The last week of December and January can be a slow time for retailers and other businesses. But it needn't be, especially if you can leverage holiday sales. So what can ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar businesses do to take advantage the December bump and keep customers buying after Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa) is over? Dozens of ecommerce and marketing pros share their top 12 tips for turning holiday goodwill into post-holiday sales.
1. Include a discount coupon or gift card for a January purchase with items sold in December. Offer "deals [that] provide customers with an attractive discount on a future purchase that activates two to four weeks after their initial transaction," suggests Geoff Beers, SEO specialist, Sunglass Hut. "It is a great way to get people back into the store during lower traffic periods."
Giving holiday customers a gift card toward a January purchase can benefit your business present and future.
"Not only does offering a gift card incentivize purchase during the holidays, this tactic encourages repeat purchase during the slow January time, and its short redemption window creates urgency," says Linda Bustos, director of Ecommerce Research at ecommerce provider Elastic Path Software. "Returning customers typically spend more than face value," she adds. And even "if they don't use the card, it helps you compete during the cut-throat competitive season."
As for how much of a coupon or discount to offer, the experts say between 10 and 20 percent off a purchase, or a $10 or $20 gift card, is a good incentive to get shoppers returning to your store -- or get new customers, who've been referred by a customer.
2. Keep holiday marketing efforts going until the end of the year. "Too many retailers make the mistake of cutting off their email, search, advertising, PR and social media efforts when Christmas comes and goes," says Mike Sprouse, CEO & president, Sprouse Marketing Group.
"The reality is that people are still in buying mode the week prior to New Year's. They are cashing in on gift certificates and exchanging things, looking to spend cash they were given for the holidays," Sprouse says. His advice: "Stay aggressive right up until the new year with post-holiday specials and marketing."
3. Thank holiday shoppers and loyal customers with post-holiday special deals or savings. "Send customers who purchased during the holiday season a [follow-up] thank-you email highlighting exclusive offers or targeted deals for an exclusive period," says Tim Peter, president, Tim Peter & Associates, ecommerce and marketing consultants.
"The concept appeals to customers much like a flash sale would," he says. "And you can extend the reach of the promotion by asking your customers to share these deals with their friends and family."
4. Run a fun post-holiday contest. "Create a contest online and encourage pics of the worst or wackiest holiday gift received," says Jennifer Martin, a business coach and owner of Zest Business Consulting.
5. Follow up with customers who have clicked on "this is a gift." After the holiday, "email them helpful suggestions on what to buy next," says Robert Moore, CEO, RJMetrics. "Ask for more information about the giftee -- for example, birthday details -- and consider creating automated email promotions that arrive at the right moment for your customer's next purchase."
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6. Recoup sales from abandoned shopping carts." A recent study we did with Bronto on [abandoned carts] uncovered some key things you can do to capture these sales," says Jimmy Duvall, head of product at ecommerce software provider Magento.
"Buyers frequently use the cart to store items they plan to buy later or to view and buy on another device. Many even use the cart as a wish list," Duvall says.
"We also found that most shoppers expect to be contacted about their abandoned purchase -- and that a special offer to complete the purchase is welcome," Duvall says.
"If you're able to capture an email address on abandoned carts, you should have a qualified pool of shoppers to market to and keep your sales momentum moving after the holidays," Duvall says.
7. Keep the deals coming with special January promotions and discounts. "Make them an offer they can't refuse such as buy one get one [free], so they are getting two for the price of one," says Cecil Williams, cofounder, Royal Dynamite, an urban clothing company. (You could also do buy one get the second one half off.)
"Scour your inventory for lines that don't sell particularly well -- and discount them," says Nick Whitmore, managing director, FalseEyelashes. "This should ensure you see a jump in sales volumes and hopefully revenue."
"If you have an excess of inventory that you're looking to clear, such as seasonal fashions or holiday-themed items, offer a clearance sale to help move those products off the shelves," says Matt Winn, marketing communications manager at Volusion, the provider of ecommerce software and shopping cart services. "Or, if you have multiple products that need to be cleared for the coming year, try creating a clearance category on your ecommerce site and drive traffic there," he says.
"This is a great way to appease post-holiday bargain hunters while making room for new inventory," Winn says.
"Consumers welcome a great bargain at any time of the year, but many retail stores return to full-price status as soon as the holiday shopping rush is over," says Matt Wiener, CEO & Founder at DailySteals.com.
"Differentiate yourself in the marketplace by keeping the deals coming after the New Year," Wiener says. "Stay in touch with your customers and let them know about the new sales promotions and bargains they can find on your site. A post-holiday sale [will] keep customers coming back."
8. Use social media. "Reward customers for being connected [with] social-only incentives," says Donna Pahel, director of digital marketing & ecommerce strategy at EPiServer, a provider of digital marketing and ecommerce solutions. Oftentimes, a discount for Facebook friends or Twitter followers "may be leveraged more effectively and efficiently than printed coupons, direct mail, etc."
9. Bump up your remarketing efforts. "We use remarketing (advertising to people who have already visited our site) via most of our pay-per-click accounts throughout the year, but the post-holiday period is the best time to bump up these efforts," says Jeff Kear, owner, Planning Pod, a provider of online event planning software.
"Use retargeting to capitalize on the large influx of traffic that ecommerce companies often see over the holidays," suggests Corey Post, founder Agile Leverage, a digital content agency. "Serve ads to past visitors based upon their location in the conversion funnel," he says. "And if they already made a purchase from you, promote complimentary products."
10. Launch a new product or service. "One way to entice [customers] to visit your store after the holidays is to launch a new product or service," says Susie Wang, cofounder of cosmetics company 100% Pure. "This will help to ensure there is not a significant drop off in sales in January. Another idea to consider is giving away a new product with any purchase during the month of January."
11. Target and reward mobile shoppers."Reward mobile shoppers with deals and exclusive items that they can't find elsewhere," says Ken Barber, vice president of marketing at mShopper. "You want to encourage your shoppers to pull out their phone and shop whenever the impulse occurs, so make it very attractive."
12. Think globally. "If you have international reach, then it is important to be familiar with your customers' most popular shopping dates and holidays," says Einaras von Gravrock, CEO, online fashion retailer Modnique. "By knowing about additional popular shopping dates, retailers have the opportunity to boost customer engagement year round," she says.
"For instance, Modnique's most active customer segment outside of the U.S. is Russia, which is also one of the fastest growing ecommerce markets," von Gravrock says. Unlike in the U.S., in Russia the big gift-giving day is January 1. So Modnique offers promotions on that day as well, continuing to generate holiday sales.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.
Read more about e-commerce in CIO's E-commerce Drilldown.