Simon Black
Mark Lane

Member Article

Maximising your online Christmas presence

With Christmas fast approaching, Simon Black gives independent businesses some practical advice on how to maximise their online presence

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas starts that little bit earlier every year, especially if you shop online. But in truth for businesses, it does. Stats from eBay show that there were more than 2.7 million searches for ‘Christmas’ in August alone last year.

The recent 20th anniversary of eCommerce served as a timely reminder of just how commonplace online retail has become, and with online spending set to top £13bn in December for the first time, the value of taking a business online has never been more apparent. Big businesses such as Selfridges are always acutely aware of this opportunity, and have already been preparing for months.

Admittedly, not every business can afford to dedicate considerable resources to a Christmas strategy a whole six months ahead of time. But it is an astounding fact that only 10% of the UK’s 4.5 million SMBs sell online. This leaves most independent retailers unable to take full advantage of consumers’ loosening wallets, and their increasing desire for online convenience as the country emerges from recession.

If independent businesses want to not only survive, but thrive this Christmas, they need to start preparing now. While it’s certainly too early to send out Christmas cards, you can’t afford to wait until late November to get your online presence in shape.

Here are some of my tips for making sure you can give your business the ultimate Christmas present – online presence:

Market yourself

Now is a vital time to spread the word and market yourself effectively, but nobody will want to talk about your business if you’re not saying anything interesting about yourself. Many businesses will be thinking along the same lines, so consider an unorthodox approach to make sure you stand out from the crowd. You should also carefully consider your social media presence. Many consumers will be scouring social channels for offers and deals, so make sure you’re a part of the conversation. Social is also a good way of highlighting positive word of mouth about your brand – nothing is more effective than customer praise.

Review your website

Having an appealing and effective website is integral to ensuring you are converting customer interest. Make sure you de-clutter your page and are updating it with fresh and relevant content. Put any seasonal deals front and centre, and think about website navigation – the easier you make it, the less dropouts you will have. It’s also good practice to test your pages regularly, as in many cases dropouts can be attributed to a technical fault you may have never noticed. Finally, with so many businesses jostling for shoppers during this period, it’s the little things that can make all the difference, so make sure you differentiate yourself. This could be something as small as a gift-wrap service or a handwritten ‘thank you for your order’ note.

Prepare your resources

It’s all very well driving traffic to your website, but if you haven’t allocated enough resource to dealing with the demand, you’ll undo much of the hard work you’ve done to get them there in the first place. As a starting point, make sure you have stocked up enough to deal with expected demand. You should also think about how you deal with the influx of customers to your site – speak to your server host and see if they will temporarily expand your bandwidth to deal with the additional traffic. You won’t be selling anything if your website goes down and, chances are, many of those customers won’t come back – they will simply go elsewhere.

Incentivise your customers

With so much competition, it often isn’t enough to simply sell great products. Customers have come to expect many of the services that used to be considered ‘extras’, and delivery options are at the heart of this. Next day delivery is fast becoming one of the major customer enticement tools to convert browsers into buyers, for example. If you can offer it, you should. Free delivery is also a major draw for the casual buyer. Elsewhere, loyalty schemes and follow-up discount offers encourage repeat custom and help foster a strong customer base.

Make it easy for your customers to pay

The final part of the customer-business transaction is also the most important one, as it’s were you make your money. Think about having a single-click checkout, and consider some of the alternative payments types that customers might want to pay through. Giving your customers choice over payment ensures you’re giving them one less reason to shop elsewhere.

Simon Black is CEO of Sage Pay. Follow Simon on Twitter @SagePay_CEO

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Mark Lane .

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