Retailers gear up for online holiday sales

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Harry and David redesigned its site to retain more customers
Harry and David redesigned its site to retain more customers

This holiday season is expected to be the strongest in four years, so it's no wonder retailers are busy preparing their e-commerce sites in order to drive sales. 

“This year's theme has been the optimization of what you already have,” says Larry Joseloff, VP of content for, the digital arm of the National Retail Federation. “A shopping cart abandonment rate of 50% to 60% − which is a real number for some retailers − can drop by 10% with some quick changes. That can translate into huge sales growth.” 

Harry and David, the gourmet food company, has redesigned its website, with the aim of growing its 12-month “active” file through increased retention, reactivation of inactive customers and by converting gift recipients into customers, says Jeff Dunn, VP, e-commerce and marketing operations for Harry and David

The redesign aims to bring a “better balance between selling and community,” says Dunn, by bringing ratings and reviews to the forefront, and including a new recipe submission component and more video. 

The company also added a delivery option called Auto Delivery, which allows customers to receive products on an ongoing basis (every 30 days, for instance). “We want to showcase that our products are not only for those big special occasions, but are also well-suited for the smaller every day or every week celebrations,” says Dunn. 

The new delivery option is part of a larger strategy to convert holiday shoppers into year-round customers. 

With steady traffic generated by search engine optimization, has turned its focus to driving sales. The online jewelry and diamond retailer has optimized its live chat tool, which enables shoppers to speak with a sales consultant in real-time. 

The chat tool, from Bold Software, includes a feedback mechanism, inviting visitors who use the chat to provide comment on their experience. “If we get the wrong feedback, then we know in which areas to train personnel,” says CEO Debi Wexler. 

Shoppers who use chat are about 10% to 30% more likely to buy something versus those who do not, she adds. “But chat technology will not help with conversion without the right training,” advises Wexler. 

In its holiday campaign, Best Buy will promote its Geek Squad technical support service, in which agents help consumers with installations, such as mounting a plasma TV or setting up a MP3 player, through the Web.

Steve Rozek, VP, online store team for Best Buy, says the focus on customer service strives to address the fact that many customers feel lost after making a technology purchase. “We want to be that bridge for people as they prepare for Christmas,” says Rozek. “So we are going to provide customers with free Geek Squad services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.” 

By getting more people to try Geek Squad, the aim is also to increase the likelihood they'll purchase more often from, says Rozek, and use the service. converts about 25% of new buyers into regular customers, thanks in part to the fact that sales consultants phone new buyers in advance of their special occasions, such as a wedding anniversary or milestone birthday. 

“E-mail is less personal,” says Wexler. “The phone really is our magic wand to relationship building.”

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