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When it comes to Christmas shopping, there really is no time to rest for retailers. Christmas 2010 might be done and dusted, but now is the time to sit down, look at what went well, what didn’t, and fine tune strategies for 2011.

E-commerce figures for Christmas 2010 are heartening for the beleaguered retail sector. Tealeaf research found 44% of UK shoppers increased the amount of online shopping they did this Christmas.

There is always room for improvement though and, generally speaking, there are three broad areas that should be looked at:

1. Driving traffic: how effective were the various marketing and PR campaigns?

2. Conversion: how did customers behave when they got to the site? How many converted?

3. Post-sale: how was order fulfilment? How many customers failed to get their orders before Christmas? How many returns were there?

The answers to these questions are likely to have instant ramifications for a number of different departments. But, based on the conversations I have with our customers, the one thing that really keeps digital marketers up at night is conversions.

It’s fine spending lots of money sending visitors to your website, but if they aren’t converting, and you don’t know why, then many retailers are stuck in the dark trying to guesstimate cause and effect.

UK shoppers giving retailers a black mark

Our research uncovered that UK shoppers didn’t have an entirely pleasant experience this Christmas when transacting online. Indeed, 45% said they encountered online issues and almost a third (32%) abandoned internet transactions entirely as a result.

Online retailers take a significant proportion of their annual revenues in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy yet, despite the potential gains up for grabs, too many are still literally putting obstacles in the way of their customers.

The primary struggle points are website errors, complicated checkout processes and confusing navigation. Not only do these customer struggle points dent e-commerce revenues in the short term, but they are also damaging consumer trust, as well as brand reputation.

Given the power and prevalence of social media today, this can easily lead to longer-term revenue losses.

A five-step customer experience program for Christmas 2011

So what should retailers be doing now and over the next 11 months to ensure similar problems don’t occur? Here are my five practical steps:

Get visibility

Knowing what is actually happening on your site is the first key step. Traditional website analytics gives you hints as to what is going, but they can’t tell you that one vital detail: what did the visitor actually see on the site and why did that cause them to abandon?

Watch, learn and prioritise

Once you have the visibility and can see customer behaviour, take time to really learn and understand how your customers use your site and why they do what they do. Once you have an idea of areas that could be optimised, prioritise your optimisation programme so the issues that are affecting most customers (or revenue) are targeted first.

Test

One of our customers once told me that any time not spent testing different website variations is wasted time. It’s so true! multivariate testing is absolutely vital for effective optimisation and, with proper visibility into what customers see and do, you can get a clear idea of exactly why one variant works better than others.

It takes time though, so to get it right for next Christmas, you need to start now!

Make site optimisation an ongoing process

And while we are talking about optimisation, it’s vital that it’s not a flash in the pan project, but an ongoing commitment. Not only does your site change on a regular basis, the way your customers use your site will also change.

Increase visibility of the online channel across the business

As the online channel becomes more popular, increasing the awareness and visibility of it across the enterprise becomes important.

How many times have you spoken to a customer service department about an online issue only for the agent to have little understanding of the website?

This can also become a proactive, revenue-generating activity. Can you give your contact centre visibility into the website so they can reach out to customers that are struggling or that have dropped off in an attempt to recover the sale?

For example, Netflights is generating significant revenues through a proactive outbound calling campaign, something which recently won the company an Econsultancy innovation award.

Now is the time to invest in making your online customer experiences more positive so that you’ll be celebrating when Christmas comes round again.

Geoff Galat

Published 2 February, 2011 by Geoff Galat

Geoff Galat is Worldwide VP of Marketing at IBM Tealeaf and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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John Ryder

Ongoing investment into usability and conversion rate optimisation is absolutely essential.

For one client, we conducted user tests during Christmas '10 in preparation for Christmas '11 to provide fantastic insight into how their customers behave during the festive season. You can’t really replicate that easily during the rest of the year.

over 5 years ago

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