Last year, Q4 online sales increased 10%, projecting a $41 billion online profit for retailers. Alongside the increase for sales during Q4 is the increasing competition for online sellers during the holiday. Similar to how big box stores open earlier every year for Black Friday; online retailers are scrambling to maximize their profit and exposure during the holiday shopping season.
However, seasonality, like many other outlets can often be a crutch. Below are some lessons on how to increase sales with seasonal trends outside of Q4, and how to stay strong year-long from veteran online retailer Air & Water.
The Seasonality Secret: Sell More Online Year Round
For many online retailers, Q4 is the premier season to increase online sales- a time to leverage consumer propensity to increase purchases. Getting more sales and visibility during Q4 is a retailer focus from August until January, when retailers turn around to start planning for the following holiday season.
The Q4 shopping season can be a significant influx of sales and impressions, but it’s easy for online retailers to become focused on the holiday, and miss the opportunity of other major seasons to leverage, and or strategy to increase sales throughout other quarters.
Below are 3 selling tips from Air & Water CEO Luke Peters to help you increase online sales.
1. Focus on Customer Service
There is really no silver bullet to capturing more sales during any season. However, retailers can focus on improving the customer experience- a key lever which will improve sales in the short and long term, regardless of seasonality.
You’ve heard it before; customer service is the corner stone. Google does it (“Focus on the user and all else will follow), Zappos does it (“Customer Service Isn’t Just A Department!”. Air & Water does it:
“We focus on customer service. We’re really just trying to make an easy to use website to get customers to come back, plain and simple.”
Customer focus increases sales at it impacts your customer facing elements from your site. Difficult areas for online retailers like Search Engine Optimization (appearing on search) and Landing Page Optimization (getting users to engage with your site pages), come naturally with a focus on the customer experience:
“We have been doing SEO and site design from the beginning, and we’ve had to think very little about it. You can spend a lot of time being focused on short term tactics. Delivering value with a focus towards the long term is key.”
What you can do to Improve Customer Service:
1. Use Site Chat
Consider including a site chat feature like Olark. If you don’t want to pay for site chat, here are 10 free site chat services.
2. Update shipping options
Shipping is one of the key variables which influences a purchase. If your shipping options aren’t competitive- consider updating them to include free shipping options, and or 2 day shipping availability. Here are some other shipping best practices for online sellers.
You may also find these resources for customer service useful:
2. Brand Better
Branding often gets de-prioritized by online sellers. Like social media, brand presence can be difficult to track and quantify value. Branding is difficult to structure and track, but that doesn’t negate the significant value for your online store.
Consumers experience your store through your brand. This is something Air & Water has embraced with an eye towards the future:
“Rule #1: When we do things we try and think long term. So if we’re branding, we’re thinking long term. Content Creation, current events, short blog posts, these can all deliver short term value, but starting out with a mindset to optimize for long term is big.”
What you can do to Brand Better:
1. Consider Leveraging Branded PPC Campaigns
Branded or Trademark AdWords campaigns are largely underutilized, and an effective way to increase online sales, boost branding, and positively impact SEO- without hitting your ad budget. Here are 3 helpful videos about Branded PPC AdWords campaigns.
2. Follow Branding Examples
Branding can be difficult to structure, and harder to quantify. Utilize the experience of sellers who have succeeded with branding, and leverage their expertise. For example, online seller BeardBrand increased sales from $0 to $120k/month with a brand-focused strategy. Follow their branding best practices to build out your brand presence online.
3. Be Adaptable
Like many ecommerce retailers, Air & Water has experienced performance fluctuations and selling challenges with countless Google algorithm changes, competition with major sales channels like Amazon, and fluctuations in seasonal demand. Alongside a customer focus, Luke notes a foundation for success revolves around flexibility:
“Be flexible and recognizing the industry can change month to month. Keep updated and know what strategies you should be focusing on. If something seems a little shady, then it’s probably shady- there’s never going to be a silver bullet for anything.”
Luke, a former ETP employee understands that rigidity is a death sentence for online sellers, with search updates and shopper preferences changing daily.
What you can do to Be More Adaptable:
1. Stay on top of search and online news
Google changed its algorithm at least 12 times this year- with three updates this October alone. It’s imperative to stay on top of online marketing trends, search updates and ecommerce news. Consider setting up an RSS reader to follow major search news publications.
Some blogs you should follow to stay on top of:
- SearchEngineWatch– Ecommerce news on SEO, PPC, analytics, social, mobile, video and content.
- SearchEngineLand– Search news on SEO, SEM, local, social, and Search Engines.
- TechCrunch– Technology news with leanings towards search, retail, mobile and popular culture.
- Momentology– Digital Marketing news which covers organic search, PPC, Display marketing, Performance marketing, social and mobile.
- Digiday– Digital news with a brand and agency forcus for search, social and other major ecommerce topics.
- AdAge– News and strategy for advertisers on digital, media, agency, data and B2B.
2. Identify your USP and maintain it
If you don’t know who you are then how can you tell your customers how great you are? Identify what makes your store great- and dig in!
Bonus: 3 Secrets for Seasonal Selling
1. Appeal to Segmented Market
Even retailers who are exceptionally successful during Q4 can blow it without retargeting, and drip programs to engage leads acquired during the holiday. Be sure you have systems in place to track your visitors during any peak season (and ideally all year long) and systems through which you can re-engage those visitors.
Consider retargeting on social platforms, search and particularly Google Shopping. Here are some resources to get you started:
Re-engaging past purchasers is a great way to increase conversions, and capitalize on customers who are 80% more likely to purchase from you. During times which your conversions are low, retargeting is a great way to boost ROI.
2. Pick Inventory Carefully
The products you sell define your online store. Seller reviews are not infrequently jumbled with product reviews for shoppers. Which products you sell during peak selling seasons such as Q4 are doubly important. Quantity, quality, and selection can heavily impact holiday selling performance notes Luke:
“We choose products based on most demand, best margin, and we also look at products which aren’t saturated. Not first in market, but not 20th to market. You also need to remember ship-ability– will the item get to the customer in one piece? We don’t bring in low quality items-ever. Since our items are better, we rarely have the best price- but it’s more important to bring in products that won’t hurt the brand.”
3. Find other Seasons
Q4 is a big shopping season, but online shopping happens all year. Optimizing other selling seasons, and other smaller shopping seasons can help boost your online conversion rate, particularly for the long term.
“One way for companies to think about if they’re seasonal is try to increase additional seasonal periods. There are different times of the year you can try and sell outside of Q4. You can probably find additional marketing paths to sell your products during different times of the year- additional revenue streams. If you’re a Halloween costume company you can think about parties and spread business out to more of the year.”
According to WSJ, there are 13 shopping seasons for online sellers, all of which are opportunities to get more sales for your online store. Consider the 2013 holiday’s ecommerce retailers leveraged outside of Q4:
Q4 is a key ecommerce sales period, but remember to leverage proven sales levers throughout the year to boost online sales.