Now that the dust has settled on Black Friday, and Cyber shopping is in full effect, a recent eMarketer article reported that according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics "Thanksgiving Weekend Spending Survey" overall shopper traffic was down this year while Black Friday online sales were up 20.6% year over year.
With online savvy customers becoming more engaged this year, using social media for research and product suggestions from friends, brands must learn how to balance the fine act of promoting the convenience of shopping online vs. in-store.
Below are 20 helpful tips to win the holiday season online:
1. Make Holiday Posts Informative and Entertaining
Leading up to Black Friday, Thanksgiving Day, Hanukah, Christmas or other holidays, customers will flock online and onto social media.
If you're a retailer, it's a good practice to post your store hours including opening/closing times on holidays like Christmas Eve, Christmas the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as well as Thanksgiving Day itself.
Leverage social media to build awareness and excitement by posting #BlackFriday or #HolidayDeals unique to your store ahead of time.
Customers tend to tune-out what they don't see as relevant content so don't keep the focus around just what you're selling. Talk up free shipping, convenience, price guarantee, etc. It's not about pushing one particular product as it's about making sure your retail brand is top of mind for a consumer who is on the go from store to store.
Listen to what customers are saying about your brand, products they could buy at your store, or attitudes they're feeling about current holiday conditions to discover new ideas for your social content.
2. Have a Content Calendar
As a marketer, the advantage of working behind the scenes for a retail brand is having access to the print ad well before those die-hard deal seekers find the ad leaked online.
Making a digital connection with holiday shoppers takes thought out planning and happens well before shoppers visit in-store or even while they're standing in line.
A content calendar is important to outline what your brand will tweet, pin or post ahead of time as 'scheduled brand content'. For example, many big box retailers (like Wal-Mart) will hold 'Flash sale' type deals in-store and online for a limited period of time.
Have a well thought out calendar of what your brand is going to post and when, don't try to win holiday marketing on the fly - focus on 1:1 conversations instead while your brand's promotional content is already set.
3. Get Proactive with Customer Service
With increased shoppers, increased deals and incased sales, there are bound to be an increase in customer requests too. Have someone from your marketing or social media team watching social channels for questions or complaints by customers - with millions of deal seeking consumers on the prowl it's not a matter of "IF" but "how many" customers will flock to social media for support online when in-store customer service goes awry.
Use a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and run searches for your business keywords to monitor any feedback from customers during throughout the holiday season so you can be proactive in engaging with customers in real time.
4. Be Human
If you don't have resources to staff your social media department during high traffic times such as: the weekend or evening hours, let your community know ahead of time.
It's perfectly OK to tweet on Christmas Eve that your social team will be at home with their families and for immediate inquiries send an email or call your customer service hotline.
The worst is when a customer running into your store on Christmas Eve hoping to pick up something they saw in your ad, or online, not having it on hand and then being bombarded with a series of tweets that aren't answered until the following business day.
5. Surprise and Delight to Build Goodwill and Loyalty
Be generous this holiday season; give away FREE products, gift cards, shipping, coupons and discounts at random to customers who engage with your brand leading up to the holidays and even during them.
Why not create a special deal for "influencers" or for loyal customers that they can share to their friends?
Maybe you're a coffee shop and want to offer a free Christmas cookie with a cup of coffee to warm up frozen line-standers. Maybe it's a buy-one-get-one offer, or 20% off your entire purchase.
Making a customer feel special and engaged, builds loyalty long-term, and there's no better time to spread goodwill than the holidays.
According to Ted Rubin, Acting CMO of Brand Innovators, Social Marketing Strategist and Author of "Return on Relationship", brands should make active use of Instagram, where hash-tags add even more value than Twitter, and Pinterest where many women go for inspiration. And, instead of just giving away "free", how about adding incremental value such as: free snacks for kids, babysitting services for parents to go shopping and even guiding customers to where they can go buy a product if the store they're at doesn't have it.
6. Consider Promoting Gift Card Sales
While this is definitely more of an overall marketing tactic, not just social, consider promoting sales of gift cards during the holidays aside from the awesome goods or services your business sells.
People are always buying gift cards, often in excess as filler gifts. In fact, over $100 Billion is spent on Gift Cards annually.
And those who receive them are most likely going to shop at your store, even if they never have in the past. According to Giftcards.com on average the recipient will spend 20% MORE than their gift card value.
7. Use Social Listening to Scoop Your Competitors
And while there's plenty of tools out there that will help you get super granular in your social listening, it's really as simple as running a few searches and making some notes.
Try this: Go on Twitter and type in the name of your competitors to see what is being said right now about them.
Just like your customer service team or community manager is watching for mentions of your brand online, watch for mentions of local competitors.
If the competitor is unresponsive to their audience online, you can often come in and provide a better experience for a potential customer in need and take a sale from them. After doing this exercise, you'll be amazed to find out that most brands in retail are NOT personally responding to each mention about them which means this is your opportunity to be the hero.
This is also where having that deal we mentioned above comes in handy, try creating some type of competitive deal you can easily send to a customer who appears to be ready to buy.
Scour for mentions of people tweeting about a set product that you sell and tweet at them a link, with a coupon, to somewhere on your website where they can learn more about it and even buy directly!
Twitter is PERFECT for fishing out perspective buyers - go get them.
8. Use Scheduling Tools
Knowing at what time in-store sales will occur should prompt you to schedule tweets and Facebook posts to the exact second they occur IRL ("in real life").
For example, if 32" TV's at big box retailer is on sale for $99 for a limited time only between 5pm and 6pm (and assuming the sale is also available online) go ahead and schedule a tweet from now with the hash-tag #Christmas or #HolidayDeals in it.
A tweet would look something like: "Alert! 32" Sony TV's on SALE for $99 for the next 60 minutes!! #HolidayDeals"
Whether you represent a big box retail brand or a small business, free tools like Sprout Social or Hoot Suite can help you plan your content calendar.
9. The Holiday's is a Marathon
Winning the holiday's at the register and online isn't limited to just Black Friday, it's a marathon between now and Christmas - not a sprint.
Community Management can go a long way to help customers searching for that perfect gift this year. Listen to what consumers are saying by running basic searches on Twitter, such as: "Gift ideas" or "gift help".
Brand content pushed out is often ignored but 1:1 conversations are not, especially when a customer needs assistance.
Through direct dialogue you can send a link via Tweet or Facebook post where customers can buy the item they are looking for.
10. Always Say "Thank you"
Let's face it; your customers have waited all year to spend their hard earned dollars with you. Take the time to say "Thank you" to as many customers as you can (preferably ALL) that mention shopping with you this holiday season.
Leveraging your listening tools for Swarm (formerly known as Foursquare) check-in provides insight as to who's paid a visit to your store.
A simple tweet acknowledging their visit, asking them how it went, retweeting their excitement of getting a hot deal or even delivering a digital coupon can make all the difference in how your brand is perceived in the public social-sphere - remember, your competitors are likely paying attention too!
Thanking your customers is also good business practice and makes them feel valued, likely exciting them to come back.
11. E-mail Marketing isn't Dead!
Digital marketing isn't limited to just social media. In fact, while social media plays an important role in direct 1:1 dialogue with deal seeking customers, it's owned channels such as website and email that make the biggest impact in driving sales both online and in-store.
As part of your content calendar, integrate a daily email between now and Christmas offering your customers the opportunity to purchase a deeply discounted product (sort of like a "flash deal") but only available through midnight to create a real sense of urgency to buy. Don't forget about free shipping too!
Also, if you really want to win over your loyal customers who've opted in to receive an email from your brand, provide real value through the form of a coupon - those 25% and 50% off coupons really can add up and make customers feel special.
Your digital sales funnel should be: Email, Web and Social. All in that order with social being the key driver in influencing loyalty.
12. Send SMS/Text Message Alerts
If your brand has a mobile app or able to send text message alerts, the same principal applies here as email.
Don't annoy your customers with a text message every hour (remember that data rates do apply!) but send your customers daily or weekly text message reminders of store opening and closing times, in-store deals or even a coupon code they can redeem online or in-store.
Again, getting ahead of the competition through methodical content planning is the key. Use all of the digital resources you have access to leverage and reach a multitude of consumers.
13. Update Your Website
Your brand website is the first place, digitally; a customer is likely to visit when scouring the internet for deals.
Be sure to update your website with in-store holiday hours in addition to making your weekly ad and deals easily accessible to search and find.
As an example, Wal-Mart and Best Buy do a good job of keeping the mainstay items such as TV's, iPad's, video games and other household appliances easily viewable on their homepage and also have "Trending" sections based on what customers are searching for when visiting their websites.
14. Coupon Aggregators
Leverage a website called RetailMeNot.com to upload coupons exclusive to your retail brand, this is a busy season for deal seeking consumers who will be visiting coupon aggregator websites searching for deals before they ever go in-store.
15. Engage Women on Pinterest
With its rising popularity amongst female shoppers, leverage Pinterest to post everything from meal preparation ideas to DIY tips and crafts on how-to create that perfect Christmas wreath or decorate your home.
Pinterest is also a great way for retailers to feature this year's hottest fashions and Fall/Winter catalog while inspiring users on how-to mix and match gifts for under a set amount.
What's great about Pinterest is being able to link pins back to your brands website which drives website traffic leading to increased selling opportunities. Also, you can add "Pin it" buttons to your brand's website to essentially catalog every item so they can be shared across Pinterest massive database of prospective buyers.
16. Engage Millennial on Instagram
Instagram sweepstakes and hash-tag campaigns are the new way for brands to reel in prospective millennial shoppers (born within 1980 - 2000).
Example, see: ExpressRunway on Instagram (click here)
Express is giving away a Party Jacket, no purchase necessary, by simply asking their audience of 171K+ followers to comment on a single post.
Less than $100, of product, in exchange for 1,397 "Likes" and 587 comments in an hour is pretty inexpensive for holiday advertising and far more effective than if they were to run a Facebook ad - and it grows social engagement!
17. Snapchat Flash Deals
Snapchat is still relatively unknown territory for brands however it's undoubtedly an emerging social network with reportedly more than 100 million users.
Following in the steps of McDonald's, Snapchat can be used to not only engage with young, trendy millennial but also to inform followers of very limited-time only deals or promotions.
A successful way to leverage Snapchat for brands would be to send a "Snap" coupon/offer so good that it's only available for 10 seconds or less. An example would look like: "Visit us at abc.com/Snapchat to save 50% today only!"
18. Online Exclusive Deals vs. In-store Sales
The easiest way to keep customers connected to your brand online during the holiday is to engage directly with them and also by pushing out fresh, daily content that inspires them to keep coming back to see what's new today.
Best Buy did a great job of this leading up to Black Friday by sending its reward club customers (email subscribers) "limited time only" deals available online with free in-store pickup in addition to offering a limited assortment of new items each day which kept sales feeling exclusive.
Making your customers feel that they are getting a bargain today, if they purchase online within a short period of time vs. waiting to go in-store tomorrow or over the weekend, provides scalable ROI and ultimately turns an online shopper into an in-store guest provided that they opt to save a few bucks and pick the item(s) up in-store.
19. Limited Time Online Sales
Another tactic, which Cole Haan nailed, is hosting a "limited time only" online-based sale typically lasting only a few days in which customers will be driven to visit your website, search for their favorite items/products and receive a discount at check-out.
It's convenient for the customer, to receive an offer directly in their inbox that is automatically applied at checkout online, and there's ROI from the customer's point of view in subscribing to your email newsletter.
20. Tweet, Post, Pin, Engage - Repeat!
This holiday season, your objective is to get customers to shop and buy regardless of it being in-store or online - leverage a multi-channel strategy that puts the hottest deals in front of them, drive them to your website or physical store location, give them a few dollars off their total purchase and you've successfully converted an online prospect to a paying customer.
The key is repetition and staying consistent, by having a content calendar with valuable content for your audience, a posting schedule as well as proper scheduling tools and a few dollars to invest in "deals" or coupons your brand (big or small) can win the holiday season - guaranteed!