A Holiday Post Mortem For Online Retailers

If you can believe it, the holidays are almost over. Turkey Day is now long gone, and in less than 2 weeks, the big man in the red suit will be making his way back to the North Pole. Wondering where the time went? Better yet, wondering how you’ll fare this holiday season? Well, you’re not alone. Every retailer is anxious to know where they stand.

If Thanksgiving is any indication—it appears to have been a record year for most online retailers, in terms of activity at least—then 2007 might end on a high note. However, it remains to be seen just how deep retailers discounted merchandise in order to drive volume.

But before you start thinking about relaxing after the rush, realize that it “ain’t over until it’s over.” How so? Don’t assume that people are done shopping on December 22nd. Sure, most retailers experience a sharp decline in activity post holiday, but the 2006 drop-off wasn’t nearly as significant as in years past, and we do not expect it to be that dramatic in 2007, either. The reason? Maybe it’s the increasing effect of gift cards, or that most shoppers realize that the real deals happen after the holidays. Either way, savvy marketers should be prepared to capture post-holiday activity.

With that said, as we get ready to close out the year, I’d like to share some key considerations that you should keep in mind when evaluating your 2007 performance, and make a few suggestions to think about as you move forward into 2008.

First of all, I am a firm believer that true insight comes from digging deep. And as any good researcher will tell you, the devil truly is in the details. Well, Search is no different than any other science (though it definitely has some art to it as well). As you pick apart you post holiday search data and mine your referral logs to evaluate your performance, be sure to consider the following questions:

  • Did your messaging resonate with your customer base? By that, I mean did you find that consumers purchased the products you marketed, and did their search queries contain the language used in your marketing messages? Answering these questions will help you gain insight into whether or not your messaging (both offline and online) is on target for your customer base. Taking a close look at this is time well spent, as speaking in the language of your customer can dramatically improve your response and conversion rates. Ultimately, the data should reveal the information you need to tweak your messaging so it is more closely aligned with the language of your customers.

  • What were your best moving or most profitable items? Are you surprised by this finding? Answering these questions will provide you with insight into your customers’ actual needs and wants, versus what you are trying to sell them. In fact, examining the data might reveal that you have been promoting the wrong items—or worse—that you failed to promote the right ones.
  • Did people tend to buy certain items together? Did you make it easy for customers to purchase related items? The answers to these questions could point to bundling opportunities that you could promote to your customers. Moreover, the data might very well suggest that your site does not make it easy for customers to make add-on purchases. Such a finding could represent significant opportunity.
  • Do the products that you sell on the web mirror those available at the store? Do you offer “web-only” deals? The answers to these questions could reveal that certain merchandise sells better online, or that people are more inclined to buy certain products online. Naturally, this information could greatly influence your overall merchandising strategy.
  • How did you compare to your competitors? While you might have fared well against your own historical performance, perhaps everyone else in your market also did just as well. Further still, maybe your competitors actually out-performed you. Hopefully not, but you won’t know the real score if you don’t look into it. Utilizing third party data from Comscore or Compete will give you a more accurate reading and help inform your marketing decisions for 2008. For example, such outside data might reveal that the lift you received was more seasonal, or a macro effect of more people shopping online, than the actual performance of your site as a whole.
While this list is far from comprehensive—after all, I’m not Santa—it should start to help you understand the types of questions you should be asking yourself as you evaluate 2007. So, make your list—and be sure to check it twice—and don’t be afraid to dig deep. Remember, that’s where the true insight lies. However, don’t expect to find all the answers right away, either. In fact, as you look at the data, you might actually find more questions than answers. This is where science and art meet. Savvy marketers will leverage their experience and intuition to interpret the results, and benefit from the insights within.

Happy Holidays!

Robert J. Murray is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at rob.murray@iprospect.com. The Brand Aid column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: Strategy


About The Author: is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at rob.murray@iprospect.com.

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