E-tail Lessons from Retail

Once upon a time, I managed a bookstore, first the physical location and then the cyberspace one. Plenty of people come to e-commerce with a computer background and no knowledge of retail beyond their own shopping experiences. E-commerce has some things in common with brick and mortar retail, though, so it makes sense to learn what you can from retail and apply it to your e-commerce experience.

One thing you should know is that you can’t ignore Christmas. Unless you’re confident that no members of the dominant American culture will want to shop with you, you should plan to benefit from the general shopping frenzy that descends on the U.S. in November and December. It isn’t so much that people are likely to buy solar water heaters for Christmas gifts as that they are so inundated with Christmas shopping messages that they feel like buying stuff. If you can position your solar heaters as great Christmas gifts, so much the better.

E-commerce has caused some changes in the Christmas shopping landscape. People shop later and wait longer to commit themselves, they’re often more price conscious, and some will get very emotional about shipping costs. Even so, the typical female Christmas shopper will decide where to shop by October. She may not spend any money till December 20, but the bulk of her decision making will be complete before Hallowe’en.

This means that you have to remind people of Christmas in the fall. Physical stores do this by piling gift items up as soon as they sell off the Back to School backpacks, putting up Christmas trees long before it’s seemly, and making red and green football gear displays. You can be more discreet, by writing posts about gifts without making any homepage changes, and still have everything in place and indexed before the shopping begins.

Not only you should begin positioning your site as a good choice for holiday shopping, but you should also begin to use the word “gift” in every conceivable context. I have written articles about what a great gift plastic surgery is, so I can tell you from personal experience that there is almost nothing which cannot — with creativity — be positioned as a gift.

Fortunately, the fact that something is an obvious marketing ploy doesn’t keep it from working, so you should feel free to use pictures of gaily wrapped gift boxes all over the place. It’s far less work to do that in e-tail than in retail, so why not?


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