Is Your Site Search Ready for Holiday Shoppers?

The holiday shopping season is almost upon us. Many online retailers are still trying to get everything ready for the anticipated hordes of shoppers who will be beating down their online gates to buy gifts for their loved ones and friends.

Most retail sectors depend heavily — and some, almost exclusively — on December sales to make their yearly numbers. In fact, many online retailers will do more business in the last 12 days before Christmas than the rest of the year combined.

If predictions hold true, during this year there will be more online shoppers than ever — indeed, great news if you have an e-commerce site. However, at the same time, the overall number of businesses selling online is increasing every day — making e-commerce the competitive channel.

What Works Best for You?

Yes, you need to make sure that shoppers find your site among the tens of thousands of retail sites available to them on the Web. However, what else can you do to ensure that you are ready for the biggest shopping season e-commerce has ever seen?

Of course, you need to analyze what works best for your business. For example, are your shoppers enticed by free shipping offers or do you need to ship gratis just to be competitive? Are you selling the kinds of items that people tend to give to loved ones perennially (sweaters, slippers, men’s shirts and ties, etc.) — and if so, do you offer incentives for loyal customers and deals for purchases of multiples?

Have you figured out this year’s “hot” item, and are you prepared to greet the storm of shoppers with unique, customized landing pages that will make it easy for shoppers to buy from you? After all, an e-commerce Web site has only about eight seconds to engage a shopper before they leave the landing page, according to Forrester Research — and the shopper is undoubtedly in even more of a rush when they’re shopping for the holidays.

So, do you have the products and services that your customers will be clamoring for? Are you ready to sell them and fulfill all the orders?

History Is on Your Side

In the retail world, history repeats itself. The best predictor of future customer behavior is past customer behavior. The best way to ensure a successful holiday selling season is to learn from last year’s successes — and mistakes. What did and didn’t work?

When we work with retailers — during the year, but especially through our holiday readiness program — we spend quite a bit of time analyzing last year’s search reports in order to figure out this year’s holiday merchandising strategy and readiness plan.

First, pull last year’s searches that came up with “No Results” and review them. What didn’t work? I heard one retailer at a conference a few years ago say that if he’d paid attention to what shoppers were not finding on his site, he would have responded much sooner and had a much more lucrative Christmas season.

Another good technique is to set up a separate merchandising staging environment where you can add special Christmas catalog items and then test different merchandising strategies and promotions. See what works best and then migrate the most effective strategy to your primary site. Build new merchandising rules, test them and tune them.

We find that it makes sense to establish which top natural search terms drove business to your site and test them by building landing pages with SEO (search engine optimization) content banners to improve ranking. If you are doing SEM (search engine marketing), also pull your top SEM paid terms and test them.

Make sure they’re still effective because search terms evolve and change. What worked last year might not work this year. What worked last month for the fall shopping season may not be generating the result you need this month for the upcoming winter and holiday shopping seasons. You need to know what the most effective SEM and natural terms are for your business and your products — and put those to work.

Don’t forget to monitor the actions of customers who visit your landing pages to ensure that you are indeed creating relevant and effective landing pages that actually sell the product that brought them to your site in the first place.

An Essential Element

When it comes to holiday readiness, site search and merchandising (aka searchandising) can play a big role. Even after your site lockdown in late September or early October, there are strategies that you can continue to execute well into the holiday shopping season.

As we work with many retailers, we have found that it is imperative for them to be on their toes during this critical season. For example, you may find it effective to create search strategies and promotions on-the-fly as necessary.

We have heard horror stories of retailers not paying attention to what their e-commerce sites were telling them, were not responding to changing shopping patterns — and suffered devastating consequences as a result.

So, are you ready for the 2007 holiday season? For many businesses, holiday site lockdown is a key milestone in e-commerce, but successful Internet retailers know that being nimble — adjusting to changes mid-season and executing merchandising strategies based on what your business is experiencing — is what can make the difference between a joyous holiday selling season and a piece of coal in your stocking.

Corey Leibow is president and CEO of Mercado Software, a provider of e-commerce search and merchandising solutions.

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