Five Easy Lessons for Holiday Selling

It’s been about 11= months since the first major e-tail disaster. Last year’s holiday season really put e-tailers to the test, and few passed. Even such retail giants as Toys “R” Us and Barnes & Noble were forced to recognize that web-based retailing isn’t the same as the brick-and-mortar variety.

So what did e-tailers learn from all this? Can consumers expect a better performance from them this year?

Today’s article discusses five lessons that will make the difference between e-tailing’s 1999 and 2000 holiday seasons. They are simple points — almost too simple. But I guarantee that if e-tailers follow them, this year’s holiday season will look a whole lot different from last year’s e-disaster.

Lesson One: Speed matters. No wonder Toys “R” Us teamed up with Amazon. The partnership married the toy retailer to a successful distribution network. Tapping into Amazon’s seven gargantuan U.S. distribution centers has probably eliminated the possibility of Toys “R” Us seeing a rerun of its 1999 delivery debacle, one in which Toys “R” Us had to give dissatisfied customers $100 vouchers to compensate for failed deliveries.

Lesson Two: Answer those damn emails. Last season, 56 percent of e-tailers didn’t answer emails within 48 hours, and 26 percent didn’t answer at all. These results were gleaned from a survey by Resource Marketing, a Columbus, Ohio, Internet strategy and marketing firm. The same survey conducted this year shows a dramatic increase in email inquiry responses. Now, 78 percent of shopping sites answer emails within 48 hours, compared with the last survey results of 44 percent.

And let me remind you of an obvious, but apparently neglected, fact. An answer within 48 hours means a real answer, not some standard reply assuring the consumer that an answer is on its way. Emails mean business. And sometimes they even mean extra business.

Lesson Three: Consumers still don’t trust the Net. You know what? I understand why, 100 percent. Lack of consumer trust is why e-tailers have to encourage its development by offering new types of guarantees like a no-questions-asked return policy. Such incentives build consumer confidence in e-tailers and ensure that the 79 percent of online customers who, according to AC Nielsen, still feel uncomfortable about typing in their credit card numbers on the Net, will continue to do so.

What other policies make your consumers feel uncomfortable? Find out what they are, and replace them with consumer-friendly policies.

Lesson Four: Be the best at what you do. E-tailing does have some advantages that brick-and-mortar retailing can never achieve: outstanding selection, no waiting time, and lower prices. These are the ingredients for e-tailing survival. If you don’t have even one of them, you destroy your ability to attract customers.

Lesson Five: Keep your promises. If you promise to deliver, DO IT. Eighteen percent of products never arrived at consumers’ doors last holiday season; don’t let the same thing happen again this year. Remember, one bad experience means no return customer.

It’s a simple principle: Keep your promises. Never underdeliver. Only overdeliver. When I bought some flowers in Australia via, I not only received my roses, but I also received four other small gifts that included chocolate and perfume, which I hadn’t asked for. What a wonderful surprise.

You’re probably now saying to yourself “So what new information is offered in this article?” And you have just cause to wonder. There’s nothing new here, and ain’t that what it’s all about? Since last holiday season, 80 percent of e-tailers have gone broke, and, in almost 90 percent of the cases, it was simply because they never managed to tick off the five lessons we’ve just considered.

This year is absolutely the last chance to retrieve consumer confidence in e-tailing that was lost last year. Learn from the five lessons, and you’ll help ensure that your e-tail customers feel it’s a happy season after all.


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