For retailers large and small, Christmas is the blockbuster sales event of the year. ‘Winning Christmas‘ is vital when it generates such a large chunk of the year’s revenues, so smart businesses put a commensurate amount of time and planning into organising window displays, creating gorgeous catalogues, developing special offers, and making sure they’re adequately stocked with product. But the smartest retailers realise that, more than ever, Christmas is an event that can be won and lost online.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For a start, more and more Australians are spending time on the web – checking email, watching video, and increasingly, researching and buying products. According to Nielsen, around 86 percent of Australians have internet access, and they’re spending an average of 16 hours a week surfing the net – that’s more than a third of their total media time. Chances are, consumers are spending more time on the web than they are walking past your shop window.
But more than that, the web is increasingly a key stop on consumers’ path to purchase. A recent study from Google and the Australian Centre for Retail Studies found that 50 percent of Aussies now research their purchases online before hitting the shopping centre. That means that before they jump in their cars to go shopping, they’re online comparing features, colors, and even prices. When they do visit a store, they’re armed with insights gathered from online research. You’ve probably done this yourself – maybe you were looking for a new television. You had an idea of what you wanted, and you went online to compare brands and products. With the click of a mouse, you had access to a huge amount of information about the latest TVs and consumer electronics.
When you arrived at the store, you were prepared with specific questions about each TV and a good idea of what your final purchase might look like – you were just waiting for a salesperson to close the deal. This “research online, purchase offline” behaviour is consistent across all categories, not just big-ticket items like electronics and furniture. Australians use the internet to research apparel, beauty products, homewares, and even toys. That means there’s an opportunity for retailers across the board – large and small, and in every category – to reach customers online and influence their purchase decisions in a significant way – especially at a time of year when they are primed and ready to spend.
The other lesson that smart retailers have learned is that Christmas starts online well before tinsel and reindeer displays go up in stores. Google searches for ‘christmas gifts’ start to rise in September, and retailers that have an online presence now will be winning customers while their competitors are still choosing window dressings.
Right now, retailers that are getting online early and in earnest tend to be larger companies. Their online marketing campaigns for Christmas are already in place now, they’ve developed their online offers, and they know that winning online could help them win the whole year against their competitors. Smaller retailers, however, have been slower to get online – perhaps stuck in an offline rut of doing the same old thing; perhaps daunted by learning the language of a new marketing medium.
But put simply, it’s too big an opportunity to miss. Christmas shoppers looking for perfect gifts for their loved ones are doing hours of research online, and smaller retailers are perfectly placed to use the power of the web to compete with big name brands on the quality of their offerings, not the size of their marketing budgets.
So small business owners – don’t let the big guys run rings around you this Christmas. Here are five tips you can use to get the Christmas cash-registers ringing early and often in 2009:
- Search online for your own brand and key product categories, so you understand the experience your consumers have when they look for you. Optimise your web presence based on your results.
- Understand seasonal trends. Google’s free “Insights for Search” tool allows you to see when shoppers are searching for your products and what else they’re searching for at the same time.
- Coordinate online marketing with offline promotions and merchandising. Your TV and print advertising will drive people online to search for more information. Make sure you’re ready for that spike in traffic with smart search ads and a compelling website.
- Consider adding value terms to your advertising (and your keyword list). Terms like “sale”, “coupon”, “discount” and “buy one get one free” all see a significant spike in search traffic during Christmas and help attract shoppers to your products and services.
- Start testing now. The Christmas rush is the hardest time to test new marketing or technology. Be ready for the biggest retail event of the year by experimenting in September and October and learning as you go.
– Ross McDonald is Google’s retail head of marketing.
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