Holiday gift guides: Five ways to maximize its potential

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2013Holiday_Blog_ShoporgShop.org asked consumers last year which services were most important for their holiday purchases, “gift idea center” ranked a 3 out of 5. Millennials were the one group to rank it higher (3.4), while consumers age 55 and older pegged it at 2.7.

Based on this data point – and in a world of priority juggling and limited budgets – it can be easy to dismiss gift idea centers or gift guides. In my opinion, this average ranking is based more on lackluster execution rather than potential. As many consumers start building their holiday gift lists, I believe many would welcome ideas and inspiration beyond the expected tie for Dad and a kitchen gadget for Mom. This should be an area where retailers should succeed – selecting and suggesting great products for their customers.

The potential is there. Last year, Experian Marketing’s survey of retailers found that emails featuring gift guides generated a 48 percent higher transaction rate when compared with other promotional mailings. That’s why this is one theme featured in Shop.org’s 2013 Holiday Strategy and Planning Guide: 11Things That Matter. Here are a few ideas about how to make gift guides work harder this holiday season:48percent-email-gift-guides

Get the right support team in place. We’ve heard anecdotally that gift guides can be taxing on resources for retailers during an already frenzied time. Therefore, the first step has to be putting in place the right team with focused objectives and clearly developed roles and responsibilities. Begin by identifying a team with representatives from every team impacted: marketing, merchandising, merchandise planning, IT, customer service, and fulfillment are great places to start. Also make sure that marketing and production have resources and budgets in place to maximize  potential for the gift guide throughout the season.

The backup plan must have a backup plan. Merchandising must have a plan in place for gift guide items that run out. Should you replace that item with another? Do you indicate low stock when running out of size and color combinations? These questions become more pressing for companies that offer a gift guide that focuses on a different item every day, such as the “Twelve Days of Holiday” model. Inventory could run out quickly depending on the offer – possibly even before customers in other time zones open their email. Not having items in stock can also be an opportunity to acquire and engage customers. ModCloth asks visitors to provide their email to indicate that they want an out of stock item or to be notified of something “coming soon” that hasn’t hit the floor. Similarly, IT and customer service need to be ready for bursts of heavy activity on the site and for specific items as the email drops. Depending on the offer, retailers may want to stagger those emails to smooth spikes in demand.

Use user-generated content for authenticity. Gift guides become that much more authentic by using user-generated content to feature specific items. For example, retailers can tap constantly updated information such as “most wished-for”, “top-rated”, “best-selling” and/or “most-popular” items. Focusing on these attributes and dropping the term “gift guide” might be the better choice, depending on the audience. The real key: making this information visible and easily accessible on the home page, throughout the site, on social media, and as a tab or link in your app. Retailers may also want to market this user-generated content in-store to encourage customers to participate via ratings and reviews. This aggregated information can become a resource for new ideas.

Tap in-house expertise for authority. Merchants, store associates, and other employees are often the go-to product experts. Similar to the video rental store “employee pick” selections of years past, retailers can showcase employee picks as the authoritative “inside scoop” on the very best gifts in any given category. Maximize it by sprinkling this advice across all channels, from the product detail page to marketing emails and more.

Up the imagery ante. Gift guides today benefit from consumers who are accustomed to and expect rich visuals via alternate product images, product videos and image-oriented sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. Allowing customers to “pin” or share images from your gift guide in other ways can add value to your store as a trusted, innovative resource for the most-inspired gift list. Great use of imagery will not only help tell your product and brand story, it can reinforce to customers why your product is the gift to give. For tips about best in class product imagery, see the post from the Shop.org 2012 Merchandising Workshop about product photography and video.

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