Translate Holidays into Dollars: How to Structure Your Offer’s Metamorphosis

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Why is the holiday shopping season so great? Your customer has an immutable purchasing deadline. Her fifth-grade, Wii-craving son won’t let her forget it, and neither should you. But as…tick, tick, tick…precious time passes in the make-or-break shopping season, are you flexible enough to take advantage of this natural urgency factor to get the greatest ROI out of your traffic?

In the September 22 Web clinic, our special guest Linda Bustos mentioned the idea of how online retailers may want to shift their focus from regular shipping of physical products to more holiday-conscious messaging, eventually moving toward downloadable products when the time runs short. I thought that this point deserved a deeper look.

Natural Urgency: An Opportunity for Increased Relevance
The holidays are a goldmine because you have extra insight into what your customers want, and when they want it. I will use the example of Christmas in the rest of this post (because it’s the single most commercially impactful holiday in the world), but the same principles apply to other holidays or even to specialty products and services that exist in relation to a specific “deadline” that the customer has to meet, like a wedding, a housewarming party, or one of your aunt’s cats’ birthday. When you know that urgency is a factor in your customer’s decision whether to buy from you, it is critical that you help this customer not only understand why your offer is the best choice, but also how you can deliver it on time. Providing this helpful information will help your customer buy from you.

The underlying principle here is that you must use everything you know about your customers (and every interaction they have with your site tells you something) to present your offer in the most meaningful, relevant way. For example, knowing what holidays are coming up within the next few weeks, you may want to test links to “Christmas gift shopping” on your site. While your catalog of products will not change, you know that anyone that clicked on that link is looking for a Christmas gift, and now you have a date to work with. You can test letting your visitor choose the target holiday, or if you have the data to assume that your customers are predominantly Christmas gift shoppers, your site by default can address that particular holiday.

December 1: Make your site holiday conscious
Just twenty-five shopping days until Christmas. If you’re in B2C ecommerce, you probably know this number by heart. Share this sense of urgency with your customers, remind them about the last time they had to do last-minute shopping, and communicate the sense of content that results from knowing that you don’t have to worry about making it to the store after work when the gifts are being safely shipped and delivered.

Of course, the critical number that matters online during holidays has to do not with shopping… but with shipping. Make sure your shipping cutoffs are crystal clear on your site. “For guaranteed delivery by Christmas, you must purchase by…” If you fail to communicate this information, your customer will look for someone that does. Don’t expect your customers to dig through your “Terms” pages to figure this out. “Unsupervised thinking” on your pages is especially lethal and especially inexcusable when you know that there is specific information that your customer needs to make a purchasing decision.

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December 15: Reflect urgency using clear delivery options
As you get closer to shipping deadlines, you may want to amplify the message that shipping costs will soon increase, and that the customer will save money by purchasing today. Not only does this help create a reasonable sense of urgency for your customers, perhaps it will also remind you to figure out what a Bakugan is before you end up arm wrestling another guy wearing a “World’s Greatest Uncle” t-shirt for one at the toy store on Christmas Eve.

December 19: Increase emphasis on alternative shopping options
You will reach a point where guaranteed delivery by Christmas is still possible, yet increasingly or even prohibitively expensive. If you have a brick-and-mortar companion store, now is the time to use that to your advantage. You can emphasize how customers can save money on shipping by ordering online and simply picking up at the store. Make sure you communicate how easy the pickup process is and the advantage of not having to fight through the maddening crowd of shoppers. You may consider an express pick-up line at the store, and if you have one, emphasize its additional convenience on your site. You can also offer a better price or holiday-specific bonus item for buying online (which would allow you to collect payment immediately) instead of at the store.

If you don’t have physical locations, proceed directly to the next recommendation…

December 24: Prominently feature electronic-delivery items
By now, the children are all nestled snug in their beds, and all the gifts are tucked under the tree… Or are they? Your target customer just might be pulling his hair out, trying to figure out a last-minute gift. Here is where an ecommerce site can be a huge advantage by creating a digital offering that last-minute customers can buy… even as the clock approaches midnight.

Christmas ChildrenThese could be either all-digital products, like streaming or downloadable audio, an online brokerage account, or a gift card, or you may have to get creative and craft an offer that combines digital and physical components, such as an instantly downloadable cookbook that goes with cookware that will be delivered after the holidays.

An important aspect of digital products is presentation. Especially in the case of gift cards (even the physical version isn’t much to look at), you need to help your customer create a sense of giving a “real” gift. That is, help your customer out and don’t make it look like he has forgotten to buy a gift for his mother-in-law for the third year in a row.

Perhaps you can make an attractive, customizable PDF that the customer can print out to give the digital gift a physical nature. Communicating the benefit of giving (remember, your value proposition here is in part what the giver will feel) such a digital gift may take some education as well. Again, do not rely on unsupervised thinking. Don’t expect that it’s obvious to your customer that printing out a gift card document (really, its only function is to have a record of a coupon code) and putting it into an envelope will put them right back on the “favorite nephew” list. You could test communicating this by showing an image of someone giving this virtual gift to a delighted recipient.

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The bottom-line is – it must seem substantial enough that the customer doesn’t feel self-conscious about giving it in person. If the gift is for a long-distance recipient, perhaps you could use video or Flash to make a customizable, attractive gift.

This is a great opportunity for nonprofits and charities as well. Consider buying paid search ads with keywords such as “last-minute gifts” on the 24th and 25th. Create a virtual gift that embodies the power of your charitable mission – perhaps an ebook of stories from people that have been helped or a virtual gift card so the recipient can choose where the donation is spent.

Above all, make it seem like a real, worthwhile gift that anyone would be happy to receive. Even with all-digital gifts, you can give your customer the option (perhaps for a small additional fee) to have a physical document mailed to them later, so that the digital gift will feel a little less digital (and, again, clearly state that “you will be receiving an official copy of your donation certificate…”).

Beyond December 25
Obviously, the above recommendations are ideas on how you can make best use of timing to play up a sense of urgency for a universal deadline. Except, it’s not universal. There are many other dates to keep track of this time of year. Hanukkah begins at sundown, Friday, December 11th. Military families often face much earlier shipping deadlines for guaranteed Christmas delivery to deployed family members. As do those shipping internationally in general.
Use the power of Internet marketing to serve these segments as well. Buy paid search ads with keywords relevant to these customers, and make sure you link those ads to relevant pages that focus on the dates important to them (don’t display your countdown to Christmas for customers that searched for “Hanukkah gift ideas”).

Sometime in January
Now that you’ve had time to recover and learned what a Bakugan is, take a look at your metrics. How much did the metamorphosis of your offer from regular shipped products to driving customers to a physical location to selling an all-digital gift improve your ROI? Whether it was a banner season or a disappointing season, make sure you learn what works best for your site and use that information next year.

As always, the ideas above are meant to be tested, and we hope that you will share some of your interesting test results with us.

Daniel Burstein contributed to this blog post…and hopes Boris goes wassailing around the office with his guitar for the holidays.

To listen to Boris Grinkot’s last-minute holiday tactics to increase revenue from your house email list, join us this Wednesday for our next free web clinic – Optimize your Email in Three Steps: How one marketer tripled revenue from their house list.

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