Four E-commerce Tips for the Holiday Season

10/14/2014
Each year the retail holiday season grows increasingly competitive. The battle to become the leader in e-commerce has begun and retailers are stepping up their A game. Research from Forrester forecasts that online sales will soar to $414 billion and online retail sales will grow 57 percent by 2018.  As the competition becomes increasingly stiff, it's no wonder why e-retailers and retail executives are planning out their strategies earlier.

But while these executives focus on the bells and whistles to make their brand stand out in a crowded industry, they're missing a very basic, yet critical, component of merchandising online: product information.

It seems almost too easy to miss, but relaying detailed, accurate and comprehensive product information to consumers is often either an afterthought or a complicated, messy and broken process of exchanging incorrect information across channels and partners. Ultimately, this information is what instills confidences in shoppers and converts browsers to buyers, so it must hold significance for retail executives.

Where should marketers start, considering they likely have hundreds – if not thousands – of products, each with multiple attributes that need to be recorded, managed and distributed? Below are four components to help you prepare your e-commerce website for the holiday season.

1. Accurate, comprehensive product information
Consider this scenario: one night after work, a consumer researches a gift for her son online via her laptop. Customers generally browse 10.4 sites when researching on a laptop. When she lands on your site, the description is sparse and does not include the key features that were researched. This seemingly small stumble is enough to shake the consumer's confidence and drives her to another site for the purchase.
This scenario is all too familiar in the retail scene: 75 percent of shoppers encounter inconsistent product information while shopping. Especially during the holiday season, consumers are likely shopping on unfamiliar sites for gifts for relatives, so they may not be familiar with a retailer's product catalogue. That's why it's more important than ever for product information to be accurate, consistent and updated across all channels. 

2. Detailed product images
As the number of consumer touchpoints – online, mobile, in store, etc. – continues to grow, retail executives must prioritize maintaining a consistent brand image across all channels. One small discrepancy can have the most significant impact and cause consumers to question their purchase and, even worse, leave a site without converting into a sale.

While detailed product images are important all the time, during the holiday season they hold a specific role. Consumers are increasingly turning to e-commerce during for holiday shopping, and they need to understand everything about a product online as if they were standing in the store holding it. Images, including zoom in and out features, 360-degree photos and even videos, give the consumer a sense of exactly what she's purchasing.

3. Social media commerce
Social media has begun to emerge as an alternative channel to a retailers' e-commerce site. Nordstrom recently launched its Like2Buy platform, which lets consumers click on a product image on its Instagram page and then purchase it immediately from Nordstrom.com. A combined strategy for e-commerce and social media is imperative for a successful holiday season because of social becoming shoppable. There clearly is a movement toward decentralized commerce.

Additionally, social is playing an increasing role in influencing shoppers' decisions. Friends often recommend items on Facebook or Twitter, which significantly plays into how confident a consumer feels about making a purchase. Recommendations from friends are much more trustworthy than those from strangers. Forward-thinking retailers are embracing a "commerce everywhere" approach, acknowledging that the commerce model is changing and is now embedded across many mediums and channels, including social. Retailers need to ensure they have the correct social media buttons on product pages to make social sharing simple.

4. Extreme personalization
Once retailers have a solid base of accurate product information, they can begin looking into some next-level retail strategies, such as personalization. Catering to consumers' needs is really what enables a great brand experience and turns shoppers into repeat customers.

When mixing in personalization to an e-commerce strategy, retailers should consider offering targeted specials or promos to encourage purchases or suggest products that consumers may also be interested in checking out based on the site pages they've already visited. This shows the consumer that she isn't just another blip on the radar, and that her experience matters to the company.

Don't get caught unprepared this holiday retail season  – as we've seen in the past, a disastrous brand experience during this time can carry over into the new year. Retail executives need to ensure they're providing consumers with all the information they need to feel well informed about a product and own their shopping experience. This all starts with the foundation of accurate product content that powers digital initiatives and commerce websites.


Phil Chang is head of product strategy at Hubba.
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