Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tis The Season For Tying Stores To Online Sales

By Debbie Hauss, Contributing Editor

It’s no secret that cross-channel retailing is an over-arching mandate in today’s retail industry. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are embracing the online channel as an increasingly important part of their businesses, and legacy catalog-based retailers are using their direct-to-consumer savvy to drive strong e-commerce sales. The web is no longer a standalone silo – it’s a primary driver toward continued and renewed retail success.

Following are five key ways to keep up with the competition during holiday 2007 and beyond:

1)Embrace the multi-channel mindset. This goes without saying in today’s marketplace but begs to be emphasized. Online (non-travel) retail sales are increasing at a faster rate than other channels, up 21% during the first three quarters of 2007 versus 2006, reaching approximately $84 billion, according to comScore.

2) Use customer activity data to make site changes often, even daily during the busiest seasons. REI has taken this concept to heart and practices it as the basic component of its go-forward strategy.

3) Offer free or promotional shipping deals and communicate them clearly to customers. Particularly during the holidays, but more and more with Internet shopping customers are looking for free shipping or promotional shipping deals. In a recent holiday survey of more than 1,500 consumers, the e-tailing group found that the number-one deterrent of online shopping is “high shipping charges.

4) Don’t forget the gift cards (and other gifting tools). Convenience is the top priority for today’s shoppers and gift cards address that need. Holiday gift card sales reached an all-time high last year, up to almost $25 million in 2006 from $18 million in 2005, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), and almost 80% of customers polled in a study conducted with BIG Research said they planned to purchase at least one gift card during last year’s holiday season.

5) Be in stock! This is another point that goes without saying yet still needs to be reinforced in today’s cross-channel world. As social networking, including customer-generated product reviews, online chat and blogs, become more popular, more consumers will become familiar with the “hottest” products and will want to purchase them. Before you initiate these new strategies, be sure you will be able to meet customer demand, particularly during the holiday season.

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