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Ring up Holiday Sales

7 ways to boost online sales during the year's busiest shopping season

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Online spending is expected to go through the roof this holiday season. Will your company be ready to maximize ?

According to eMarketer, online spending will rise to $9.1 billion in 2004, and IAB/PricewaterhouseCoopers projects fourth-quarter spending alone will hit a record-setting $2.35 billion. What's more, the most affluent web users, with household incomes of $75,000-plus, are more likely to purchase more than half of their holiday gifts online, according to a survey from BURST! Media.

To capture more of these holiday shopping dollars, now's the best time to critically appraise your company's website and make any necessary adjustments. Here are seven smart ideas you can adopt today that are sure to help you ring up more online sales:

1. Communicate with past customers. While the explosion of has reduced the open rates for some types of solicitations, e-mail campaigns to in- lists are still top producers. November is a great time to send e-mail to your opt-in list of customers and prospects. For best results, it should be instantly recognizable as coming from you, a valued source of information. Avoid any subject line that could cause your e-mail to be mistaken for spam, personalize your messages and make an offer that you know your customers will find uniquely compelling.

2. Be easy to find. Nearly half of all respondents to a recent Harris poll commissioned by MSN reveal they use a search engine every single day, and other studies show that as many as three out of four consumers regularly use to find or research product information. If you're not already using pay-per-click on the major search engines, this may be an excellent time to start. And if you're a veteran of paid search, consider adding additional keyword pairs, participating in local search opportunities and fine-tuning your ads.

3. Advertise your site. When it comes to your website, if you follow the "If you build it, they will come" line of thinking, you're living in a field of dreams. Right now, 97 percent of U.S. retailers are selling online. Competition online is intense, and you must reach out and give prospects a compelling reason to visit your site. To build holiday traffic, place ads on sites that reach your best prospects. To maximize click-through rates, look for ad units (not necessarily banners) that are surrounded by editorial. And to increase sales from those who respond to your ads, direct click-throughs to specific landing pages, instead of your main page, where shoppers can find exactly what they're looking for.

4. Deepen your content. Product research is a top priority, particularly for women shoppers online. Take time now to add in-depth content, from product reviews, photographs, size charts and maps to pages on your company background and executive bios. It's essential to have enough information on your site to persuade shoppers to complete their transactions there-rather than move on to other sites to further their research.

5. Make shopping easy. Saving time and convenience are two of the primary reasons shoppers use the . So visitors to your site must find what they're looking for quickly and easily. Adding an on-site search facility has been shown to prompt consumers to buy more often and spend more per purchase. Also, offer quick checkout for repeat buyers and consider adding live online during peak hours so customers with questions can have them answered immediately-while they're actively shopping on your site.

6. Reduce cart abandonment. Most shopping carts are abandoned because of "surprises" such as added tax and shipping costs, which are only factored into the price of a product once a user makes the decision to buy. To eliminate this problem, simply supply these prices upfront. You may even choose to offer free shipping, which has proven to be a strong sales incentive. Offering multiple payment options can also translate to more sales. A study by CyberSource found that websites with four or more payment methods got sales conversion rates of 72 percent.

7. Protect customers' privacy. Keeping personal information secure is a top priority for many online shoppers. And this goes far beyond using a secure connection for online transactions. Is your privacy policy displayed prominently on your site? For maximum sales this holiday season, it pays to reassure customers that the personal information they choose to share with you will be used only to enhance their shopping experience.

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