Prepare for the Holidays, Part 5

Marketing your online store for the holidays.

by Sarah Brown
- Sep 04, 2013

When the holiday season arrives, it brings with it falling leaves, scary or funny costumes, colorful winter wonders, and lots of family gatherings. But each new season also brings more shoppers to the online market.

In this series, we covered how to source holiday inventory, manage a shipping center, and update listings and policies. In this article, we'll look at some angles for marketing to those growing numbers of online shoppers.

Traditional routes made simple

Marketing begs a two-part question: How can I tell people about my store, and how can I entice them to shop there?

There are myriad ways to tell people about your store or remind them they can buy from you. Choose some of the following strategies you think are manageable, or perhaps expand on the action plans you already have in place.

Traditional routes like business cards, fliers, newsletters and emails are still effective, as are strong keywords in your product titles and descriptions.

Subject lines should be clear and straightforward, telling the consumer exactly why they should act on your email

First-timers can print their own business cards and fliers with pre-perforated templates found at favorite office supply stores. Vistaprint also offers a huge selection of designer business cards at reasonable prices, in addition to various other promotional marketing materials.

Place these tangible materials into every order you ship, and consider writing a personal message or discount to entice repeat business.

Newsletters and emails keep your store at the forefront of subscribers' minds. They are used to inform about upcoming holiday sales, and perhaps offer helpful tips, contest giveaways or personalized gift guides.

David Workman, e-commerce operations manager at Delta Apparel, says subject lines should be clear and straightforward, telling the consumer exactly why they should act on your email. He also reminds us to be conscious of how we construct emails.

"Make sure the design of the emails is simple and designed in a way that complements standard formats as well as mobile," Workman says.

Virtual engagement

To take your marketing strategies a bit further, consider social media and advertising options.

Direct Placement, one of Oregon's fastest growing private companies, is in the business of ad placements. The service puts your store link at the top of popular search engine ads and, as the founder puts it, places you "in a position to win."

Social media is an engagement tool used for reaching out to your consumer base. It helps your store appear alive and friendly. Many of today's consumers also like to know they have access to the seller outside the store.

These are some reasons why sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter have been successful marketing strategies for some. But to build relationships with consumers, you can also opt for blog, video or podcast options.

Rather than spread yourself too thin, figure out how the things you sell fit into a few key holidays, and plan your marketing accordingly

Social platforms are extensions that allow you to engage your target market. As an example, craft supplier Annie Howe has built a large following over her six years as an online seller. She sends out regular newsletters and keeps her Facebook page updated. Her blog is a platform for sharing tips and tricks, and for announcing the occasional contest or giveaway.

I know it can be hard to maintain an online store, much less a blog and several networking sites. Just start with what works best for you and use social management tools like HootSuite to schedule posts and see at a glance when people post on your Facebook page, or direct message you on Twitter.

Leverage the key holiday selling seasons

We've covered different ways to tell people about your store, but how do you entice them to spend their holiday dollars there?

First, there's no replacement for good photos, helpful customer service and good deals. Use sales and free shipping during key selling seasons to help your store stand out from the crowd. And if you own an eBay Store, utilize the marketing tools it offers.

In a recent Webinar, e-commerce expert Lisa Suttora reports people start shopping for the holidays in September. And not only do they shop for other people, but a recent report by the NRA indicates as many as 60 percent of holiday shoppers also engage in "self-gifting."

In short, Suttora notes several key holiday selling seasons: Back-to-school runs July to October, followed by fall and Halloween. Christmas and New Year's run through mid-January, and the self-improvement season peaks in January.

Rather than spread yourself too thin, focus on only a few holidays, Suttora says. Figure out how the things you sell fit into these key holidays, and plan your marketing strategies accordingly.

At the very least, center your sales around Black Friday weekend, Workman adds.

"Ultimately you should plan for the entire holiday season (pre-season, holiday season and post-season) to get the best results," he says. "But if you are short for resources, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will get you the biggest bang for your buck."

Do not just send an email for the sake of sending an email. The more relevant your emails are to consumers, the better your results will be

The best time to prepare your holiday marketing is by the end of spring, he notes. But, since that season is already long past, he offers some tips for last-minute options.

Segmentation for personalization

Start with research. Workman suggests sellers look at their historical sales over the past year and note which categories, products and promotions were most successful during the holidays. Then see what's going on in the current environment.

"Use this data to build upon the wins (and failures) from last year by making sure all elements in the campaigns are relevant to current trends and consumer behavior," he notes.

Further, Workman explains that even if last year's holiday marketing plan was a success, don't rely too heavily on past strategies. You should be gaining more understanding about your target market every year that will help you segment them better.

"The tighter your segmentations, the higher your conversions," Workman says.

As an example, Delta Apparel learned its vintage junk food T-shirts mostly sell to NFL and Star Wars fans. With this knowledge, the company can focus its efforts more toward these two segments, creating a tailored marketing plan.

Segmentation helps develop personalization strategies, and personalization helps your store become more relevant to those who want to buy from you.

"Do not just send an email for the sake of sending an email," Workman notes. "The more relevant your emails are to your consumers and their needs at this time, the better your results will be across the board."

One way to personalize a marketing email is to develop gift guides. Cross-promote school supplies, suggest themed holiday gift ideas for the woman, or educate shoppers on which outdoor gear men want this year.

In short, marketing for the holidays should be based on what will work best for you. Know your key selling seasons, and don't spread yourself too thin.

About the Author

Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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