The 2016 guide to preparing for the holiday rush

It’s mid-July, and you know what that means — that’s right, the holiday season is right around the corner! Columnist David Rekuc offers an updated holiday marketing checklist so e-commerce marketers can start off on the right foot this year.

The 2016 guide to preparing for the holiday rush

It’s that time of year again… well, almost. For e-commerce folks, now is the time to start thinking about the holidays. Let’s take a look at what’s new in 2016 and how you can prepare for the holiday rush.

Spotlight for 2016: Mobile growth continues

I would declare this the year of mobile, but that was probably somewhere around 2009. Regardless, there are still significant changes going on in the mobile world that affect your e-commerce strategy.

Mobile wallets. Mobile wallets are starting to gain momentum. Third-party payment methods on mobile devices should be attractive to retailers as a means of reducing checkout abandonment.

  • Apple Pay: Apple recently announced that Apple Pay, until now limited to apps, will soon be rolling out to the mobile web. This is a big deal for e-commerce.
  • Amazon Payments: Amazon recently backed out of the e-commerce software game in favor of just facilitating payments. Another great third-party payment option coming from the most trusted name in online retail.
  • PayPal: I can’t discuss third-party payments without mentioning PayPal. They remain a strong option for streamlined checkout. PayPal Credit (formerly Bill Me Later) is especially attractive for merchants that don’t run their own credit programs selling big ticket items.

Attribution. This isn’t new to 2016, but if you aren’t making progress on mobile attribution, you’re getting left behind. Both pan-device and clicks-to-bricks, mobile creates tons of value that’s captured elsewhere.

If you’re going to be able to connect mobile spend with non-mobile results in some meaningful way, you’ve got to start now. Tomorrow’s mega-merchants are mastering this today — make sure you are, too.

“Mobile customers.” As I mentioned before, it’s 2016. We’ve got to stop thinking of customers as “mobile customers.” Back in the early 2000s, we used to call them “web customers.” The distinction wasn’t good then, and it’s not good now.

You have customers who can interact with you on multiple media and will choose the combination of media they prefer. They expect your offers, user experience and service to be consistent across all of them. So stop thinking of mobile customers and start thinking about how the mobile experience fits your multi-device customers.

Spotlight for 2016: New ad tech

We saw some pretty big changes in 2016 with the major ad platforms.

Facebook. Facebook continues to evolve and expand. In particular, Facebook is especially lucrative in retargeting for e-commerce merchants. Facebook had some changes this year that make its reach and frequency in retargeting even more powerful.

  • Its audience network expanded to include the mobile web. Facebook’s audience network is key in leveraging the awesome power of its retargeting and giving it even more reach and frequency — often at lower CPCs than on Facebook itself.
  • It rolled out in-store tracking through its Offline Conversions API. For the omnichannel merchant, this is a huge step toward progress in attribution on clicks-to-bricks.
  • Facebook’s video ad platform continues to expand. Video is increasingly consumed on Facebook and gives merchants a very scalable way to have more engaging interactions with their customers.

Of course, Facebook’s bread and butter remains its incredible targeting capability. Here are two targets that are critical for every online merchant:

  1. Retargeting pixel: Drop a pixel on your site, retarget abandoners. Set up dynamic catalog ads to take advantage of showing the customer the right product at the right time.
  2. Retarget email subscribers: Upload a CSV of emails to Facebook and create a custom audience. This is your buyer file, so these customers have a track record of spending money with you. Since this is largely a static audience that can burn out on ads pretty easily, make sure you only hit them with your best offers.

Google. The backbone of digital customer acquisition for over a decade, Google ads are only getting more powerful. Here are some of the changes from this year to keep on your radar when preparing for the holiday season.

  • Four search ads: On highly commercial terms, Google now shows four text ads on top of organic results. This is critical because it means even more real estate on a search results page is dedicated to ads.
  • New user interface: AdWords rolled out a lot of changes to the user interface this year. Make sure you’re aware of where all the features are as the holidays approach.
  • New showcase shopping ads: Just announced this week, Google is looking to enhance the shopping experience for users searching on broad terms like “summer dresses.” According to Google, these broad terms account for about 40 percent of all shopping-oriented searches. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for growth for your shopping ads as this new ad space becomes more prevalent over the next five months.

Outside of the new ad tech features, there’s a critical addition to shopping this year. A method of managing shopping campaigns at a granular level started to gain popularity late last year. It’s a system of using multiple campaigns and negative keywords to be able to control shopping ads at the keyword level.

Amazon ads. Amazon ads continue to evolve. Numerous studies now point to shopping journeys starting on Amazon rather than Google.

  • A recent study revealed how much sales rank influences organic rankings on Amazon.
  • Negative keywords were added for seller ads in late 2015.
  • The vendor ad platform (AMS) continues to expand and gain more capabilities, including the new Sponsored Products campaigns.

For more details on how to get the most out of Amazon ads, see my Amazon advertising field guide on Marketing Land.

The tried and true

Sure, new is flashy, but there’s a lot to holiday prep that we’ve been doing for a decade now. That doesn’t make it any less important.

Insane offers. No holiday rush is complete without eye-popping discounts. The key here is not just deep discounts and free shipping on Cyber Monday, but finding offers that don’t break the bank and deliver results all season long.

My favorite is running gift card promotions right up until Christmas. With digital gift cards, delivery can be nearly instant and doesn’t rely on a heavily stressed delivery infrastructure late in the season. The added bonus is that tons of gift cards go unredeemed every year.

Try adding 20 percent extra on a gift card. Buy a $100 gift card, get a $120 gift card. It’s one of my favorite promotions that pushes up average order value and keeps the sales rolling right up until December 25.

Email marketing. For 11 months out of the year, you put together an email list that can be harvested in December. Spend Q3 making sure you don’t over-send to the list and aggressively increase its size. Run pop-ups with offers, giveaways, contests and so on.

Once the turkey hits the table in November, you’re going to wish you’d spent the fall building as many emails as you could. Once the season is upon us, keep your ABCs of email marketing in mind.

Retarget. Again, its 2016 — so it’s not enough to say “Yeah, we’re doing retargeting.” At this point, you need to have better campaigns than a single “visitors in the last 30 days” campaign.

Here are some ideas.

  • Focus most heavily on cart abandoners. The closer they get to that “Thank you” page without buying, the more ripe they are for the harvest.
  • Break up your campaigns by recency. Someone who visited a day ago is a lot more likely to convert than a 30-day old cookie.
  • Build a custom audience on Facebook and Twitter using emails. This matches emails to accounts and gives you pan-device retargeting. This is a finite audience, so be careful not to overwhelm them, but it’s a great laser-targeted list for your best offers.
  • Use a product catalog ad on Facebook to dynamically direct the user to products they were interested in on your site.
  • Experiment with video retargeting. Video makes a much greater impact on the viewer than a banner ad.

Paid search. Conversion rates surge, new competitors arise, and CPCs rise as well. Make sure your bids are ready for the season by bidding up on a timely basis. Equally important is bidding down as soon as you’re unable to fulfill.

It may seem trivial, but make sure the credit card(s) you have on file are valid and there’s some redundancy in place. Having a secondary card on file is a really good idea if you want to avoid critical outages during peak times.

Marketplaces. There’s a lot of money to be made in marketplaces during the holiday season. This is especially critical for brands. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Monitor reviews: Be ready and willing to address customer concerns and erroneous product information quickly.
  • Be ready with inventory: For a vendor, keeping products on Amazon stocked is critical for both sales and reputation. As a seller, you’re probably considering FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon), but don’t forget there was a rate hike this year on FBA.
  • Monitor sellers: If you’re a brand, you can’t let your brand get away from you in the hectic sales season. Amazon’s counterfeit problem is getting worse. Make sure you’re not a victim this season by staying on top of who’s selling your product.

Load testing and site security. Who’s it going to be this year? Someone is going to get hacked, and someone’s site is going to crash in a very public way. Q3 is the right time for you to identify site speed and security shortcomings.

It’s a good idea to do a PCI (payment card industry) self-assessment for security to make sure you’re following best practices and are compliant with any regulations. It’s also a good idea to run some real load tests on your site if you’re expecting serious traffic.

Customer service. High stakes and high expectations in Q4 create a tough environment for customer service.

  • Make sure you test offers thoroughly so your customer service isn’t burdened with unexpected technical issues.
  • Clearly outline promotion terms to avoid basic customer service questions.
  • Communicate every promotion to your CSRs (customer service representatives) ahead of time so they’re on the same page as the customer.

Off to the races

Sure it’s the middle of July, but the holiday season is approaching faster than you think. A good checklist for holiday prep includes things that can’t be done in a week. So buckle down, and here’s to colder weather!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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