Alessandra Colaci, Marketing Manager at Auctiva, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
The holidays are vital for online sellers. Most merchants acknowledge it's their busiest time and makes up the bulk of their annual sales. It makes sense. During the holidays millions of people spend a lot of money on gifts for loved ones. Last year, Americans spent $42.3 billion from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, according to researcher comScore.
This year, millions will spend billions again. So it's important to revisit your store and policies now to make sure your site will attract holiday buyers when the season arrives.
Update your website's look and feel
Having a professional, easy-to-navigate site is a must during the holidays. Online shoppers expect to find what they want and make a purchase in just a few steps. If checkout takes too long or if buyers have no way of getting back to your home page, they will leave.
Take this time to revisit your site's shopping experience. Buy something from your store yourself or ask a friend to do this and provide feedback. Is your site intuitive or does something need to change?
Also, re-examine the look of your site. Does the design seem outdated or thrown together? Is it clean or cluttered with elements that distract buyers from the ultimate goal: buying?
Your online store's look and feel will tell buyers what kind of a seller you are. It can leave them feeling confident and happy, or moving on to another store.
Refresh your content
Even on shopping sites, content is king. It should tell customers what you offer, who you are, what your policies are and what you want them to do: make a purchase.
Ensure your site's content is up to date, has a clear call to action and doesn't contain grammatical or spelling errors. These errors give buyers the impression you're not detailed-oriented and may forget important details when it comes to your business.
Review your contact information, too. This information will be important if shoppers have questions while browsing, so ensure it's up to date and that your site clearly states your hours of operation.
Revisit your business policies, including your return policy. Your policies should be current and crystal clear. For instance, you should say if you will refund a buyer's money when something is returned, or if you will give store credit. If you offer both options, specify if items must meet certain criteria to be returned and who will pay the shipping costs of returns.
Update your product descriptions to prepare for the holidays
Again, you're looking for accurate content and you should re-evaluate your listings to see if you can make them more attractive. Consider your photos, for instance.
You want clear, uncluttered images to let buyers really see what you offer. Your images should be taken in front of a solid background, typically a white or neutral backdrop, so nothing distracts shoppers from your products.
If you sell collectibles, be sure your images show the details of your items, or any imperfections they may have.
Online buyers can't pick up items and inspect them for themselves, so your descriptions and images must give them the right impression of your products. Being honest and upfront in your images and descriptions will build trust among shoppers, and will help turn first-time buyers into repeat customers.
Get your staff ready for the busy time
They will be working very hard. Consider having a lunch meeting to kick off the busy holiday season. Remind staff how important the season is for the store and what it will mean for the business, and them, to attract more buyers.
Setting small goals for the holiday season and celebrating when you achieve them can also pump up your crew. Maybe you'll buy coffee or let everyone take a half day if you meet a certain sales goal?
Emphasize the need to be helpful and patient in customer interactions, and thank staff members in advance for their hard work. A thank you can go a long way during the busy times.
Take this time to update your business tools
Consider adding chat support to your site, so shoppers can ask questions in real time. Look at email marketing tools like MailChimp to promote your items. These tools often come with reporting features that will show you open rates to see if you need to optimize your messages.
Start your marketing engine
The time to start getting the word out about your business and your great service is now. Start putting together "early bird" specials for holiday buyers who purchase from you in, say, October or November. These specials don't have to hit your pocketbook hard. You can offer free shipping with orders of $50, or $10 off a $60 purchase. Studies have shown that buyers will spend more to hit that threshold and take advantage of discounts.
Facebook is another great way to market your business. If you don't have a Facebook business page , create one now. You can offer exclusive deals here, and ask customers to share how much they love your products. You can also hold contests; maybe you'll give away one of your top products to increase your branding.
You can also experiment with Facebook ads. The beauty of these is they allow you to target a very specific market.
Lastly, review your email list of past buyers
These people have dealt with you and know what you're all about, so you don't have to convince them you're a good, dedicated seller. You just have to remind them you have great items, so email them coupons for future purchases or include coupons in shipments.
If you have a newsletter, use it to offer exclusive deals or give a preview of hot items you'll offer during the holidays. You might even compile gift lists, like gifts for Mom, gifts for Dad, gifts for her, etc. Shoppers love getting hints when it comes to buying for others. Just ask yourself how nice it is to get a suggestion from someone else when you're not sure what to buy.
Use these seven simple tips to prepare your business now for the busy holiday season ahead, and you'll not only attract more buyers, you'll also bypass the chaos that sometimes comes with the busy holiday season.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.