30 Oct 2015

Pointers for Online Retailers for the Countdown to Christmas

In 2014 the size and scale of Black Friday took everyone by surprise, having a significant impact on the complexion of the Christmas shopping period.

Analysis shows that around 1 in 5 (20%) of respondents shopped on Black Friday last year, with the majority (55%) heading online. The latest results suggest that retailers can expect a significant upturn in shopper volumes for this year’s event with 30% ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to shop on the day – with 85% of previous Black Friday shoppers likely to return. IMRG

Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving, when Americans are typically not at work. Amazon brought the annual bonanza to the UK five years ago but it took off with full force in 2013 with deals from Asda, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart. It has now become more widely spread especially with ecommerce merchants. It unofficially or officially marks the start of holiday/Christmas shopping season. Almost all stores come out with low price special offers with early bird specials to attract consumers to their stores.

The holiday shopping period starting on Black Friday and ending at Christmas may represent  30 percent of an online retailer’s annual sales and could be double any comparable period in revenue, according to data from RJMetrics.

Last year, online retail in the six weeks before Christmas accounted for almost a quarter of all online spending, with Christmas sales rising from £14.93 billion in 2013 to £17.37 billion in 2014

In 2014 Debenhams reported a bumper Black Friday and record group sales in the week before Christmas. Online orders on the day of Black Friday grew by 125%, with sales across the November week 10.3% higher as British consumers latched on to the US-born promotional event. This did not detract from traditional holiday sales. Over the four weeks to 10 January, what the company referred to as “the key Christmas period”, like-for-like sales increased by 4.9% and online sales jumped by more than a quarter, or 28.9%. Telegraph Finance News

Black Friday 2015 (Friday, November 27th 2015) is forecast to be the UK’s first £1 billion online shopping day.  And with Christmas just around the corner, there’s no time to waste when it comes to planning on how to stand out from the crowd over the holiday shopping season. 

Are you ready?

Black Friday Starts in...


Christmas is in...


1. Plan Sales & Inventory Now

Planning your inventory purchases is really the secret to having exceptional Black Friday and Cyber Monday special offers.

Many manufacturers and distributors offer special buys throughout the year. Depending on the context, these special purchasing opportunities might have names like “buy ins,” “paddle buys,” “program buys,” or similar. These sales represent an opportunity to buy product below your normal wholesale cost or in packages that otherwise lower your cost of goods.

As an example, imagine an online retailer that sells men’s watches. It inventories a watch called the X1 that it pays £30 for wholesale and retails for £80. The distributor who sells to this online retailer might make a special offer on the X1 watch, say 10 percent below the usual wholesale price, if the retailer buys 1,000 units in July rather than waiting until October. The special offer means that the retailer is now paying £15 for the X1 watch and could offer it on Cyber Monday at £50 and still make a small profit, while offering a low sale price that at least some competitors will not be able to match.

Begin working with manufacturers and distributors now to find special buying opportunities that will make compelling Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

2. Get Product Pages Ready

Once you have selected the items that you’ll be offering over the holiday season, be certain to add those items to your site if they are not already part of your catalogue. Do this even if you have to state that the item will not be available for sale until October or November.

Ultimately, you want to establish three things with your product pages.

Give search engines ample time to index each product detail page.

Ensure that these products are included in your Google Products feed or similar.

Establish the regular retail price for your customers so that when you put the item on sale there is a clear discount.

3. Prepare Landing Page Content

John Lewis has its Black Friday Page up all year around (although edits and changes are made throughout the year). The page invites visitors who've missed out on the Black Friday deals to view current promotions and deals.

The page is already indexed in Google, so that when shoppers begin to research Black Friday sales — which according to Google might happen in August or earlier — John Lewis will already have a presence on search engine results pages.

You may want to prepare landing pages in three phases.

  • First create a basic Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas landing page that includes:
    • Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas in the Page title (depending on which one you are doing);
    • A call to action, such as inviting visitors to register for sale alerts, view special offers or view our Christmas gift range;
    • Or a hint or preview (think keywords) of the items you might feature.
  • Second, begin adding content as it becomes available (see 4., below).
  • Third, display your actual Cyber Monday and Black Friday special offers. This will probably be link to a product category page on your site.

Do the same with Christmas Gift Range pages - start setting up content pages talking about Christmas and gift ideas.

Here are some more example landing pages from Retailers:

Black Friday 


4. Start Content Marketing Early

Content marketing should play an important role in your promotions, since it may help you attract a significant amount of site traffic before and during the sales.

You should begin planning and creating Cyber Monday, Black Friday & Christmas content soon, publishing it regularly between now and the late third quarter.

For example Debenhams started publishing press releases and content about their Christmas Range in July.

Here are some content marketing ideas for your Black Friday, Cyber Monday & Christmas campaigns.
  • Create product demonstration videos for each of the products you’ll be offering during your sale.
  • Develop holiday gift guides or blog posts that feature your Cyber Monday, Black Friday specials and Christmas Gift Ideas to help your customers.
  • Put together a lookbook featuring your products.
  • Make a series of how-to videos or articles that include or involve the products you will be featuring.

For even more inspiration, here are some possible titles for your holiday gift guide and related holiday shopping posts on blogs or on your site.
“14 Common Misconceptions about Christmas Shopping for a Teenager”
“10 Quick Christmas Shopping Tips That Could Save You Thousands”
“Why We Love These 10 Christmas Gift Ideas for Mum (and You Should, Too)”
“7 Christmas Gifts Your Dad will Like Better Than a Tie”
“How Your Christmas Gifts Could Save the World”
“13 Horrible Christmas Gifts, and 7 You’ll Love”

Boots is an example of a site that has a section of Content Pages under “Christmas Inspiration” which include things like “Celebrities share their top five Christmas gifts”, “Guide to the best beauty gifts” etc. See their content ideas here Boots Christmas Inspiration

Rather than taking the pages down when the season is over, simply update them like the John Lewis Black Friday example and then start updating it again next year with new content nearer the season using the tips above.

This ensures the content can still be indexed and just updated again next year and redirects people to current offers.

5. Plan Your Email Campaign

Email marketing should be something you plan ahead of time and not just something you execute at the last moment.

Once you know which products you will offer during your Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale, plan and schedule your email marketing. You can even create artwork and write copy for those messages now.

Being prepared can save a lot of stress when holiday sales are coming in.

6. Plan Your Graphics

If you have a designer start planning your brief for them for graphics or start planning and getting graphics ready yourself.

Plan a range of supporting graphics and banners for the Black Friday, Cyber Monday & Christmas promotions to be used in various places. These may include a large homepage banner for the main website, banners for within the Product Categories itself and additional imagery for the Facebook page etc. Using the same branding and graphical style across all elements of the campaign really ties all of the strands together and helps with customer recognition.

Why not also decide to give your website a bit of Christmas cheer with a subtle makeover. Never mind the fact that people expect a holiday theme on your website, it’s also a good way to show that you’re prepared for Christmas purchases.  Not only that, but changing your design is a simple and effective way to get people in the mood to shop.

Whist you don’t want to cover your site in snowflakes, candy canes, and Santa Claus, a few tasteful touches can make a difference and inform your site visitors that you are thinking about them at Christmas.

A countdown calendar is an easy way to imply urgency and encourage people to get shopping.

Argos started their Christmas Graphics & content including a Gift Guide in November last year.

7. Create urgency

Don't forget to highlight your last shipping dates for Christmas on your website in December.
Adding an urgency statement can make careful buyers take action without any further delay. You can even tempt your customers with some offers that they can use only if they order within the limited time e.g “Order before 4pm today to receive next day delivery.”


Some leave Christmas shopping until the very last minute so for panic buyers using urgency may grab you a few extra orders.

Use site banners and notifications, email, and social media to help promote any Shipping info & offers.

8. Don't forget to promote on Social Media

Using social media is a great way to engage your brand and build a personal link with your customers. In addition to regular conversations, here are some other ways to use social media for marketing.

Run a Pinterest contest. As a major driver of retail and online sales, you can’t afford to ignore this social media site. Encourage customers to share holiday ideas, recipes if relevant, and more, and to tag you so that you can pin their suggestions to one of your Pinterest boards.

Create a holiday photo contest on Instagram, giving prizes for the best photos (perhaps of someone using your product to increase brand awareness). Encourage users to input locations and hashtags which you can use on other social media sites, too.

9. Last-minute Discounts

Some last minute shoppers may actually be holdouts, waiting for end-of-season sales to try and save money.

These savvy shoppers know that retailers don’t want to be left with too much inventory going into the first quarter of the year when sales are traditionally slow. This excess inventory can hurt cash flow, cause storage and warehousing issues, and, in the worst cases, linger all the way to next Christmas.

So give them what they want, look at items that have not been selling quickly (or that are not the kinds of items a store would re-buy) and offer those products at after-Christmas prices before the holiday actually arrives. Remember, if a retailer is hoping to sell out of an item, it is much easier to do so when last-minute Christmas shoppers are visiting in droves.

10. Have Your Site Ready

Test your site and make sure it is all set up and working as you planned.
In November of last year, Google estimated that half of 25-to-34 year olds used a mobile phone to look for holiday specials and shop online even while they were standing in line at a physical store.
In the past, having a mobile-optimized website was a competitive advantage. Now it is a competitive imperative.

So what have you done to get your site ready for the holiday season? 

12 Oct 2015

3 Holiday KPIs for Your Ecommerce Store

Original article from Practical Ecommerce

Three tried-and-true key performance indicators may help online stores focus on what matters most during the busy, high-volume Christmas shopping season.
“Really there are three things a retailer has to do,” said Kevin Kearns, chief revenue officer, for store analytics firm ShopperTrak in a video presentation aimed at brick-and-mortar retailers. “They need to get shoppers in their store — traffic. Get them to make a purchase — conversion. And they need to get them to buy more — transaction size.
“They need to get shoppers in their store — traffic. Get them to make a purchase — conversion. And they need to get them to buy more — transaction size.
“When looking at all these levers,” Kearns continued, “a retailer can really focus in on driving strategies that will improve each individual store’s results.”
Kearns’ comments were meant to help retailers with physical stores cope with a decrease in foot traffic and an increase on digitally influenced shopping, wherein consumers use the Internet either before visiting a store or while in a store to make more informed buying decisions.
But this “retail equation” also represents three important ecommerce key performance indicators. This trio of KPIs is particularly potent during the Christmas shopping season or other peak times, when online retailer devote much attention to what matters most: site traffic, conversion rate, and average order value.

Site Traffic

Like visitors to a store in a shopping center or a mall, online site traffic is an indication of the number of available customers. This number is important because the total number of shoppers who see your wares is almost identical to the total number of possible sales your store can make.
If you don’t have any site traffic, you won’t make any sales. Similarly, if your site traffic doubles during the Christmas season, you have the potential to at least double revenue and profit even if your site’s conversion rate and average order value remained flat.
When you measure site traffic, look not just at the total number of folks visiting your site, but also at the traffic source.
  • Direct traffic. Visitors who came directly to your site. These folks probably typed your site’s domain name directly into the browser’s address bar.
  • Email traffic. Folks who follow links from your email marketing messages to your site.
  • Social media traffic. These site visitors found you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any number of other social media websites.
  • Referral traffic. Represents those visitors who followed a link on another website, excluding social media sites or search engines.
  • Advertising traffic.  Visitors who clicked on your banner ads, responded to your Pandora ads, or watched and clicked from your YouTube commercials.
  • Pay-per-click traffic. The fruit of paid traffic, primarily from search sites and publisher networks.
  • Search traffic. Visitors who found your site as a result of a search on Google, Facebook, YouTube, or other searchable sites.
Site traffic is often a measure of marketing success.
If, as an example, your online store conducts a comprehensive email marketing campaign during the lead up to Cyber Monday, you would expect to see a relative increase in the number of visitors coming to your site via the email channel.
Similarly, if you are running 30-second spots on Pandora, which I highly recommend during the holiday season, you’d expect to see an increase in traffic from the advertising channel.
Site traffic may also be compared against similar periods. For example, how is your site traffic in October this year compared to the same 2014 period?
For the holiday season, watch site traffic relative to your marketing activities. Try to fine tune as you go.

Conversion Rate

In the ecommerce context, conversion rate measures the number of sales your store makes relative to the number of visitors on the site for a given time period.
Since an increase in conversion rate is often associated with an improvement in site merchandising, site content, usability, or similar, this KPI is used to measure operational excellence.
For the Christmas shopping season, use the conversion rate to monitor the success of specific tasks, merchandising, or even visitor sources.
So, for example, monitor the conversion rate for product detail pages that include a product video as compared to those that do not. Or measure the conversion rate for shoppers shown a free shipping offer versus those shoppers who did not see a free shipping offer.
Also, consider using the conversion rate to help you understand how to invest in marketing. If visitors coming from your email-marketing channel convert at twice the rate of visitors coming from search, you may wish to focus more energy on email.
Be careful with conversion rate. Like any KPI, it can be misused or misunderstood. An article on Smart Insights pointed out areas of concern.
  • Making your site more engaging may reduce conversion rate. If you regularly create helpful content, people might come frequently to read that content — and only buy something, say, once in ten visits. If you only monitored conversion rate, you might foolishly think this was bad.
  • A relatively higher conversion rate doesn’t always mean more sales. It is better to convert five percent of a thousand visitors than 50 percent of 10 visitors.

Average Order Value

Average order value, which Kearns called transaction size, measures the average value in dollars of a sale on your ecommerce site.
Although easy to calculate, average order value is a significant indicator of ecommerce success, since this KPI is often directly related to profit. Increase average order value and profits are likely to rise too.
As average order value rises, a site will often enjoy a reduction in cost relative to each order. The cost reduction can come in the form of variable expenses like a lower shipping cost since you could place two items in the same box, or in fixed cost like employee salaries.
For the holiday seasons try to boost average order value. You might consider:
  • Offering free shipping with a minimum purchase;
  • Merchandising related products;
  • Showing and promoting product recommendations;
  • Bundling products.

2 Oct 2015

Predictions for 2015 Holiday Shopping Season

Earlier shopping, ecommerce sales growth, improved email marketing, and mobile commerce will be among the most important ecommerce trends during the 2015 Christmas shopping season, which lasts from the end of October through December 24.
Holiday ecommerce sales are important for many online retailers. In some cases, small business owners might see a significant portion of total annual sales in just a couple of months. Understanding what to expect in terms of growth or trends may help with planning your holiday season.
What follows are four 2015 holiday shopping predictions for ecommerce.

1. Many Shoppers Will Purchase before Halloween

The holiday shopping season will start long before Black Friday or Cyber Monday. In fact, at least 25 percent of holiday shoppers in the United States will purchase a Christmas gift before Halloween.
Often these before-November sales are not even tracked with holiday spending. But they will, nonetheless, happen.
This prediction is not earth shattering. Rather it is a continuation of a trend, since Google reported that one in four shoppers bought a Christmas gift before Halloween last year. And some 48 percent of shoppers had done the majority of Christmas shopping before Cyber Monday.

2. Online Retail Sales Will Grow 14.5 Percent

Year after year, online retail sales outpace retail sales overall, and 2015 will be no exception. But regardless of where a product is sold, it will be a good year for retail.

Total UK retail ecommerce sales are expected to top £60 billion ($99 billion) in 2015, a growth of 14.5%.

Black Friday spending this year is forecast to jump 32% to £1.07bn, according to retail industry research company IMRG.

3. Email Marketing the Best Promotional Tool

While this one will be a bit hard to measure, expect email, which is already the dominant holiday marketing vehicle, to become even more important in the 2015 Christmas shopping season.
Consider that a MailChimp survey from last year found that 100 percent — that is, every single one — of marketers surveyed planned to use email as part of their holiday promotions. Even companies that did not regularly send promotional emails planned to use the tool.
Two things will make email even better this holiday season.
First, expect to see more companies automate email messages, so that when shoppers make a holiday purchase they will see follow up messages that are designed to make additional sales and retain those holiday customers all year long.
Second, email marketers are getting better at segmentation and personalisation, which, in turn, should make an already effective marketing vehicle even better.

4. Mobile Commerce Will Reach 25 Percent of Total

During key 2014 holiday shopping days — like Black Friday — mobile commerce accounted for nearly 28 percent of ecommerce sales. For the 2014 holiday season overall, almost one-in-four ecommerce transactions took place on a mobile device.
Three factors will continue to push growth for mobile ecommerce.
First, even more sites are responsive and mobile optimized. Having a responsive website is not a competitive advantage in 2015; it is a competitive requirement.
Second, as smartphone screens get larger, mobile ecommerce becomes easier. The Samsung Galaxy S6 is 5.65 inches tall and 2.78 inches wide. The iPhone 6 Plus is 6.22 inches tall and 3.06 inches wide with a 5.5 inch HD display. On devices like these, it is simply easier to shop.
Third, mobile payment options are improving, again making it easier to shop from a smartphone.

An Overview of Last Holiday Season Sales

  • According to the IBM Experience One U.S. Retail Online Holiday Shopping Recap Report 2014, mobile commerce accounted for 22.56 percent of online sales in November and December of 2014. Mobile commerce also accounted for 21.99 percent of Cyber Monday sales and 27.91 percent of Black Friday sales, again according to IBM.
  • The Reuters news agency reported in January of this year that “for top U.S. retailers, free delivery is now the norm. …During the just-ended holiday season, outlets from Target to Wal-Mart to Amazon expanded their free-delivery options, adding more items eligible for free shipping. They also did away with minimum spending thresholds to qualify for the perk.”
  • In a March 2015 article about ecommerce fulfillment, eMarketer reported, “The 2014 holiday season saw a big increase in stores offering in-store pickup. It proved popular this holiday season as a way to avoid the crowds during the Thanksgiving weekend.”
Earlier, in a January post, Adobe said that “retailers offering their customers the choice of either home delivery or in-store pickup fared far better than competitors that were limited to online stores only. In fact, in-store pickups on Black Friday rocketed by an astounding 40 percent compared to the average business day.”
  • Adept reported that about 80 percent of shoppers watched product videos and video reviews, but it was not clear if that increased during the holidays.