Web retailers get jumpstart on holidays

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GourmetGiftBaskets.com retooled and optimized its site in advance of its busiest season
GourmetGiftBaskets.com retooled and optimized its site in advance of its busiest season

The start of November presents great opportunity for online retailers. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday still several weeks away, e-commerce companies can leverage holiday enthusiasm during that time to drive early sales and garner interest among consumers preparing for door-buster and Web-buster deals. 


However, with opportunity comes risk. Consider Target Corp., which relaunched its e-commerce portal in late August. An immensely hyped Missoni sale in September drove more traffic to the site than the previous year's Black Friday sales — so much that it crashed.


To ensure their sites perform during crunch time, retailers prepare months in advance, performing stress tests and using analytics to measure and revamp their Web pages. 


Bakers Footwear Group began prepping for the holiday season back in July, says Scott Cohn, director of merchandising and sales for the company's Bakers Direct division. The retailer of women's footwear and accessories leveraged Adobe's Web analytics tools to track and measure last year's Black Friday, Cyber Monday and overall holiday returns. Cohn says following last year's success, Bakers will focus on time-sensitive, limited-events sales. 


"Our customers responded incredibly strongly to those types of events," he explains. "They drove a ton of business that was profitable." 


Its first event will launch in November, when the retailer will introduce 50% more sales than last year. To drive purchases, Bakers will leverage email and social media, sending daily emails seven days a week and posting events to its Facebook fan page. 


To ensure the site functions properly and that consumers experience an efficient purchase process, Cohn says, the site must remain consistent with what consumers view other times of the year. "We try to make the paths and layout easy so consumers can quickly get to the best items," he says. "We monitor click path, what's working and 
isn't working." 


The holidays are important to 
GourmetGiftBaskets.com. The family-owned retailer generates 60% of its annual revenue in the fourth quarter, meaning it has to be sure its site functions properly into the new year. In September, the retailer invested in Knotice's analytics platform so it could execute in-depth AV testing, site optimization, site design, search functionality and reporting. It also works with ChannelAdvisor to quickly and easily place bids on related products within search engines. 


"Every minute counts during Q4," says Stefanie Kustra, marketplaces manager at GourmetGiftBaskets.com. "Anything you can do to manage time is the best move." 


In October, the retailer underwent a revamp to streamline product searches and enhance the site's creative design. The brand's in-house marketing and design teams worked throughout the spring to "put our best face forward during the fourth quarter," 
says Kustra. 


Footwear retailer Brooks Sports works with e-commerce platform provider Demandware to ensure its site remains functional at all times during the crunch period. "I have no idea what Demandware does to keep us running during the holiday season, and I don't care as long as we keep running," says Meredith Han, director of e-commerce at Brooks Sports. "We let them take care of Web availability, and our operations team figures out the last date we can ship things to get them [delivered] by Christmas." 


The last day for delivery in time for Christmas is "incredibly important," notes Peter Cobb, cofounder and SVP of marketing at eBags. Working with retailer partnership community ShopRunner, eBags offers two-day delivery, thereby extending the holiday purchasing window by four extra days. 


For eBags, the holiday season is a company-wide event in which the Web design, logistics, customer service, social media, marketing, email and catalog teams all gather to discuss the best approaches to preparing the e-commerce page. The company's successes on Black Friday and Cyber Monday clearly made all the effort worthwhile. 


"Five years ago, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were nonevents," Cobb says. "But since then, every year Cyber Monday [sales] were 50% higher than the previous record day in the history of the company."

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