From the August 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

It's no fun to think about winter while enjoying picnics in the sunshine. But for your e-marketing strategy, it's the perfect time to create offers that will drive shoppers into your online store this holiday season.

For instance, free shipping sells. This offer influenced 39 percent of orders during the 2002 holiday season and will influence shoppers again this year, according to a recent Bizrate.com study. But this is no longer viewed as an extraordinary offer. "Online retailers have created the expectation among consumers that free shipping is the norm, which puts pressure on retailers to run free shipping promotions into perpetuity," says Ken Cassar, former senior analyst at research firm Jupitermedia.

Beyond free shipping, Bizrate.com notes the following features also inspired holiday orders last winter: clearance page (46 percent), product promotion (44 percent), featured sales item page (42 percent), suggested items (27 percent) and gift idea center/personal shopper (25 percent). Most of these efforts require a separate page or section on your Web site. Design these pages now, and file them for a few months. Using your time now to develop new content can alleviate stress during pre-holiday madness and ensure your winter promotions launch on time.

You can also use seasonal offers to introduce a fresh line of products. Try a "value pack" promotion-bundle products together, and include a gift with purchase. For example, if you sell pet portraits, include a free photo album with orders. Your customers may buy the album as a stand-alone item after the holidays. This introduction of a new product boosts holiday sales and fuels demand for your forthcoming products.

But not all online offers are profitable. FJAproducts.com, an online retailer of laser toner cartridges, inkjet cartridges, thermal fax supplies and printer ribbons, promoted a 20 percent discount per order (up to $10 off) to MasterCard newsletter subscribers and found those customers spent just enough to get the maximum discount ($50). This was far below the site's average order of $98, which meant the promotion attracted customers who spent less, not more.

"Watch your numbers on special offers closely," warns Bryan Lewis, partner of the San Marcos, California-based FJAproducts.com. "If you're running a highly competitive offer that produces a low return, you could be losing money. What works on one marketing partner's site may not work on another's."

Get your customers into the holiday shopping spirit by giving them multiple offers. The Web lets you swap ideas on the fly to continually improve your site's performance. And the winter holidays deliver rushed shoppers who quickly show you which seasonal goodies entice them. You're given a gift, too-the insight into your customers' wish lists can be used to craft marketing campaigns that sell year-round.


Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Seda owns an Internet marketing agency and is author of Search Engine Advertising.