Free Shipping Day last-minute tips: Navigating the discount merchants love to hate

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The peak holiday season is underway, and merchants are rapidly approaching the finish line for 2012. With holiday purchasing going full throttle, the approach of Free Shipping Day on Dec. 17 is likely to cause anxiety as well as anticipation.

There’s no doubt that for shoppers, free shipping offers are the brass ring of holiday promotions. According to the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, free shipping with no conditions is the discount most likely to spur purchasing, with 85% of shoppers saying they’d be likely to take advantage of such a promotion. Last year, Free Shipping Day generated more than $1 billion in sales, more than Black Friday, according to measurement firm comScore.

For merchants, of course, free shipping is another story altogether. While a free shipping offer can boost overall orders, margins suffer — and especially this late in the season, there’s a risk that delivery issues will prevent gifts from arriving on time, causing customer dissatisfaction. To successfully negotiate the potential pitfalls and score sales wins on Free Shipping Day, merchants need to promote what discount they offer widely, while at the same time clearly communicating deadlines and limitations. Consider incorporating the following tactics into your strategy:

Go deep and wide to promote your free shipping offer. Merchants should make the most of the free shipping offer they’ve devised by prominently promoting it throughout the brand experience. That includes:

  • Signing up on the official Free Shipping Day Web site, freeshippingday.com.
  • Highlighting the offer throughout the eCommerce store. Merchants should not only promote free shipping on the home page, but also
    • on individual product pages. Help nudge shoppers toward the add-to-cart by listing free shipping offers prominently on the product page. If there’s a threshold, indicate whether individual items qualify on their own, as Moosejaw does on its product pages. Not only does the global header state the site’s policy of free shipping on orders over $49, but the message is reinforced on the product page by flagging qualifying items, such as this child carrier, with the note “Free shipping on this item.”
    • Shipping example from Moosejaw
    • in the drop-down global shopping cart. If merchants employ a global cart that displays the contents, add a flag letting shoppers know a free shipping offer is in effect, and what the threshold is, if any, so they can be sure to qualify. Lifestyle merchant Gaiam’s global cart highlights the site’s free shipping offer, including a link to detailed information that includes delivery method and the offer end date.
    • Shipping example from Gaiam
    • on the main shopping cart page. If possible, merchants should help shoppers do the math and calculate how much more merchandise they need to add to qualify for any threshold.
  • Sending the offer to email subscribers. Let them know free shipping is available and, if there’s a threshold, highlight items that qualify. Be sure to message the expiration date on the offer prominently to create a sense of urgency, as Beauty.com does in this promotion from last year. Not only is the offer flagged as being available “today only”, but the message text restates the deadline of 11:59 p.m.
  • Shipping example from beauty.com
  • Sharing the offer socially. Let brand followers know about the free shipping offer and include links to qualifying items or categories.
  • Flagging the discount for mobile shoppers. Highlight the free shipping alert on mobile devices with a prominent display on the mobile Web site, as beauty merchant H2O Plus does on its mobile home page.
  • Shipping example from H2O Plus

 

Step up visibility of delivery timelines and deadlines. With the holiday countdown clock ticking, merchants should use Free Shipping Day as an opportunity to let shoppers know now is the time to commit to their final gift purchases. If they aren’t already, delivery deadlines should now be accessible from everywhere the free shipping offer is promoted. In particular, consider:

  • A global element on the eCommerce site. Use the global header and/or footer to communicate shipping deadlines and link to detailed delivery information to ensure that shoppers can access the information from everywhere on the site. Last year, the Gap included a reminder to order by December 20 in its global header alongside its free shipping offer.
  • Shipping example from gap.com
  • A reminder in the eCommerce shopping cart. Reinforce delivery timelines in the cart by spelling them out explicitly. The Sharper Image includes estimated delivery dates alongside each shipping method’s cost, helping shoppers select the timeframe that meets their needs.
  • Holiday example from The Sharper ImageTimelines in email marketing. Add to the sense of urgency of the Free Shipping Day offer by displaying shipping cutoff dates as part of the marketing message, as Garden Botanika did last year by headlining its offer “Last Day”.
  • Holiday example from Garden Botanika

Reassuring shoppers with trust-building elements. In addition to clearly communicating delivery timelines, merchants should message reliability throughout the shopping experience to let shoppers know their Free Shipping Day order will be in good hands. Consider boosting the visibility of customer service contact information and product guarantees:

  • In the cart on the eCommerce site. Help shoppers at this crucial juncture on the path to purchase by messaging reliable delivery and easy access to customer service, as ThinkGeek does with a banner headlined “Ordering from ThinkGeek is safe and awesome.” The message stresses “secure shopping, fast shipping and super friendly customer service” and the accompanying display includes third-party certification badges as well as information about payment methods accepted.
  • Holiday example from ThinkGeek
  • On social outposts. Convince brand followers to take advantage of Free Shipping Day offers by stepping up customer service messaging and highlighting it prominently, as Land’s End does on its Facebook page. The summary information about the brand includes its trademark product guarantee and 800 customer service number, while a prominent link to customer service information leads to a page outlining further details about the product guarantee and messaging 24/7 support, free returns and other crucial holiday information.
  • Holiday example from Lands' End

Are you participating in Free Shipping Day? What offers will you promote?

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