feed leading to lower rankings on Google Shopping” (

Yet today’s shoppers want vast choice and to be able to find what they want quickly. This means that just like in retail outlets, prod¬ucts in online shops need to be arranged in categories by theme. In addition, shop operators need to be able to quickly adapt their offering to meet current marketing requirements using virtual cate¬gories – which can be created on the basis of products with certain features (product attributes). For example: Every item with the attribute “pink” can be put rule-based into the virtual category “princess”. There is no limit to sales creativity.

Attractive and error-tolerant suggest leads to higher conversion rate

Consumers are becoming increasingly used to seeing suggested items on drop down menus appear as they search for things. But for this to be most effective for retailers, drop down search functionality needs to be error tolerant, so that even if a user misspells a word or product name, the drop down menu will still suggest the most popular searches. This is particularly important if you have parents buying gifts for their children – such as books or computer games – when they may not know exactly the right names.

By displaying links to relevant categories already in the suggest box, you provide a quick access into your offer and increase the traffic to your self-defined theme or brand worlds. And if you preferably suggest bestsellers or advertising products, you enhance the probability of a purchase.

Furthermore, the way in which search information is presented can also have a powerful effect on sales. Depending on the type and size of product being sold, the option to view in a list or grid format, with or without pictures, and having the ability to vary the numbers of results shown on a page are all useful.

Searchandising generates additional sales

Search offers lots of opportunity to upsell, for example via the act of providing recommendations. The “if you like that, then take a look at this” or “this is what other people who bought this product also purchased” approach (made famous by Amazon) can be a powerful tool at this time of year, as naturally shoppers are looking to make multiple purchases.

Experience shows that online shoppers do not perceive additional offers as something negative, but as a useful service; at least if the displayed products are closely related to the selected items. People who buy a notebook do not have to spend time looking for a suitable mouse or case, instead they are directly displayed as a recommendation. As such, searchandising – as it’s known – continues to be a powerful tool in the retailer’s armoury.

Finally, creative use can be made of searches generating “no results found” pages that often retailers just don’t consider. This space can effectively be used to promote products, showcase best sellers, list most popular search queries or even for suggest perfect gift offers. The point is not to waste any opportunity to offer consumers other ideas or alternatives.

Caroline Hey is international business director at Fact-Finder

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