Ah, the holidays—the most wonderful time of the year for retailers. Even though the uncertain economy has retailers only cautiously projecting an uptick in sales this holiday season compared to last year’s dismal downturn, the truth still holds that most will make 25-40% of their yearly sales in November and December.
What is unique for holiday season 2009 are the specific strategies online retailers must take this year to reap the most sales possible. With lessons learned from last year’s bloated inventories and fire-sale prices, many retailers this year are restricting inventories and fine-tuning merchandising in an attempt to lure shoppers to purchase earlier and at higher prices. And, of course, the best way to get potential shoppers to your site is via search engine marketing. 82% of holiday shoppers polled by Google said they find search engines “extremely or very useful” in making their purchases.
In the run-up to the holidays, there are several concrete SEM strategies you can implement right now to make maximize your revenue from Black Friday and beyond. The trick is to anticipate the way consumers will behave during the holidays, and leverage those predictions to improve the performance of your search marketing campaigns to increase sales and ROI.
Here are five common holiday-driven consumer behaviors to keep in mind, with concrete SEM tips to turn these behaviors into valuable revenues:
Consumers research early and purchase late
Studies show that over half of people begin researching Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving, but the majority of purchases occur in mid-December. Google’s holiday survey suggests that 57% of consumers begin researching holiday purchases before Thanksgiving, but 77% of purchases happen after Thanksgiving.
Tip: Make sure to set your tracking cookies to 30 days or more, so you can fully value all of your keywords and adjust bids accordingly. In November, you may see increasing costs for some of your keywords without an increase in conversion; don’t bid them down just yet, however, because a few weeks later those same keywords may turn out to be your top performers.
Research begins online, but many end up purchasing in the store
Shoppers frequently research online, but continue on to purchase offline either in the store or over the phone, especially for high-value products such as electronics. Google’s research shows that 54% of shoppers research online but complete their purchases in-store, and that number could be even higher, as it’s a tricky metric to track.
Tip: Find a proxy for measuring your offline conversions such as tracking when users click on the “store locator” or the “contact us” links on your website. By counting these actions as a conversion and assigning them a value, you can create a more accurate picture of how your keywords are performing. If you want to get really fancy, upload in-store conversion metrics from your data warehouse into your search management application, which gives a more precise measure of which keywords drive offline purchases. By fully valuing the impact of keywords across channels, you will be able to increase your bids and position in the auction to drive more sales.
Holiday consumers are more likely to be searching for gifts
What people buy for themselves during the year has little to do with what they buy during the holidays. Shoppers increasingly focus on gifts, and will be on the lookout for advertisements targeting holiday gifts, sales, and shipping promotions. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many online retailers don’t fully modify their SEM campaigns to take advantage of this shift.
Tip: Adjust your keyword mix to include more holiday terms, not just the keywords people associate with your products and brands during the rest of the year. Secondly, don’t forget gift cards. Some 69% of shoppers plan to purchase gift cards this year, according to Google, so if you aren’t managing a separate gift cards campaign you’re losing out on a lot of potential sales. Finally, consider testing holiday-specific creative with your campaigns to increase relevance and clickthrus. For example:
Consumers are more likely to purchase over the holidays
Consumers are much more likely to make purchases, and to make higher-value purchases during the holiday season. This results in an increase in conversion rates and average revenue per click for search marketers, making some keywords worth more during the holidays than they are during other times of the year.
Tip: To stay one step ahead of the competition, you should anticipate increased conversion rates, and boost your bidding strategy for competitive, high-traffic terms. View your data from last year to see how conversion rates changed week-over-week during the holidays and make adjustments accordingly throughout the holidays. By having a game plan set before the holidays, you can focus on measuring the results and adjusting the plan to meet actual changes in conversion rates as you go.
Consumers love post-holiday sales
Everyone knows they can find great deals starting December 26th, which is why research shows that 63% of shoppers will make purchases during post-holiday sales. Your job as a retailer is to maximize the number of purchases before December 25th, while at the same time planning ahead to optimize your campaigns for post-holiday sales.
Tip: Don’t assume the holiday season ends on December 25th. Create sale-specific campaigns, keywords and creative ahead of time and schedule the campaigns to launch automatically on December 26th at midnight. That way you won’t be in the office tinkering with keywords and can enjoy the holidays too! Once you’re back at work in the new year, make sure to watch for stock outages and changes in inventory so you can pause or delete ad groups accordingly. This will not only save you money, but will help avoid issues with customer satisfaction.
While no one’s sure how the 2009 holiday season will fare for retail sales, it’s clear that if you take a few simple steps, you can increase conversion and boost sales even during these challenging times.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.