As 2014 winds down, the results of your retail holiday strategy will slowly come into focus. Hopefully, you're having a merry old time, reaching record heights in sales, customers, revenue, website traffic—all the things that help to make a holiday marketing season bright.
However, now is no time to rest on your laurels (or lick your wounds, as the case may be). As every retailer knows, there's no off-season in retail marketing, especially in the online world, where if you're not moving forward... you're automatically falling behind.
Even before the ball drops in Times Square to mark 2015's official start in the US, it's critical that you begin cementing the customer gains you've made during the 2014 holidays.
If you want to ensure a truly happy new year in the e-commerce space, make sure you take some or all of the following steps.
1. Reach out to your audience
You no doubt gathered a wealth of contact information on all of your new (and returning) customers over the holidays; now is the time to put it all to work.
In particular, use your various marketing channels to thank your new customers for shopping with you, and ask them for feedback on their experiences. Doing so will help you keep the conversation going with them, in addition to showing them you care about their patronage—and their opinions.
Follow up early in the new year with promotions, newsletters, and other marketing tactics that will help you keep your name in front of your holiday shoppers. Entice them to keep shopping with you by sending them a series of special, customized offers that cater to their shopping interests.
And keep testing those offers and all of your communications to maximize their effectiveness.
2. Listen to what they've already said
Your January marketing plan is presumably already established, so use this time to dig deep into all of the customer data at your disposal.
Don't focus solely on what you collect from Thanksgiving on; analyze what you've gathered throughout the entire year, particularly the first quarter of 2014. Then compare it all to your data from prior years and develop a detailed, comprehensive understanding of what your audience's behavior is telling you.
Remember: Trying new approaches is a worthy, necessary task, but facts and figures don't lie. If the verifiable information tells you to stick to the tried-and-true, do so; and run limited tests on the new and unknown until you consistently beat your controls.
On the other hand, if what you've always done hasn't measured up to your competitors or your expectations, prepare for a wide range of market tests.
3. Please your loyal customers
Brand affinities are a lot more fluid online than they are in brick-and-mortar stores. Fortunately, it's easier to compile actionable data on your customers' website behaviors than behaviors in physical aisles. Use your knowledge of individual shoppers' proven behaviors to personalize the messages they see, both on your site and in your communications with them.
Group your customers into the smallest possible segments according to their shopping histories, and create campaigns that appeal to each segment's needs and desires. Tailor what they see on your homepage (and other site) banners to match their specific interests, and send them emails and other messages promoting the sorts of savings that will keep you top of mind—and keep them coming back.
4. Optimize your customers' time
The online retail space is increasingly competitive, and shoppers have too many outlets at their disposal to put up with sub-par features and processes for long, regardless of what they want to buy. If you want to build a loyal audience, you need to make your customers' shopping experiences as easy and reliable as any they can find online.
Your checkout process is a good place to start. Test it repeatedly for glitches, bottlenecks, and surprises—such as shipping or other fees that suddenly appear only at the end of the transaction. Make sure your holiday customers can store their payment and shipping data securely, and give them quick access to all of it whenever they want to make another purchase with you.
Just as important, check their access to critical information, including customer service links, return and refund policies, and anything else that might affect their purchase decisions.
The more convenient your site's various features and processes are, the more satisfied your customers will be.
5. Make them want to visit
Offering shoppers the absolute best products at the absolute lowest prices all the time is a great business model, but it's exceedingly hard to put into practice. If you can't win every battle on quality or cost, or both, you need to give your customers other reasons to return to your site.
Offer them easy-to-use expert advice; plentiful user reviews; top-notch customer service; free shipping, easy returns, and other customer-friendly policies; and additional features on your site that will differentiate you from—or at least keep you on par with—the leaders in your category.
Information may be free online, but providing your customers with easy access to the information they need will make your site a valuable destination.
* * *
Your 2014 holiday campaign will no doubt boost your final revenue numbers for the year, but it can do so much more than that. By properly using the information you gather over the holidays and giving your new (and loyal) customers what they want, you can extend the holiday spirit—and its rewards—throughout 2015.