A 10-Click Plan to Prepare for the Holidays

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With online holiday shopping expected to reach unprecedented proportions this year, advance preparation is key. Simply retrofitting sites with commonplace features and launching marketing programs with conventional messaging will not achieve this year's aggressive revenue targets. Unless online retailers differentiate the user experience and respond to changes on the fly, they will see slower growth online.

But with a "10-click plan" in place, the picture for holiday e-commerce sales brightens dramatically. These 10 clicks are critical to enable revenue-optimizing adjustments throughout the season and to improve response rates as consumers move from site to store and back again. They are:

Drive qualified traffic to the site. Manage content for search engine optimization; customize landing pages for new campaigns; focus cost-per-click spending where analytics show results; and segment e-mail lists for more targeted campaigns.

Respond to every click. Ensure adequate capacity and response times for peaks in holiday traffic with load testing and performance tuning. Review service-level agreements with all service providers to verify readiness and escalation procedures in case of a problem.

Test to improve results. Perform A/B testing of your layout, navigation and on-site promotions to ensure optimal conversion.

Reduce the number of clicks to complete online tasks: Implement faceted search and enhanced navigation, including the use of new standards such as AJAX and Web 2.0 technologies that enable faster checkout, search and other multi-step processes.

Enhance site content. Improve catalogs with dynamic imaging and product customization using tools like Scene7.

Cross-sell and upsell: Ensure promotions are seasonally relevant, using product information pages to cross-sell items with healthy inventory and upsell products being heavily marketed this holiday.

Promote shipping. Customize sites to promote shipping and delivery methods that get products to customers faster, easier and more affordably than competitors do.

Support alternative payment methods. Address security concerns that prevent more consumers from buying online by offering alternative payment methods such as eBay's PayPal, Bill Me Later and stored-value gift cards.

Align consumer channels. Create synergies between online and offline channels with features that enable store locators, local inventory availability, quick orders from printed catalogs and in-store pickup and returns.

Dare to be different. Avoid cookie-cutter approaches. Have the flexibility to create a memorable, differentiated brand experience that drives repeat traffic and increased revenue.

The 2006 holiday shopping season presents new challenges for online merchants. But those who follow the 10-click plan will have a head start on the competition when the Christmas rush begins.

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