The Art of the Start: What We Learned from the 2009 Holiday Season

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Today I had the pleasure to host a webinar with Kurt Peters, editor in chief of Internet Retailer. The topic at hand was what retailers (or indeed, any business) can take away from what happened during the 2009 holiday season.

There are no two ways about it: 2009 was a wild ride. So how is it that, even in the grips of arguably the worst recession in U.S. history, some retailers delivered solid, even impressive sales results for the holiday season? Coremetrics Benchmark showed that compared to 2008, Thanksgiving sales for 2009 were up 19.5 percent, Black Friday sales were up 37.5% and Cyber Monday Sales were up 16%. How?

The single biggest piece of advice I have for retailers is focus on an explosive start to the season. Those retailers who announced early (and by early, I mean a week before Thanksgiving) screen busters grabbed more than their fair share of consumer attention. So what if screen busters and door busters used to be under virtual embargo until Thanksgiving Day—we’re talking about the difference between a potentially wildly profitable holiday season and a mediocre one. Go for wildly profitable.

My second piece of advice is personalized email works. Period. People love to get emails that seem to anticipate their shopping needs. One of our clients, L’Occitane boosted revenue by 2,500% using targeted emails. Follow their example and delight your customers with emails that speak to them. Don’t insult their intelligence by second-guessing them: use data to deliver what they’ve told you (repeatedly) that they will buy. And buy they will.

And my last piece of advice, continuing with the personalization theme, is to invest in targeted display ads. This is one of the best ways to expand your audience and reach people for whom you don’t have email addresses, for example.

The 2010 holiday season is roughly 10 months away. But don’t be lulled into complacency. The time to plan for a killer season is now.

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