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(PHOTOS.COM)

SELLING SMARTS

Six ways to make the most of the shopping rush online Add to ...

The holiday selling season is on. Shopping centres across the continent are breaking out their synthetic Christmas trees, mechanical elves, and mall Santas.

But the lack of bricks and mortar doesn’t excuse online stores from festive duties. To the contrary, embracing the season can pay big dividends to online merchants.

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“Everyone’s thinking about [seasonal] gifts,” says Harley Finkelstein, the chief platform officer at Shopify.com, an Ottawa-based firm that hosts online stores for more than 17,000 businesses.

“They want to see what their friends have bought, and what bloggers are talking about.”

Sounds like a task for a festive Internet. Here are six ways to make the most of the holiday shopping rush online:

Deck the feeds

If there was a time of year when social networking can pay off for retailers, this is it.

Integrating your store with Facebook and Twitter to make it easy for customers to publicize purchases can help reframe regular offerings as holiday gifts.

As always, consumers are more swayed by endorsements from friends and trusted sources than they are by direct advertising pitches. Fostering an online community that can help spread the word – a year-round pursuit, to be sure – will pay off doubly this month.

Customers aren’t the only ones looking for gift ideas. Bloggers and online publications (who are generally amenable to compiling lists in the first place) are typically putting together gift guides for publications. Reach out to online publications that specialize in your field and make sure they know what you’re offering. Remember that specialized blogs can often hold a lot of sway on Google, so explore the publications in your niche carefully.

Tinsel, tinsel, tinsel

Decking the halls can pay off. Applying a holiday-specific look to your sales site isn’t just an aesthetic touch. It tells the consumer that your site has been refreshed for the season, and implies that your stock has been, too. (And this implication is correct, right?)

When a site is set up for the holidays, existing items can take on new roles. Smaller items can be positioned as small gifts and stocking-stuffers – a good reason to sell items at varying price points. To go the extra mile, create seasonal landing pages on your site that make it crystal-clear that your business is in holiday mode.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Google

Retailers struggle year-round to keep their websites popping up in the search results and paid advertisements that follow Web surfers’ queries, and the holiday season is no time to stop.

Make sure the text you use to attract search-engine traffic is seasonally relevant. If you can legitimately work words like “holiday” and “Christmas” into product descriptions and tags, do it. Alter descriptive text of a fine liqueur to describe it as “a great holiday gift.” (Rebranding a toaster as “a Christmas toaster” might be pushing it.)

The same goes for paid search-engine marketing campaigns that place ads on search results.

As you choose the keywords that you’re using to attract search attention (something you should be reevaluating on a regular basis anyway), adding seasonal terms into the mix can help attract gift-hunting traffic.

Finally, creating seasonal landing pages for holiday gear can help brand your store for humans and search engines alike.

Brace for the rush

Don’t be caught off-guard by success – anticipated or not.

Make sure that your website and its host can handle the holiday season, especially on the highly desirable off chance that an item catches the Internet’s whimsy and sends a flood of traffic your way.

More to the point, make sure that the logistical gears are ready. A rush of sales means a rush of customer-support enquiries.

It also means a shipping rush. To help cope, Mr. Finkelstein suggests looking into a fulfilment service like ShipWire

These companies handle the nuts and bolts of shipping and receiving: Send them your stock, let them know where it’s bound, and they’ll handle the shipping for you.

Consider telling a story

Everyone wants their gifts to mean something, so adding a bit of narrative to a product can greatly enhance its value.

This could take the form of charitable or socially conscious works, like Brown Water Coffee [http://www.brownwatercoffee.com/]/note>, a boutique coffee company that donates a part of its sales to clean-water projects.

It could also mean something more personal: the provenance of homemade crafts, or the inspiration behind artistic products.

Online retail offers more space to describe products than a physical shelf. Use this flexibility to engage customers’ imaginations and their desire to make something meaningful of the season.

Offer free shipping

Not only is it increasingly standard, but removing hidden fees and unpleasant surprises removes a layer of friction for the customer.

Offer clear deadlines for when orders must be placed to arrive on time, and offer premium shipping options.

You could think of it as part of the cost of doing business. Or maybe it’s just a matter of spreading good cheer.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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