Every year, your stakes are at their highest during the holiday season. This year, with the US economy still in recovery, retailers got some encouraging news from Chicago consumer retail research company ShopperTrak: For the 2012 holiday shopping season, retail sales are expected to increase 3.3% from last year, and a good chunk of that increase will come from online retail.
Every retailer wants to maximize the influx of shoppers at this time of year, and those that sell online have more opportunities than ever before to convert website visitors into buyers. Cyber Monday is becoming as much of a tradition as Black Friday. Holiday deals and discounts, such as free shipping and special coupons for program members proved especially attractive to online shoppers last year.
But what else can retailers do to boost sales online? And how do retailers keep these shoppers coming back when the holidays are over?
1. The time to prepare for the holidays is now
Experts agree that if retailers want to be first to capture shoppers' attention, they need to get ready now. Hanukkah falls 11 days earlier this year than it did last, so expect an early start to the season. Also, two extra calendar days fall between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, so retailers need to prepare deals and offers accordingly.
Many online retailers have already put the final touches on their new website code and are rolling out holiday-themed landing pages and deals.
2. Reduce shopper anxiety at every point in the sales process
Though you may pick and choose products, product families, or services to create the right mix of offerings for your target market, the one thing you can't selectively omit is your end-to-end sales cycle support.
According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 9.9% of all holiday gifts end up being returned or exchanged. So, shopping cart interfaces, checkout information, terms and conditions, shipping details, and return policies must offer online shoppers a seamless experience.
If shoppers have any doubt that they won't get their purchases in time for holiday gift giving, they're more likely to move on to the next site.
3. Like Santa, transcend international borders
Some US-based retailers need to be prepared for incoming site visitors from around the world, especially hotbeds of growth like Latin America, China, and the Middle East. In those regions consumer spending is on the rise, and residents of many countries there both need and expect to shop in their own languages.
Accommodate global shoppers by translating your website copy well and providing customer service such as email, phone support, and chat in various languages.
4. What you don't know can sink you
The holidays have different meanings for consumers from different cultures and countries. Your website, text, images, social media presence, mobile sites, apps, and advertising campaigns should reflect those differences. Know the markets you are targeting, and understand that a simple language translation is likely not enough if you don't want to sound "foreign"—or, worse, negative—to a potential consumer.
Successful website localization shows that you understand your consumers' expectations. For example, what may sound "braggy" to people from one culture can be the perfect pitch for another.
5. Design all of your holiday promotions to be consistent
A holiday retail website doesn't operate in a vacuum. Big-name department stores engage consumers online with the goal of luring them to brick-and-mortar locations. (That's because 70% of shoppers still favor the security and convenience of ordering items online and then picking them up in a physical location.)
Emails, mobile apps, online offers, and social media are all great mechanisms for increasing sales online and in stores. For such a multipronged strategy to succeed, retailers need to deliver consistent messages via each method—and to do so in other languages as well.
* * *
Retailers depend on the last two months of the year for up to 40% of their annual sales. It makes sense to prepare your company's most valuable asset—your online interface—early. It's also smart to open up your site to as many visitors worldwide as possible. Planning ahead with successfully translated and localized site content, from the landing page to the shopping cart, will make this holiday season considerably more merry and bright.
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