Ring up Holiday Sales

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

learn more about Kim T. Gordon

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

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

To capture more of these holiday shopping dollars, now's thebest time to critically appraise your company's website andmake any necessary adjustments. Here are seven smart ideas you canadopt today that are sure to help you ring up more onlinesales:

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

2. Be easy to find. Nearly half of all respondents to arecent Harris poll commissioned by MSN reveal they use a searchengine every single day, and other studies show that as many asthree out of four consumers regularly use search engines to find orresearch product information. If you're not already usingpay-per-click advertising on the major search engines, this may bean excellent time to start. And if you're a veteran of paidsearch, consider adding additional keyword pairs, participating inlocal search opportunities and fine-tuning your ads.

3. Advertise your site. When it comes to marketing yourwebsite, if you follow the "If you build it, they willcome" line of thinking, you're living in a field ofdreams. Right now, 97 percent of U.S. retailers are selling online.Competition online is intense, and you must reach out and giveprospects a compelling reason to visit your site. To build holidaytraffic, place ads on sites that reach your best prospects. Tomaximize click-through rates, look for ad units (not necessarilybanners) that are surrounded by editorial. And to increase salesfrom those who respond to your ads, direct click-throughs tospecific landing pages, instead of your main page, where shopperscan find exactly what they're looking for.

4. Deepen your content. Product research is a toppriority, particularly for women shoppers online. Take time now toadd in-depth content, from product reviews, photographs, sizecharts and maps to pages on your company background and executivebios. It's essential to have enough information on your site topersuade shoppers to complete their transactions there-rather thanmove on to other sites to further their research.

5. Make shopping easy. Saving time and convenience aretwo of the primary reasons shoppers use the Internet. So visitorsto your site must find what they're looking for quickly andeasily. Adding an on-site search facility has been shown to promptconsumers to buy more often and spend more per purchase. Also,offer quick checkout for repeat buyers and consider adding liveonline customer service during peak hours so customers withquestions can have them answered immediately-while they'reactively shopping on your site.

6. Reduce cart abandonment. Most shopping carts areabandoned because of "surprises" such as added tax andshipping costs, which are only factored into the price of a productonce a user makes the decision to buy. To eliminate this problem,simply supply these prices upfront. You may even choose to offerfree 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 morepayment methods got sales conversion rates of 72 percent.

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

Kim T. Gordon
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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