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How to boost conversion, sales during the spring gift-giving season

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I’m thrilled to see signs of spring outside here in the Northeast – not to mention the many (um, paper) catalogs in my mailbox touting Easter goods and spring clothes. For the moment, online consumers are gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day later this week – per a recent BIGinsight survey for NRF, almost 3 out of 5 online consumers will be celebrating in some way. Of those celebrating, 84% will mark the occasion by wearing something green (apparel and accessory merchandisers and marketers are no doubt all over that), while another quarter or so will attend a party, decorate or make a special dinner. Estimated net average spending by online consumers for St. Patrick’s Day: $37.05 – not bad for a non-gift occasion.

Most online retailers, of course, are really focused on the upcoming gift giving occasions of Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, even Graduation, all of which signal sales and conversion opportunities. We’ll be publishing consumer survey insights for each of these holidays in the coming weeks and months, but with a bit of lead time on our side, I asked Ryan Gibson, VP of Marketing at RKG - The Rimm-Kaufman Group and member of the Research Committee, for advice on preparing now for these upcoming shopping events.

What’s the first thing a retailer should do when planning for the upcoming gift-giving occasions coming up – Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s day, Graduation?

Determine what you, the retailer, already know about your customers! A promotion or the immediate time period leading up to a holiday will typically change the behavior of the shopper. In their historical data around gift giving occasions, retailers see that behavior manifest itself in an increased conversion rate as shoppers are pressed by deadline to buy a gift or are incented by a promotion. Retailers can evaluate historical data to understand how to best take advantage of the phenomena in a few ways:

  • Look at similar promotions or holidays in the past and evaluate the increased conversion rate. By understanding the increased conversion rate, the retailer may be able to proactively push bids for online channels to take advantage of the increased likelihood that the shopper will buy, thereby driving more top line revenue at the same ROI.
  • Be sure that marketing initiatives align with timeframes when people are buying. If the deadline for “free shipping” has passed for getting the product there by Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/Easter, conversion rates won’t be as good as they are before that deadline.
  • For Graduation specifically, make sure you know how graduation timeframes vary across the country, as the season will vary as dictated by regional graduation dates and parties.
  • Seasonality and promotional effectiveness may all may vary by product category, so don’t forget to watch for some products and categories to take a bigger jump than others.
  • Of course, all of this marketing is for naught if you don’t have the inventory in stock to deliver on the promotion or the gift that your customer needs. For any channels that you can push or pull marketing based on available inventory, it’s important to make those adjustments so that you don’t create a less than optimal customer experience.

In the vein of “what you already know about your customer” – is this a time for some focused customer retargeting and remarketing?

Absolutely! Our Director of Innovation, David Kennedy, notes that using products or categories that the shopper has viewed in the past always helps to improve the conversion rate and relevancy of your ads. However, be sure that any remarketing near a holiday is timely, particularly for seasonal items that may be given as gifts. Ensuring that the most updated promotions are present in those ads will also help to boost conversion rate.

Gift-giving occasions are also likely times when consumers are doing a lot of comparison shopping. Any advice for managing comparison shopping engines?

Todd Bowman, RKG’s Comparison Shopping Product Manager, suggests that retailers optimize their feed now, especially for seasonal products and for recent product descriptions. Check your titles and, when applicable, make sure they include helpful product traits such as manufacturer, color, size, year, etc. You have up to 70 characters to use for Google, so use as many as you can fit. Also, make sure that all of your products have descriptions and images and that they are properly categorized. If your product selection is heavily seasonal, you may want to consider increasing the frequency of your feed updates during the time leading up to the holiday to make sure the most accurate and relevant information is presented.

And paid search continues to be one of the true workhorses of e-commerce, correct?

Indeed – and RKG’s Senior Analyst Adrienne Raynor has some specific advice for paid search on Google. If you haven’t already taken advantage of them, a seasonal period is a great time to start using Product Listing Ads (PLAs). For retailers who already have a product feed set up under their Google Merchant Center account, there are just a few steps required to be eligible for Google’s rich ad format, which includes product names, prices and images. These ads appear in the top right of the search engine results page and they are a distinct auction from other paid search ads on the page.

Retailers with more visually appealing products may see the best results – some RKG clients see PLAs account for more than 10%+ on non-brand sales. Splitting bids by product category allows for smarter bidding and more traffic on the products with the best performance. Since our findings suggest this traffic isn’t just cannibalized from other campaigns, PLAs can be an efficient way to boost volume.

We can’t overlook mobile marketing – what are the basic tenets that retailers need to keep in mind right now?

Mark Ballard, RKG’s Senior Research Analyst, suggests that if you have a mobile friendly version of your site, make sure that you manage your mobile marketing channels effectively, especially for products that may be evaluated at bricks & mortar locations via mobile devices. Evaluate the traffic, the price you’re paying for it, as well as how it converts. You’ll even see variances by device type. Additionally, retailers should expect to see a spike in tablet traffic after this week. When the Kindle Fire came out, we saw a spike in traffic as new users spent more time than usual on their new devices. With the next generation of the iPad coming at the end of this week, we expect to see a similar lift in traffic.