All sellers, big and small, look forward to the holiday season in hopes it will give their business that year-end revenue boost. They ready their inventory, dress up their stores and poise themselves to take on the flood of activity.
What about the customers, though? Are they as ready as some sellers for what the holiday shopping season brings? Sorting through all the buying options out there, fretting if they'll find what they want and hoping they can receive it in time? Are those smiles on their faces or are they grimaces of overwhelm?
As much as sellers need to ready themselves to serve the holiday crowds, there's a big opportunity to commiserate with the buyers' situation, providing them some extra help to get through the season. Here are five things you can do to help your customers manage their holiday shopping, hopefully in a way that helps them remember you as the port in the storm where the holiday experience was joyous.
Help relieve everyone's stress (including yours) by putting the matter of time and timeliness at the forefront of the shopping experience
1. Mind the time for your customers
The best sellers among us know how to put time on their side, usually having started their holiday preparation and promotion plans well in advance of when shoppers will begin thinking of the seasonal shopping. But, when those shoppers are ready to begin their holiday purchases, help them to a low-stress experience by reminding them exactly how soon the holiday will arrive and what they can do to keep from being late to the celebration.
Keep a countdown calendar visible for shoppers to see as they're shopping. Post a graphic where you sell (within your online store or within individual listings you post at other online shopping hubs) that shows how many days are left before the target holiday arrives.
Post a shipping chart to help buyers choose the best delivery method for their needs. A simple matrix that shows delivery methods, expected delivery dates (based on order placement dates), and the costs of each shipping method. This simple calendar will help your shoppers decide which shipping method they should choose to receive items when they're needed.
Oh, and be sure to factor in your own packaging and handling time to be sure you can get items packed and out the door to meet the stated delivery dates.
Offer and even encourage tracking services so your customers can follow the path and progress of the items they purchase. You'll save yourself the time of having to respond to individual email or phone inquiries ("Do you know where my package is now?"), while helping to ease your shoppers' anxiety; they can follow the coming arrival of their purchases themselves.
The time pressures of the holidays are just a part of the season, year in and year out. Help relieve everyone's stress (including yours) by putting the matter of time and timeliness at the forefront of the shopping experience.
To the best of your ability, try to serve a shopper within a single screen or two—the fewer mouse clicks the better
2. Narrow their focus
Help your customers focus on what it is they want to buy, whether at your online site or within item listings elsewhere. Many shoppers are on a mission during the holidays, and are eager to find what they want and purchase it quickly (they breathe easier as they check each item off of their shopping lists). Keep the "fluff" to a minimum; that is, limit distracting text, imagery and screen steps that stand between your shoppers and the actual item details they seek.
To the best of your ability, try to serve a shopper within a single screen or two (that is, the fewer mouse clicks the better). Treat them to a list of items right away with thumbnail images, concise descriptive text (providing access or links to additional information and images for them to review if they so choose), and a visible "purchase" button. If they have to navigate too much (that is, beyond a page or two), your shoppers are likely to leave your store. Yes, they're that impatient because they have so many shopping destinations available to them. Respect their time by providing them with a focused and fast shopping and buying experience.
3. Deck the halls around them, delicately
OK, understand it's not necessary to strip away all the season's festiveness when striving to serve customers quickly. As a matter of fact, a bit of well-placed décor will help your shoppers enjoy a bit of the season while they shop. Keep it tasteful, keep it uncluttered, but keep it fun and festive, too.
If you have a business logo, dress it up a bit. Consider changing colors to match the holiday. Update your usual welcome message with one that welcomes holiday shoppers. You needn't refashion your entire presence for the holidays; just spiff up those elements that you already use throughout the year. Include elements of good tidings, however, to acknowledge the celebrations of the day.
4. Share with them your good cheer
Take an empathetic stance and strive to be that seller who offered the smile and holiday greeting just when shoppers needed it most
No doubt, you've been in the shoppers' shoes yourself and you understand the pleasure and pressure of the holidays. Although your shoppers are focused and maybe even a bit frazzled, take time to communicate a positive message.
After you've added those tasteful dressings to your site and/or listings, warm up the rest of your messaging, from thanking customers for a purchase to kindly helping them sort through a problem. Take an empathetic stance with your shoppers' situation and strive to be that seller who offered the smile and holiday greeting just when they needed it most. This is the personal touch that reminds all that the holidays are about so much more than simply products and promotions.
5. Bask in the warmth for yourself, too
Finally, plan time for yourself to soak up all that the holiday season offers. No matter what you celebrate or how you celebrate it, the holidays are that time for reflection, rest and reminding ourselves what really matters in our day-to-day duties.
To be sure that you're providing the best experience for your customers, you'll need to ensure that you're enjoying the season yourself. Establish working hours for yourself and, more importantly, resting hours. Enjoy the season fully and you'll be in the best position to spread that to your customers. Cheers!
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Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.
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