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6 tips to engage the holiday shopper

6 tips to engage the holiday shopper Jeff Ragovin
In an iMedia article I wrote earlier this year, I correctly asserted that 2011 would be the year in which social commerce arrives. Currently, there is more innovation within this field than ever before, as brands and agencies are able to close the loop between social and commerce.

According to comScore, e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2011 reached $36.3 billion, which is a 13 percent increase over last year. This means that e-commerce sales have been growing consecutively for the past eight quarters, year-over-year.

E-commerce has grown successively because online sales and special offers are the new Santa, saving Christmas by enticing shoppers. That might sound silly, but think about it: The economy, while showing signs of improvement, is not where it should be in terms of growth and job creation. As a result, consumers are tightening their belts and being more careful with how much they spend. However, online deals help smart shoppers research products and find savings undiscovered elsewhere. In fact, eMarketer estimates that U.S. retail e-commerce sales during November and December will rise 16.8 percent to $46.7 billion. If Cyber Monday is any indication of what's to come in December, 2011 has already broken records. As reported by Forbes, this year's Cyber Monday reached $1.25 billion in online spending in the U.S., easily becoming the heaviest online spending day in history.

Consequently, it's important for brands to provide engaging content that encourages social sharing, thus driving sales. According to Nielsen, 90 percent of online shoppers trust recommendations from people they know, while 87 percent spend more online because of recommendations. Clearly, when brands offer special deals that people are likely to share, everyone wins.

Now that we've covered some compelling statistics, here are six tips to help your brand get ahead for the holiday season.

Keep it simple
Research from Buddy Media reveals that, on average, posts between one and 80 characters had a 27 percent higher engagement rate than posts with more than 80 characters. Yet, these shorter posts account for only 19 percent of all posts. Understanding why people engage with your content provides clues as to what will and won't work to drive social commerce.

Offer special deals
This may seem like a no brainer, but it's crucial and sometimes overlooked by brands. It's important to launch sales and deals via social channels that are specifically related to certain aspects of the holiday season. For example, post about early-bird specials, Black Friday deals, or daily gift ideas attached to fun news of the day. Encourage fans to create "wish lists" that can be shared on the social web. Content is king, but context is queen, and you need to stay relevant to your fans.

Use "soft sell" keywords
Make sure you're including "soft sell" keywords in every holiday update. Our research shows, when running a contest or promotional offer on Facebook, "soft sell" keywords like "event" and "win" resonate well with users as opposed to more direct or aggressive terms like "contest," "promotion," "sweepstakes," and "coupon." Who doesn't like celebrating a winner or a special event?

Localize your efforts
Make sure you are properly engaging with your fans via localized content. According to MaxPoint Interactive, localizing ad efforts will increase sales in the final 72 hours of the holiday shopping season. Making content relevant to many local markets is a time investment, but it's the right thing to do, as it pays off. Consumers need to know you're speaking with them, not just broadcasting the same message nationwide.

Think mobile
According to Search Engine Land, mobile shopping is expected to grow by 40 percent year-over-year. In addition, according to the latest data from Google, 15 percent of search queries during the holiday season are expected to come from mobile devices. As a result, you must write local ads tailored to mobile. Mobile-specific ad copy tends to convert at a much higher rate than regular desktop-targeted pay-per-click copy. For example, as your call to action, employ the phrase, "Shop now on your mobile phone." Furthermore, if you are targeting specific phone devices, make the ad specific to that device by adding the words "on your iPhone" or "on your Android."

Also, don't forget: If you are driving shoppers to purchase via their smartphones, make sure your website is optimized for mobile. The easier you make it for your fans to browse your products, the more likely they will purchase. Nothing will turn off shoppers faster than a clunky website that is difficult to navigate.

Think integration
How are you using digital to boost in-store traffic? Smart retailers know that digital doesn't just mean online shopping. Social and digital channels are a powerful way to get consumers to show up in person as well. Create special content and deals for consumers to redeem only in store. A recent survey conducted by Ad Age and Ipsos Observer found that coupons are the No. 1 reason consumers "like" brands on Facebook.

Mobile platforms like Foursquare can prove to be powerful tools that integrate online and offline. Providing your fans with a deal when they check-in to a retail location can be a truly rewarding experience. This not only increases loyalty, but can potentially turn your fans into advocates for your brand.

Fear not, there are options for those not on Foursquare as well. For example, last year Toys"R"Us enhanced its mobile initiatives for the holiday season by letting consumers redeem coupons via scanned bar codes at the point of sale. It even created a mobile messaging program to give consumers instant deals and offers directly to their mobile devices.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please share what's been working for you this holiday season.

Jeff Ragovin is co-founder and chief strategy officer for Buddy Media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jeff Ragovin has over a decade of experience building expansive brand relationships at major technology and marketing firms. He comes to Salesforce.com through the August 2012 acquisition of Buddy Media, where he served as co-founder and chief...

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