Holiday Tip #8: Prioritize relevance to engage holiday shoppers via email

Email remains the favorite way for shoppers to learn about offers from the brands they follow — but with routine promotional emails, triggered messages, re-mailings, e-receipts and transactional messages in play, merchants must prioritize to ensure they don’t overload inboxes.

The facts

Old-fashioned email still tops the list of preferred methods for consumers to learn about holiday promotions, according to the 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey. Given consumers’ preference, merchants routinely ramp up email messaging during the holidays. In 2014, volume surged from an average of 18 messages per month throughout the third quarter to 28 in December, according to marketing services firm Listrak — and all indications are that merchants will repeat the pattern this year.

holiday email frequency data from Listrak

But shoppers’ welcoming attitude toward email carries a caveat. More than a third of consumers say they’ll likely discard the majority of emails sent by retailers as volume increases during the holidays, according to Listrak. As it turns out, the willingness to engage is directly related to relevance:

  • 20% say they’re willing to accept unlimited emails from brands they follow as long as they’re focused on holiday promotions
  • 12% say the emails must be personalized based on past buying and browsing behavior.
  • 11% say the emails must make holiday shopping easier.

The action item

Merchants must hold fast to a “less is more” mentality during the holidays and focus on maximizing relevance. That may seem easier said than done; for some merchants, different systems are responsible for different types of email — for examples, e-receipts are triggered differently than routine promotional emails — making it difficult to synch efforts across the organization. Among the goals to aim for:

  • Consistently promote holiday resources across all email types. Merchants should tweak email headers and footers to feature prominent links to gift guides, gift cards, and key customer service information such as delivery cutoff deadlines, and deploy them across email services to ensure consistent messaging.
  • Within email content, personalize to the fullest extent possible. Depending on the type of email sent, merchants should include relevant promotions, along with finely-tuned content such as usage guidance for the products purchased in transactional emails. And abandoned cart emails should display cart contents; doing so boosts performance 25%.
  • Untangle multi-touchpoint mixed messages behind the scenes — not in shoppers’ inboxes. As shoppers increasingly research and buy across multiple screens, merchants should build some critical cross-checks into their business rules. Before sending an abandoned cart email, for example, merchants should find a way to ensure that the shopper didn’t complete the purchase elsewhere.

An apparel manufacturer sent an abandoned cart email picturing the item under consideration, offering $10 off the threshold for free shipping, and highlighting the brand’s purchase guarantee — all solid tactics, except that the email was received 9 hours after an order confirmation message was sent following purchase completion on a different device.

abandoned cart emailtip8_orderconfirmation

  • Be transparent about layering promotions. With shoppers potentially receiving multiple emails from a single merchant within the space of 24 hours, message content should clarify whether offers can be used in combination, and whether certain discounts can invalidate other promotions. Such transparency can help set expectations about pricing in advance.

Watch for further holiday tips through Black Friday, and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest research and best practices.

Holiday Tip #7: Use holiday social content to differentiate your brand

In a crowded holiday marketplace, merchants must use every tool available to differentiate their brands — and that includes canny usage of social media to demonstrate uniqueness and value.

The facts

Shoppers are increasingly discovering Web sites via a variety of sources — and social is a key player. Technology researcher Forrester found that 25% of online adults have used Facebook to find information or Web sites in the past year, second only to natural search as a source of Web site leads.

And when it comes to holiday sales, consumers report that social media carries heightened importance. The MarketLive/E-Tailing Group 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey found that more than half of shoppers turn to social media to get ideas and referrals from friends and to share their own recommendations. Overall, 27% of survey participants said social media had led them to make purchases — a much larger percentage than last-click attribution statistics suggest.

MarketLive/E-Tailing Group research on social media

Given that more than half of 2014 holiday shoppers said they were open to purchasing from new retailers and 41% actually did so, the impact of social media as the matchmaker introducing shoppers to new brands is potentially significant.

The action item

While showcasing product links and promotional offers is a key component of social strategy for the holidays, standing out from the crowd requires more than promo codes. Merchants should use social media to convey the credibility, service, and ethics behind the brands in order to convince new shoppers to commit to purchases. Among the content to highlight:

  • Aspirational, inspirational content. Posting content that provides holiday solutions beyond the immediate gift list demonstrates that brands understand their audience’s priorities and share relevant expertise. Recipes, holiday craft ideas, travel tips, winter fitness inspiration, and cocktail suggestions can flesh out brand personas and increase the likelihood that new visitors will become followers.
  • Craftsmanship and provenance. Highlighting artisanal expertise not only elevates the value of products, but can illuminate a brand’s commitment to sustainability and fair trade. More than two-thirds of shoppers say knowing the provenance of products is important, but just 15% believe brands communicate about it transparently, according to marketing firm Edelman.
  • Holiday charitable campaigns. Another way to demonstrate brand ethics is to spotlight holiday charitable giving, and/or to invite social followers to donate or volunteer. Doing so can not only bolster perceptions of integrity, but inspire purchases as well: for more than half of shoppers, social purpose is the most important factor when evaluating a brand if price and product quality are equal, according to Edelman.
  • Behind-the-scenes holiday fun. Merchants should use social media to pull back the curtain and reveal staff holiday hijinks and tips, both as a way of sharing useful holiday information and to demonstrate that real people stand behind the brand.
  • Customer service essentials. Proactively establishing a forward position on social media with customer service content — from live chat links to deadlines for on-time delivery to return policies — eliminates the need for shoppers to hunt the eCommerce site and signals that the brand goes above and beyond to deliver satisfaction.

Throughout the 2014 holiday season, MarketLive merchant Title Nine, a women’s recreational clothing outfitter, engaged its social audiences with content that went beyond products — from a sneak peek of the staff Thanksgiving buffet the Wednesday before the holiday to service messages about last-minute shipping.

Social media example from Title Nine

Social media example from Title Nine

Want more holiday? Watch for more tips on the blog this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for best practices guides and more.

Holiday Tip #6: Checklist – viable alternatives to standard free shipping

Overwhelmingly, shoppers seek out free shipping as a way to cut costs on online orders — especially during the holidays, when a free shipping offer can make or break sales. Luckily, there are viable alternatives for merchants who can’t offer standard season-long free shipping.

The facts

During the holidays, when bargain hunters are comparing dozens of offers arriving in their inboxes and news feeds daily, the role of free shipping takes on outsized importance.

Among participants in the 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey:

  • 66% said free shipping offers would cause them to buy during the holidays — second only to the right product pricing as a purchase influencer.
  • Free standard shipping with no conditions was the most desirable promotion overall, with 71% of shoppers choosing it in their top 3.

Furthermore, the desire to avoid paying for shipping is so strong that shoppers alter their behaviors in significant ways, according to a comScore/UPS study:

  • 52% of shoppers have added items to the cart in order to qualify for free shipping.
  • 46% have abandoned carts when their order totals didn’t qualify for free shipping.
  • Overall, shoppers pay for shipping on just 2 out of every 5 orders.

In response to these behaviors, close to two-thirds of merchants on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 and Second 500 lists for 2015 offered some kind of free shipping. A small subset offer free shipping with no restrictions year-round, while others are rolling out unrestricted free shipping for the holidays, starting with Best Buy and Target.

The action item

Thankfully, the advanced targeting and personalization tools now available enable merchants to offer free shipping when it counts to the audiences that matter most — and to highlight viable alternatives. Among the options:

  • Consider a referral model for loyal customers. With formal referral programs becoming more commonplace, merchants should extend the concept to free shipping, awarding their loyalty club members or other top customers the best free shipping offer they can muster — say, free shipping with no threshold for a limited amount of time — along with the ability to extend the savings to friends, who can receive a lesser, but still persuasive, free shipping deal, such as free shipping with a threshold for the same timeframe.
  • Use limited-time offers to spur timely purchasing. By offering free shipping earlier in the peak gift-buying period, merchants can entice shoppers to complete their purchases well before the shipping cutoff deadlines, thereby avoiding a last-minute fulfillment crunch and improving on-time delivery across the board.

MarketLive merchant Design Toscano used a free shipping offer with no restrictions to encourage early-season purchasing in 2014, running the promotion from Dec. 4-7 immediately after Cyber Monday.

tip6_designtoscanofreeship

  • Make in-store options free, both ways. Close to half of shoppers have used ship-to-store services as a way around shipping costs, according to the comScore/UPS study, so retailers should highlight this option. Furthermore, merchants should smooth the path to purchase for store shoppers in search of items that are out of stock on the shelves by empowering store associates to offer free delivery for orders fulfilled online.

Watch for more holiday tips daily this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest holiday research.

Holiday Tip #5: What’s your Black Friday Plan B?

The red-letter holiday shopping days, starting with Black Friday, continue to drive significant sales and top the list of top earning days for the year. But with the holiday season starting earlier and deals spread throughout the season, merchants who don’t make single-day goals should take heart — and have solid backup plans in place to extend promotional windows.

The facts

There’s no contesting the revenue impact of the red-letter days of the holiday season. In 2014, Cyber Monday was the top spending day of the year, bringing in more than $2 billion in sales, according to measurement firm comScore. Year-on-year sales growth for the top five sales events of the season was 19%, outpacing the 15% growth rate for the season as a whole.

tip5_redletterdays_data

Taken together, those five sales events comprised 13.3% of all holiday season sales. But that share of total sales grew at a slower pace than top-line growth, increasing just half a percentage point, or 4%. And for the second year in a row, only Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Monday made comScore’s list of the top 10 sales days of the season — suggesting that shoppers are finding plenty of incentives outside of the peak promotional days to order gifts according to their own calendar needs.

With deals and spending spread throughout the season, and with the backlash against Thanksgiving Day shopping an ongoing undercurrent, a handful of merchants are promoting their decision to stay closed on Thanksgiving — and outdoor retailer REI has taken the gambit a step further with a major campaign promoting closure on Black Friday itself.

While most merchants won’t be making such a drastic move, the message is clear: making goal is no longer dependent on a handful of promotional events.

The action item

Merchants should capitalize on consumers’ tendency to shop outside of major promotional event days by expanding their sale offers responsively, in tune with the timing and preferences of their customers. Among the best practices:

  • Extend Cyber Monday deals to Tuesday (at least). Cyber Monday, the end of the Black Friday weekend, is actually the start of the season’s heaviest spending. For the past two years, the Tuesday afterwards has ranked as the second-highest revenue generator of the year, and the Wednesday afterwards has made the list of the top 10 biggest sales days, according to comScore. Merchants should consider designating “Cyber Week” or otherwise capitalizing on this momentum.

In 2014, MarketLive merchant Current Catalog extended Cyber Monday for 24 hours. The “choose your discount” options offered shoppers maximum flexibility and upped the chances that the promotion would resonate and spur sales.

tip5_currentcybermonday

  • Have a fallback plan for big promotional days. If revenues from high-profile events miss the mark, merchants should stand ready to extend deadlines or offer new options. Planning these secondary offers now means merchants can execute smoothly when the time comes, rather than rejiggering their calendars in the heat of the moment.
  • Use preview events to reward valued customer segments. Merchants should consider giving loyalty club members, social followers, and other key constituents  “sneak peak” access to deals for key promotional events, enabling word-of-mouth buzz while also rewarding shoppers with exclusive opportunities to nab top gift picks.
  • Remind shoppers of everyday savings. In between promotional blitzes, merchants should highlight top picks from the “sale” category and deals at outlet store locations a way to remind shoppers that they needn’t wait for a special event to save. In 2014, MarketLive merchant Berkshire Blanket sent an email the Wednesday after Cyber Monday with the Subject: line “Did you miss it?” that highlighted the deals to be found in the Sale section of the Web site.

tip5_berkshire_didyoumissit

Watch for more holiday tips daily this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest holiday research.

Holiday Tip #3: Showcase online/offline prowess to win sales

Shoppers’ expectations are growing ever higher for brands to present a unified and consistent experience across touchpoints — and nowhere is this capability more crucial than when it comes to flexibility in fulfillment options.

The facts

The Web is set to influence 54% of all retail sales this year, according to technology researcher Forrester, with 43% of sales predicted to occur offline after online research. During the peak holiday season, it’s more important than ever to serve this sizable contingent of researchers, who will be on an increasingly harried hunt for deals and in-stock gift finds.

Specifically, shoppers have identified access to the brand’s total inventory as a must-have. According to research from The E-Tailing Group and B2C Partners:

  • Close to half — 46% — of shoppers said it was essential to be able to view online whether products were in-stock at local stores, and 47% said it was desirable (93% total)
  • The ability to reserve in-stock items for in-store pickup is essential for 28% of shoppers and desirable for 58% of shoppers (86% total)
  • Delivery of online orders to a nearby store, aka “ship to store”, is essential for 29% of shoppers and desirable for 55% of shoppers (84% total). This service, usually offered for free, is a popular alternative to paying for home delivery.

The action item

Merchants with brick-and-mortar locations should be promote what services they offer for order fulfillment, and support those options with customer service content both on the eCommerce site and elsewhere. Among the last-minute to-dos:

  • Succinctly differentiate the options. In particular, merchants offering both ship-to-store and in-store pickup should explain the difference between the two services, highlighting that the latter option is immediate. Icons, headings, and symbols make information quickly scannable, especially on mobile devices.
  • Promote services proactively. Merchants should develop customer service content to highlight the available options and feature it prominently on the eCommerce site, as well as incorporating it into email campaigns and social media.
  • “Mystery shop” the process, both online and offline. Merchants should test extensively to ensure promotions and functionality are in line and fulfillment-related messages are accurate and appropriately timed. In stores, merchants should be on the lookout for gaps in signage and store associate savvy.
  • Promote services in synch with the season. As home delivery deadlines come and go, merchants should increasingly focus on in-store fulfillment options and highlight products that are in-stock locally.
  • Whether or not their in-store inventory is visible online, merchants should create opportunities to connect beyond order placement. Enabling shoppers to make personal shopping appointments or register for events relevant to products they’re browsing can forge closer brand connections.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds offers shoppers the ability to pick up products in-store or to set an appointment to view products in person.

In-store options from Helzberg Diamonds

Watch for more holiday tips daily this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest holiday research.

Holiday Tip #2: Spotlight easy-pay options (and their alternatives) for mobile shoppers

With mobile shopping set to dominate the holiday season, but mobile buying still lagging behind mobile browsing, merchants should do their utmost to remove hurdles to purchase on smaller screens. Chief among them: mobile checkout.

The facts

Mobile buying is poised for a major breakthrough this holiday season. Last year, mobile buying accounted for 25% of online revenue — a 44% increase from 2013, according to the MarketLive Performance Index, and all indications are that 2015 will see further growth. Indeed, more than two-thirds of participants in the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey had placed at least one order via a mobile device in the past year — and close to 20% had made more than 10 mobile purchases.

Data on mobile purchasing dfrom MarketLive

To improve on those numbers, though, merchants must remove significant impediments to purchase — checkout being chief among them. When asked what would spur survey participants to spend more via mobile devices, smoother checkouts and the availability of alternative payment options that circumvent checkout, such as Paypal, topped the wish list, and one-click checkout rounded out the top five.

Data on mobile purchasing from MarketLive

The action item

Merchants should tweak site presentation to highlight the availability of streamlined payment options — and promote workarounds if their checkouts aren’t fully optimized.

Merchants who offer alternative payments or one-click checkout should:

  • Consider a promotional email spotlighting alternative payments — with a discount. Since the majority of emails are now opened on mobile devices, promoting alternative payment usage to subscribers can spur mobile engagement and sales.
  • Boost visibility before the cart and checkout. Promoting quick checkout on the mobile home page and on product pages, which may also serve as landing pages for mobile searchers, is a smart move, as it enables shoppers to focus on finding the ideal gift picks without worrying about order completion.

Those making do without quick checkout options should especially prioritize these best practices — which are, in fact, applicable to all merchants, as they demonstrate the brand’s flexibility in supporting cross-touchpoint purchasing :

  • Highlight the ease and availability of wish lists and saved carts. Enabling shoppers to save items of interest so they can access them later for purchase via a computer — or offline — helps connect touchpoints seamlessly.
  • Amp up abandoned cart triggered messaging. With shopping cart abandonment now becoming de rigeur, and with mobile abandonment rates still outpacing computer rates by a wide margin, follow-up emails are essential. Personalizing abandonment emails to feature the specific product under consideration gives shoppers a shortcut to resume purchasing later on another screen.
  • Enable ubiquitous click-to-call and live chat. Ensure that mobile shoppers can complete transactions live in person with handy access to customer service on small screens.
  • Use browser detection tools to deliver a proactive targeted message. Shoppers on mobile devices can receive custom messaging encouraging them to return, as on MarketLive merchant Brickhouse Security’s site. Shoppers who enter their email addresses receive an incentive to visit again.

Mobile example from Brickhouse SecurityWatch for more holiday tips daily this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest holiday research.

Holiday Tip #1: How to encourage shoppers to buy early and buy often

Note: As October closes and the countdown begins in earnest to Black Friday, MarketLive will present 12 top holiday tips for maximizing sales during the upcoming season. Here’s Tip #1.

Halloween isn’t even over yet, but the holiday season has most definitely begun. While consumers may complain about “holiday creep”, they’re also getting shopping done early — and merchants should help them along.

The facts

Shoppers are starting their holiday purchasing earlier this year than they did in 2014. Fully 61% of participants in the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group’s 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey predicted they would start their shopping by now, compared with 56% last year.

Happily for merchants, the early start doesn’t mean an early finish: fully 73% of shoppers anticipate they’ll still be finishing up their gift lists come December. While that’s fewer procrastinators than in 2014, the opportunities are still robust to extend holiday sales well beyond the traditional period between Black Friday and Christmas.

Holiday shopping timing data from the E-Tailing Group and MarketLive

The action item

The challenge for merchants early in the season is to encourage shoppers to purchase immediately without undercutting later promotions, particularly around red-letter shopping days like Cyber Monday. To succeed, they should appeal to shoppers’ changing needs throughout the season.

Right now, emphasize:

  • Exclusives and hard-to-find items. Merchants should highlight items that might be out of stock later in the season and difficult to find elsewhere, putting the emphasis on the brand’s unique product offering.
  • Items to help with seasonal preparation. Cookware and home decor are obvious product categories to promote early, as are other purchases preparatory to tackling the actual gift list.
  • Early purchasing benefits for existing followers and customers. Offering exclusive deals to loyalty club members and others already familiar with the brand rewards a crucial audience segment while spurring early spending.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market is kicking off the season with free shipping for selected holiday products, such as stockings and other decor, with a global banner. The stockings index page cross-promotes other holiday-prep categories, such as candles and entertaining supplies.

Holiday example from World Market

In the peak season, highlight:

  • Best-sellers, top-rated items and other popular gifts. Now is the time to spotlight the products and categories that are perennial customer favorites and encourage shoppers to share their own wish list picks for maximum mass appeal.
  • Popular discounts for new acquaintances. As shoppers kick into peak research mode, they’ll be on the lookout for free shipping offers and product price discounts and willing to explore new brands, merchants should introduce their brands with whatever savings they can offer.

After December 15, message:

  • Gift cards and in-stock items. Merchants should selectively spotlight those items that can reach their destinations on time and step up customer service messaging around delivery deadlines. Gift cards should be promoted, including via purchasing mechanisms within social networks.
  • In-store fulfillment options and last-minute store savings. Pickup in-store, ship-to-store, curbside pickup options, and in-store events and promotions should all take center stage as shoppers hustle to complete their purchases.

We’ll address post-Christmas messaging in a future holiday tip. Check back for new tips daily next week and visit MarketLive’s Holiday Resource Center for the latest research.

How to stand out from the crowd to meet holiday challenges – webinar preview

Standing out in the crowded holiday marketplace will be more important than ever in what’s shaping up to be a challenging holiday season. Results from the 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey, set to be released Wednesday in a live webinar with E-Tailing Group President Lauren Freedman and MarketLive Founder and CEO Ken Burke, reveal the top opportunities for merchants to distinguish themselves in meeting consumer expectations.

While the earliest forecast predicted rosy overall sales growth of more than 5.5% and online growth of close to 14%, prognostications released more recently suggest that revenues will not increase as much as they did last year. The National Retail Federation is predicting overall growth of 3.7%, down from a 4.1% growth rate last year; and when it comes to online revenues specifically, the NRF forecasts growth of 6 to 8 percent — a decline from the double-digit gains of years past.

Furthermore, the largest of mass merchants threaten to monopolize whatever online growth opportunities exist. The 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey reveals that fully 57% of shoppers plan to buy at least a quarter of their gifts from Amazon alone.

That number is down a full 10 percentage points from 2014, however — indicating that shoppers are increasingly willing to consider other options that present exactly the right combination of products, pricing and promotions for their needs.

etailinggroup_amazon2015Multi-touchpoint fluency, mobile shopping prowess, social engagement, and the right timing of offers throughout the season are all crucial, according to the survey results. Register for the webinar, slated for Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern to learn what shoppers are looking for, and the tactics that deliver results.

Last-minute mobile upgrades for the holidays

As the holidays approach, the question on many merchants’ minds isn’t whether mobile is important, but rather just how much growth they’ll see in mobile sales, visit and engagement.

While a total mobile overhaul isn’t feasible before the holiday rush, merchants can still tweak their mobile offerings in seven crucial areas to improve the shopping experience.

Last year, mobile usage surged by 50%, with a quarter of all online revenue in Q4 attributable to mobile devices — and all indications are that this year is is poised to see total mobile dominance. With fully three-quarters of brand interactions occurring on mobile devices as of the second quarter of this year, and with prognosticators estimating that online will influence a whopping two-thirds of all retail sales this holiday season, mobile couldn’t be more crucial.

That’s all well and good for merchants who are sitting pretty with highly-optimized mobile sites. But for the majority of brands, mobile remains a work in progress — which means that there’s still room for improvement in the final weeks before holiday shopping hits its peak. In his latest post for the eTail Blog, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke reassures merchants that they have time to enact seven relatively simple, but crucial changes to their offerings to position themselves for mobile success.

Among the winning tactics: adding social sharing buttons to mobile site product pages. These tools are often given short shrift on mobile due to the constraints of screen real estate, but as Burke points out, “share” buttons are a gateway to higher brand visibility around the Web:

Social media has more influence on shoppers than current attribution models can show. Almost half of social media users report discovering new products via social media, and 36% recommend products themselves. Let those products be yours.

Burke cites MarketLive merchant Wilson’s Leather for pervasive placement of social sharing buttons; wish list and “forward to a friend” links complete the range of options for shoppers to save and pass along product information via their mobile devices.

Social sharing buttons for mobile - example from Wilson's Leather

Read the full eTail Blog post for all 7 last-minute mobile tips — and stay tuned right here for further holiday planning advice.

Build critical mass on social media now for holiday success later

As the holidays approach, many merchants are planning promotions targeted at their social media audience. But as they plot the substance of offers, merchants would also do well to launch initiatives now to build a critical mass of followers so those holiday promotions can have an impact.

Designing social-specific campaigns for the holidays is a wise move, as discounts and promotions are the top reason by far that shoppers follow brands in the first place. But with directly-attributable revenue from social media stubbornly persisting at or below one percent of the total, merchants must cast a wide net in the hopes of seeing an appreciable impact on sales during the holidays.

MarketLive Performance Index data on social media impact

To build up social media audiences now, merchants should:

Offer plenty of substantial, visually rich content for sharing. As discussed previously, visual content should now be the centerpiece of social offerings — and the more merchants provide eye-catching content existing followers are willing to share, the more likely they are to win new social fans thanks to word of mouth. Not only should social media posts be visually-oriented, but shareable product images and content on the eCommerce site should offer pinners and posters the option of choosing a picture that goes beyond showing the item in question to portray the personality of the brand. This recent shot from MarketLive merchant Peruvian Connection is about more than a jacket, but speaks to the adventurous, opulent lifestyle of their target audience.

peruvianimagesFocus contests on solving shoppers’ real needs. Rather than spawning yet another hashtag campaign just so shoppers can tag photos of themselves using a brand’s products, merchants should solicit ideas for how to address real needs. To gauge what solutions shoppers seek, merchants should study on-site search and search engine queries and popular content related to their category, and then design contests or sweepstakes that align with those needs.

Ikea encouraged contestants to submit ideas for how to decorate their patios for summer. The winner was chosen by popular vote from a group of finalists, upping visibility of the contest.

Social example from Ikea

Follow influencers, and earn the follow back. Merchants should be authentic participants on their social media platforms of choice, following key influencers in their category and earning mentions and reciprocal follows. Rather than constantly posting canned comments and product promotions, merchants should strive to demonstrate subject matter expertise by posting knowledgeable comments and contributions, and also show the brand’s responsiveness to feedback from customers and influencers by highlighting changes or improvements to products made based on community input.

Invite existing email subscribers and customers to socialize. Encouraging shoppers already connected to the brand to become social media followers is a wise move. Increased opportunities for engagement up the chances of converting shoppers to buyers; and for existing customers, social media is a way to stay connected with the brand and receive notice of relevant new products and offers.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine let email subscribers know that their contributions were welcome on social media — a campaign that underscores the brand’s commitment to showcasing styles for real active women.

Social example from T9

How are you building social media followers prior to the holidays?