November and December feature some of the biggest shopping days of the year for online retailers, concentrated particularly in the two to three weeks following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
Just take a quick look at how holiday revenue for brands broke down in 2014 in comparison to 2013, representing a 15% increase in spend YoY.
Cyber Monday surpassed $2 Billion in desktop buying alone in 2014. Source: comScore
So, while you’re decking the halls and tra-la-la-ling, take time to prepare your website, marketing plan and product images with care and cheer, and you will be rewarded with increased revenue and a solid year end to 2015. Follow our naughty and nice holiday checklist and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the season with friends, family and increased sales.
Here’s how to get on the ecommerce nice list this year.
Prep Your Tech
The busiest days of the year will test your technical backend to its limits. If you don’t stand up to the stress, you will experience ecommerce’s most expensive lump of coal: downtime.
Your site needs to be fast, reliable and responsive. Consider the following technical solutions.
1. Use responsive web design
- Naughty list: Illegible text, huge images, impossible navigation and Adobe Flash
- Nice list: Mobile friendly framework like Twitter Bootstrap
Responsive web design adapts to the viewing device. Source: Pixelz
Be mobile friendly. Responsive web design ensures that your site will adapt to the screen of each user. It allows a single site to look its best on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones by shifting its layout. Responsive design allows you to use art direction with product images and provide different images (or emphasize different portions of the same image) for different devices. It also has proven search engine benefits: Google favors responsive websites in search results.
How important is mobile? In 2014, it accounted for more than 20% of online holiday sales and totaled $1.35 billion, within three days alone.
Mobile spending accounted for over 20% of 2014 online holiday sales. Source: comScore
2. Compress your product images
- Naughty list: RAW, TIFF or unnecessarily large dimensions
- Nice list: Appropriately compressed JPG product images
Product images are more than just the heart of your website; they make up the bulk of its size as well. Ensure you’re compressing your images properly for the web. Compression will speed your page load times while also reducing bandwidth use.
Compress your product images appropriately. Source: Pixelz
You can use simple, free apps like TinyPNG to ensure all photos are properly sized for the web. If you’re working in Photoshop, simply save the image for web to ensure a quick page load speed on product pages.
3. Increase your bandwidth
- Naughty list: “509 Error: You have exceeded your bandwidth”
- Nice list: Cool, look at that traffic spike!
If your hosting service plan has a hard limit on your bandwidth use, see if you’re able to either increase your limit or have it removed for the holiday season. If you’re looking to take a step up small to midsize business, consider using a CDN.
4. Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
- Naughty list: 1 rickety server in grandma’s attic
- Nice list: Distributed service from data collocations around the globe
If you want a fast, scalable and reliable website, use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN will speed up page load times while reducing bandwidth and adding redundancy in case of failure.
A CDN distributes your data to other servers and serves it from the closest source. Source: Wikimedia
A CDN essentially distributes copies of your website throughout their network around the world. Whenever someone accesses your website, content is served from the closest server. For example, your primary host may have your website on a single server in Detroit. If you use a CDN, there may then also be servers located in Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, London, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, etc. Not only is speed increased by getting content from a closer location, the stress on each server is reduced because the load is shared.
The cost of a CDN can vary greatly depending on the service and your needs, but this is an increasingly competitive field with dropping prices. You may have heard of Akamai (who serves 15%-30% of all Internet traffic) or Amazon Web Services, and they’re great options, but there are plenty more out there. Take advantage of a helpful comparison site like CDNPlanet.
Also note that if you are utilizing a SaaS ecommerce provider, like Bigcommerce, then your hosting capabilities are already being served through a CDN.
It’s cool to be a cowboy, but you don’t want to leave the success of your business up to improvisation. There’s simply no need. After all, you know the holidays are coming and have plenty of time to prepare. Be ready.
5. Create a Holiday Marketing Calendar
- Naughty list: “Just discount something, maybe it will go viral”
- Nice list: Have a marketing plan in place
Create an internal marketing calendar and stick to it. Map out your email campaigns, social media activity, landing pages, gift guides and promotions. It’s not enough to simply discount prices on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or during the December build up to Christmas and other holidays. You have to let loyal customers and prospects know what’s coming and help them find what they want.
Your internal marketing calendar is your personal holiday guide.
6. Optimize Your Photo Production Workflow
- Naughty list: Bottlenecks create weeks-long studio to web lead time
- Nice list: Take a product from studio to site in one or two days
Be prepared to scale your photography operations up for the holidays. You’re going to sell more products and have more editorial and product image needs than at any other time of the year, so copy fast fashion retailers and develop a hyper-efficient workflow. Outsourcing digitized steps like post-production processing can save you time and money while also increasing your product image quality.
Product image editing companies like Pixelz can deliver edited product images in 24 hours or less. Consistently cropped, aligned, and web optimized product images are a must, but that’s just the beginning. Take advantage of features like shadows, color correction and an invisible mannequin effect. A professional appearance increases customer trust in your product.
Techniques like the Invisible Mannequin can professionalize your product images. Source: Pixelz
7. Have a Gift Guide
- Naughty list: Shoppers without ideas leave your site
- Nice list: Gift guide added to top navigation
Group your products into handy ensembles. Customers shopping for gifts may not know much about your product other than that their loved one likes it. Create gift recipient profiles, like “Gifts for Active Dads,” “Gifts for Techies,” “Gifts for a Modern Mom,” and make them easy for customers to find. Add gift guides to your homepage or into your main navigation menu.
Use gift guides to provide ideas for customers. Source: Marketo
Make sure your product images are consistently cropped and aligned across your site, as you may be mixing items from different categories together.
8. Build Landing Pages
- Naughty list: Every campaign links back to your homepage
- Nice list: Campaigns link to targeted content
Create targeted pages specifically for marketing campaigns. If you send an email about a specific watch to customers who’ve previously bought watches, the page they arrive on should feature that watch and related content. Sounds obvious, right? It is, but it takes time to create as many landing pages as you will need, so get started early. Pick the products you plan to market and create pages that feature the product and a call to action. Make the product images as clean and professional as possible.
9. Send Email Campaigns
- Naughty list: Same old newsletter
- Nice list: Targeted emails for specific products and events
Use an email campaign service, like MailChimp, iContact, or Constant Contact. These companies allow you to create professional looking emails, handle the actual mailing,and have sophisticated list management. Depending on the information you collect, you may be able to segment your list and send extremely targeted emails.
Plan out campaign series that will adapt depending on the actions of your customer. Did a customer click through to your site? Send them additional offers. Did they actually purchase an item? Send them an after-sale email that includes offers for related products.
Services like MailChimp let you send automated emails based on customer behavior and segmentation. Source: MailChimp
Perform A/B testing to try out variations of promotions on small portions of your list before extending the more successful option to a wider audience. Focus your attention on your existing customers, as they’re far more likely to buy than new prospects.
Don’t wait until the day of a sale to make contact. Teaser emails ahead of major days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday will put you into their thoughts during crucial planning days.
10. Be Social
- Naughty list: Your cousin’s kid posts memes all day
- Nice list: Run contests and be responsive
Ramp up your social media activity during the holiday season. Services like Pinterest and Instagram have joined established brands like Facebook and Twitter in size and influence. Engage your customers on social and it will humanize you and create active followers who are more likely to make purchases and share your content.
Run holiday-themed contests that are suited to each network. For example, if you are an apparel brand, you can give away items to the Instagram user who shares the most interesting holiday themed photo wearing your brand.
Simple photo + hashtag contests are fun and easy to run on Instagram. Source: FragranceNet
Charity giveaways are well suited to social media and have extra traction around the holidays. Partnering with established nonprofits like the Red Cross, Salvation Army or Toys for Tots will add credibility and goodwill to your contest.
Deliver On Your Promises
Preparing your tech and marketing with a purpose won’t matter if your customer is ultimately disappointed when they go to checkout. Or, worse, when they receive their product. Make sure you represent your product and pricing accurately. Build trust and you will develop business sustaining repeat customers.
11. Provide Many Images of Your Product
- Naughty list: One image without color correction
- Nice list: Images from every angle of all points of interest
Additional product images increase your sales and reduce returns. Source: Pixelz
Adding additional product images to each listing increases your chances of making a sale. Try photographing from the front and back, from 45 degree angles, and from the sides. If there are interesting pieces of detail, like gems or embroidery, take some close-ups. The better your customer understands your product, the more confident they will be about making a buying decision and the less likely they will be to return it.
12. Have a Clear Return Policy
- Naughty list: No policy and no returns
- Nice list: An easy to read and understand policy is shown before checkout
Gifts are more likely to be returned than other purchases. They may be the wrong size, duplicates or simply not to the recipient’s taste. Customers need to know that returns will be accepted painlessly. Make your policy easy to locate and easy to follow.
Companies like Zappos and Nordstrom are known for their forgiving return policies. Source: Zappos
13. Be Transparent on Shipping Costs and Timeline
- Naughty list: Sticker shock is bad. Late delivery is even worse
- Nice list: Free shipping and on time arrival
Shipping matters. If you advertise a product for $10 and then charge another $5 in shipping and handling, you’re going to see a lot of abandoned carts. Be upfront about shipping costs and don’t try to squeeze any extra. Even better, consider free shipping.
Above all, ensure fulfillment and logistics are in place to deliver your products on time. Make that timeline crystal clear to your customer and be sure they know the difference between an order date and a shipping date. If your product arrives after the holiday, you’ve lost more than just a customer. An experience that negative will be shared and will tarnish your brand.
Be clear on when orders must be placed to arrive before the holidays. Source: Mailpix
Enjoy the Holidays
Have fun! It’s a wonderful time of year, even if it is hectic and high pressure for an online retailer. Engage with your customers and let some personality shine through. Write a funny blog post, share photos of your staff party and make connections with your customers. You have enough time to plan with this holiday checklist –– so don’t let this holiday season be all work and no play.