Some early forecasts predict a bleak holiday sales season, so ecommerce retailers better have your A-game ready.
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Analysts at Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) expect the weakest holiday since 2008. The research team cited the six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and lower consumer confidence as the culprits.
That said, the analysts predict “time-strapped and value conscious consumers” will look to retailers’ online stores and ecommerce giants “to stretch their dollars further and for convenience.”
And while a key index on U.S. consumer sentiment slipped in early November to 72.0 -- a near two-year low, last week the Commerce Department reported a slight rise in retail sales. The better-than-expected 0.4% rise in October was slightly above estimates of a 0.1% bump.
Artemis Berry, National Retail Federation’s (NRF) vice president of digital retail for Shop.org, expects the upward trend to continue.
“We’re overall forecasting significant growth in sales and I think we’re going to see a huge jump in mobile and tablet conversion of sales,” Berry says.
NRF is projecting an overall 3.9% holiday sales jump from November to December, and Shop.org is expecting 13 to 15% more spending on the online front.
During the holidays especially, Berry says it’s important for retailers to stand out in the competitive landscape. Here are four ways seasoned e-tailers are tackling the holiday season that might work magic for your small business.
Exclusive Promotions and Deals
An oft-cited consumer concern about shopping online is a fear of not receiving packages on time or paying more for shipping than the item itself. E-tailers have taken note and are finding ways to drive traffic with deals and promotions.
Zappos.com, Shopbop and East Dane, which are all owned by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), offer free shipping both ways and have a 365-day return policy. “We’ve built the Zappos brand on customer service and making people happy,” says Galen Hardy, Clothing Czar for Zappos.com.
One Kings Lane – an online destination for high-end home products – is offering shoppers flat-rate shipping at $9.95 through Dec. 31. And daily-deals-for-Mom site Zulily (NASDAQ:ZU) is launching a special Thanksgiving sale exclusive to mobile customers.
Social Media Engagement
At Wanelo, founder Deena Varshavskaya says the team often talks about “breaking the ‘fourth wall’” with customers – a film concept where the actor suddenly turns to the camera and talks to the audience. She says this is the type of conversation Wanelo wants to have with users.
In that vein, Wanelo developed a “Stories” feature for users to write editorial stories about content they post. “It’s not just about the products, but about the users’ stories and products they pick,” she says.
Zappos.com launched a new Pinterest widget, which allows users to see what products are trending on the media site in real-time and makes seeing what friends pin from the site simpler.
Optimized Site and Mobile Experience
“We expect our shoppers to continue to rely on their smartphones to make holiday shopping convenient,” says One Kings Lane CEO Doug Mack. By refreshing their “‘shelves’ each day” they are able to “offer merchandise that stands out in the sea of ‘same’ gift options” and keep shoppers engaged.
Lori Twomey, chief merchant at Zulily, advises e-tailers to use photography, design and copy to give the site “a touch of fun” and “give [users] an experience that keeps them coming back.”
Zappos.com’s “Glance App” allows shoppers to share what they love and derive inspiration from what others like. Users can “Heart” items they like, check to see what “Hearted” items are trending and share the information with friends and family.
Limited-Edition Items and Holiday Pages
Zappos.com created a page specifically for the holidays with “giftable items” ranging from $50 to $200. And Zulily’s buyers pick items for “holiday boutiques,” each with a different theme and price-point, such as stocking stuffers, gifts for him and toys under $20.
One Kings Lane partnered with notable industry titans like Aerin Lauder, Charlotte Ronson and John Derian for a limited-edition gift-wrap series based off the designers’ signature styles. Proceeds from gift wrap sales will benefit a charity of the designer’s choice.
And Wanelo’s new “Wanelo Holidays” page features retailers, brands and users’ “handpicked products and stories.”
“This page uniquely reaches our [10 million-plus] users at once, which is a huge opportunity for anyone involved because their content is normally only distributed to their followers,” says Karen To, head of communications for Wanelo.