Trends & Features

Increase your festive cheer

Chris Barling, CEO of ecommerce and EPOS supplier Actinic, shows you how to succeed at Christmas when price is king

There’s an argument that marketing is less important at Christmas, as the rising tide will give a lift to all boats. Whether one buys this argument or not, there’s a good reason to be highly organised for the Christmas season, as this represents one of the best chances for profit in the year. If we experience the double dip that some forecasters have predicted, a good Christmas will leave us much better prepared than the competition.

Getting people through the door, or to the website, is job one for retailers. However, it’s not everything. Just as on the high street, the process of selling to customers doesn’t end when they reach your website – that’s where it starts. Now that price is making a new bid for the throne, it’s especially important to employ smart marketing techniques to maximise margin.

It’s a good approach to find creative ideas to support the season of good cheer. If this approach works for Google, which festoons its site at Christmas, it’s probably good enough for us, too. So add a festive page design, put likely presents and links to gift packs on your home page and stock Yule-themed items. Festive specials can make you seem like you are joining in, and with careful stock monitoring may even enable you to start clearing slow-moving stock even before Christmas has passed.

Sporties Online ( is an online retailer of sporting goods, which also has a retail outlet on the Isle of Wight. Last Christmas it made a major effort to tailor its marketing based on changed metrics and to maximise the impact of Christmas on the whole year.

The company changed its whole pay per click (PPC) strategy. As a bidding war on its top phrases broke out, PPC rates rose strongly. As a result, it concentrated its spend on the long tail of phrases that are searched less frequently. Increased traffic over the Christmas period made many more of them worthwhile.

While price online has always been important, the economic news has made shoppers even more price sensitive than in the past. Since a ‘race to the bottom’ on price is not an effective business strategy, it’s important to be seen as price competitive, while maintaining a decent margin overall.

One of the cardinal rules on price competition is not to give margin away when it’s un-necessary. So look to price the most popular items very competitively while gaining margin on products that are less likely to be price checked. Use a ‘Bargain basement’ section to draw the bargain hunters, and clear slow-moving stock through this route.

One great technique is to provide a list of top sellers on the home page and provide a list of new products elsewhere on the site. Nothing can be more convenient than zero clicks away, and the products most likely to attract interest from people who weren’t planning to purchase them are the top sellers. Obviously, new products can promote fresh interest from existing customers, so a new products page will also help. These alternative ways can help to blunt raw price competition.

Everyday low prices seem to work for supermarkets – people have to buy food and shopping regularly, they appreciate the true cost of their weekly trip. For stores that are less regularly visited, there are better ways of working. This means following one of the most basic rules of price merchandising – always give more for more money. Never just provide a straight discount.

The key is to try to hook the buyer with a solid offer, then once they have decided to buy, entice them to part with more of their cash with an even better value offer. An example would be boxes of golf balls at half the price per ball of a smaller quantity. The buyer initially only puts one unit in his cart, but when presented with the right offer they may feel that they would be getting better value if they bought a bigger set, given that golf balls are easily lost.

The technique can be used with numbers – the larger the quantity bought, the lower the price. Or try bundles, where the cost of the bundle is less than its constituent parts.

Another technique is ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Using this approach, Roopesh Patel at Aidmobility ( has seen a 700 per cent increase in sales of cushions for wheelchairs and 900 per cent in walking stick accessories. Accessories are provided as options to the main products using a check box. So when the buyer selects the main product, they can buy additional options with a single click.

This is a treble win as there is a small saving when the accessory is bought like this, but the buyer also saves time in finding the option and saves hassle from working out what goes with what. The assurance that the option will actually work with the main product is also likely to reduce queries and increase conversion.

Another tactic employed by Sporties Online was that every customer who placed an order from the start of November onwards received a 10 per cent off voucher that could be used in January or February, provided that the person signed up to the Sporties’ mailing list. In previous years January and February had been very quiet, but following this initiative sales were significantly improved. When you prompt the buyer, price competition is not so intense. The larger mailing list also provided additional longer-term potential.

The big advantage of the internet is that it is easy to try things out, measure the results and adjust accordingly. With careful application, there is scope for both an increase in sales and defending margins as they come under threat. It may not be magic, but it’s certainly worthwhile.

Increasing conversion and driving up the average order value can mean the difference between success and failure, or maybe a moderate versus a fantastic business.

‘The early bird catches the worm’ may be a well-worn phrase, but when it comes to preparing for the Christmas season, it’s very true. The early arrival of Christmas may get a collective groan from the general population, but for those of us in retail careful planning and thought provides a much-needed opportunity to improve performance.

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