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With Christmas now a mere 12 weeks down the road, this could be the last chance for retailers to make adequate plans for everyone’s favourite annual shop-fest.

We all know that Christmas trading performance can literally make or break the year’s results, or sometimes the entire businesses. Yet I believe that online opportunities are still being massively underestimated – or often times just plain ignored – precisely and ironically due to the heightened focus (not to mention pressure) in other areas.

But what does Christmas mean to your business? Are you set up to capitalise on all the available opportunities? Are you even aware of what those opportunities are – particularly from a digital or multi-channel perspective?

With all of the above in mind, here’s my early Christmas present to you, in the form of my ‘5 top tips for multi-channel festive domination’ in the run up to Christmas 2010.

1. Understand the scale of the opportunity.
Use analytics, research and industry trends in an attempt to properly understand what a multi-channel Christmas 2010 looks like for your business. Too many times opportunities are missed simply because no one in the business really fully appreciates the scale of what is potentially on the table. Believe me, spending the last 12 years in digital I’ve seen this happen A LOT and it would make me weep in frustration – if I hadn’t already run out of tears many, many years ago. Please, please take the time to understand what all those numbers could mean to your turnover and more importantly, bottom line, figures for the year.

2. Plan to out-think the competition this year…
Fortunately it’s not too late to get back in the game – although you have left it a little late to get started. Take a long, hard look at your Christmas plans and figure out how a multichannel approach could help you to amplify and compliment your existing silly season marketing efforts. What could you do differently this year in an attempt to out think the competition, as opposed to merely trying to out shout them? Media is expensive, whilst a dollop of creativity is a great leveller of playing fields. Think outside the box! Consider some different approaches. Maybe you don’t have to spend £10M carpet-bombing us with the same TV ad 40 times a day to get cut through?

(I’m not denying this works – just suggesting that, in 2010, there may be more elegant, cost effective and higher impact ways of reaching your target audience. No, I do not mean direct mail.)

3. Understand your analytics
Maybe this should be ranked as tip number one – as the number of organisations still paying lip service to the idea of using ‘web analytics’ is simply frightening. Not only are many businesses failing to use analytics effectively, quite often they haven’t even decided what it is that they should be measuring in the first place! The problem is, I think, that in the online world we have so much data at our disposal that we often become overwhelmed. Where to start first?

Well, a good place to start is by defining some really simple but critically important KPIs for your business. In our collective experience the number one sin in analytics is not focusing in on and understanding which numbers really matter the most.

The second cardinal sin would be a tendency to aggregate things like conversion rates and CPA targets across wildly differing product lines, or in most cases, across the entire business. Whilst this approach can offer a general indicator of overall performance, this is one area where the extraordinary granularity of online reporting really comes into its own. For example, its no use targeting an over-all CPA target of £50 across the business if 20% of sales comes from low margin, low value accessories. Unless, of course, its part of a larger strategy based on lifetime value of the customer etc… in which case your CRM / Referral and Social Media strategies all need to be geared up to driving that long-term value and measured accordingly to make certain that the profit is indeed coming back at some point in the equation!

I seem to have strayed from the point a bit here, but what I am trying to say is that the world of analytics is a complex one, and the numbers can often be misleading.

Considering this data is used to make critical business decisions about marketing activity and site redevelopment it really does warrant the attention of senior managers – whom I would encourage to ask as many difficult and probing questions as possible until they are completely satisfied that they a) understand what is going on and b) are convinced that they have correct, useful data upon which to base such decisions.

At this point in time the above scenario (senior management taking an interest in setting up reporting frameworks) is extremely rare, and this vital piece of work is often left to a junior ecommerce manager or assistant with little insight into or understanding of the real mechanics of the business.

4. Ramp up your visibility on search engines.
Increasingly, people start their multi-channel shopping journeys in cyber space. As more and more potential customers flood into the market in the coming months, search volumes rocket. Make certain that you are visible to these early stage researchers in order to get a shot at the sale when they eventually do decide to buy – be that online, from your catalogue or, heaven forbid, by intrepidly braving the British winter and actually turning up in one of those beloved ‘physical store’ thingies of yours. Yes, don’t worry we still love your stores!
(**After all, they give us intrepid Christmas shoppers somewhere nice and warm to hide when it’s raining or snowing outside, meaning that we can Google the price comparison engines in relative comfort to see where we could buy your stuff cheaper! So that’s nice. By the way, ever thought about installing free WI-FI? C’mon, this 3G is running like a dog. I can barely manage to upload the photo of that Sony plasma TV I just took to the Amazon instant search app! How frustrating!)

5. Systematically optimise your onsite experience and conversion rate
So now we have a good understanding of how our multi-channel audience are moving between and interacting with the various on and off line manifestations of our organisation or brand. So what? How do we get more of them and how do we sell them more stuff?

Again, whilst doubling your media budget could be a tad daunting, often times massive improvements in onsite user experience and ultimately conversion-to-sale can be achieved by investing relatively inconsequential sums into effective testing and onsite conversion optimisation.

The other upside to this approach – apart from the hardly inconsequential effect of increasing the ‘’bang for buck’ value of pretty much all of your existing marketing activity – is that your site visitors also get an improved experience and therefore are more likely to return and tell others!

It’s not unusual to be able to drive double-digit percentile improvements relatively quickly using simple, tried and tested methods. Yet, to this day, very few businesses take this really seriously – instead choosing to continue to rely on ‘gut instinct’ or on occasion, what colour the chairman or MD’s wife thinks the ‘buy now’ button should be.
(Err, yes. It still happens.)

In short, instigate a program of regular onsite measurement, testing and improvement. Flirt with A/B split tests or go the whole hog and commit to a long, wholesome relationship with multivariate testing. But whatever you do and however you measure it, do it systematically and do it regularly.

So there you have it. Five fairly broad-brush pointers towards a more prosperous, better integrated and ultimately more profitable Christmas trading season. To reiterate, it’s not too late to make a decision to make 2010 the year that you do things significantly differently and really make the multichannel approach pay dividends.

Wishing you all the best with your Christmas preparations!

Mark.

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