Every SEO strategy session with clients these days should include a moment of recognition and praise for how hard business owners are working to keep serving the public amid monumental challenges. As SEOs [search engine optimizers], any heavy lifting we can do to clear a path for our clients toward success in the holiday shopping season will be especially welcome in 2021.
Market trends indicate that a powerful three-point strategy for you to bring to the brands you promote is: Inspire, Deliver, Sustain. We’ll look at these key elements of a positive and profitable holiday shopping program that will help you make a meaningful contribution to excellent client outcomes.
Ecommerce spending in November-December 2020 rose an astounding 45.2% over the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Economists are predicting another very strong, extended online shopping period in Q4 2021.
Decades of surveys have shown that a core motivation for brick-and-mortar shopping has been customers wanting to experience products in person before buying them. While the web may have become synonymous with “browsing,” the COVID-19 pandemic created a serious barrier between shoppers and leisurely real-world perusal of inventory. Your clients’ customers will be coming to the internet with their gift lists in hand, longing for ideas on what to buy for each friend and family member in the absence of in-store inspiration.
SEOs can have the most significant impact on the discovery phase of the buyer’s journey this year by creating and optimizing gift guides that feature content and imagery that inspire. A mobile phone or laptop isn’t a 1:1 substitute for the festivity of a trip to a beautiful downtown decked for the holidays, but by working closely with the writers and designers at your agency or on your clients’ teams, you can warm up the digital welcome. Here are some real world examples to spark your own ideas:
- This Gift Guide from The Strategist uses bright colors, fun imagery and useful categorization to make shopping more pleasurable.
- Macy’s keeps its gift-giving guide up year-round, sectioned by occasion as well as recipient.
- The Christmas Shop section of the Vermont Country Store has an inventory that makes it automatically festive.
- Chef Jamie Geller’s 8 Gifts for 8 Nights shows how a content-based approach to recommending gifts can be persuasive.
- Patagonia’s Gift Guide is quite simple but has excellent sidebar filters to help shoppers narrow down their selections.
Even the best gifts imaginable won’t sell as well as they could unless customers feel confident about access methods, delivery guarantees and fees. Your clients’ websites must clearly communicate how inventory can be delivered, arrival time frames, and what different shopping and shipping options cost. Undertake the following:
- Create a sitewide banner that boldly announces purchase-by dates for remote holiday shipping to prevent consumer letdown and brand reputation damage.
- Ensure shopping carts have a shipping calculation widget and that any special handling fees are clearly disclosed to prevent mid-purchase abandonment.
- Create a page that details every possible delivery methodology and link to it from every product page. Describe the availability of in-store pickup, curbside pickup, local home delivery and shipping, and list any companies you partner with for local fulfillment so customers know what to expect. The Ace Hardware franchise does a good job of letting shoppers know which items are available at a local store and which must be shipped. Include all relevant health and safety information on this page, such as mask requirements for your customers and partners, vaccination policies and sanitation practices.
In addition to building this information into clients’ websites, consider:
- Creating a set of questions and answers for clients with physical stores on their Google My Business listings via the Q&A feature. Business owners can both ask and answer queries like, “Do you offer curbside pickup?” and, “Do you offer local home delivery?” in this highly visible area of the listings.
- Ensuring all other information on your clients’ websites, local business listings and social media profiles is accurate so that customers know holiday hours and closures, can find stores at correctly published addresses and have access to all forms of support including email, live chat, texting and phone lines.
- Using social media to promote anything especially appealing about your delivery methodology, such as free shipping, strongly guaranteed holiday arrival or a percentage of your sales going to a philanthropic cause.
It isn’t cheerful holiday news, but every part of the United States is now being impacted by climate change, and your clients’ most aware customers are connecting the dots between overconsumption and fossil fuel use with the fires, floods and mega-storms damaging their communities. To sustain itself, retail will need to adapt from the industrial-era approach of sell, sell, sell, to a more mindful method of operations — one that sources well-made goods that are built to last and are created with the least ecological impact from manufacturers powered by green energy.
In my own gift-giving circle, presents have begun to arrive with explanations from the conferrer like, “This was locally made, not shipped,” or, “These were made from organic cotton by women paid a living wage,” or, “The folks who made these are now running on solar energy.”
SEOs can look around the world for trending information that needs to be conveyed to clients. For example:
- Irish media is setting a high bar for sustainable messaging at the holidays, with major outlets like The Irish Times publishing entire sections on green living and gifting and RTÉ television continuously running programs on climate action.
- France has outlawed planned obsolescence, fining companies that manufacture goods that are intentionally designed to wear out and break.
- Sweden has opened the world’s first upcycling mall in which all stores vend second-hand goods. Also in Sweden, Volvo has announced that its entire car lineup will be electric by 2030.
- Peru is leading the fight against the environmental damages of fast fashion with alternative clothing sewn from sustainable fibers and manufactured in settings that prioritize social justice. Searches relating to sustainable fashion increased by 75% between 2018 and 2019.
- The U.S. is going to be part of this change too, and is included in data tracking a massive 71% rise in searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, including queries throughout the pandemic. Essentials are becoming part of our collective mindset in more ways than one.
The dynamic that is emerging, and that SEOs need to be bringing to strategy sessions, is that in order to sustain themselves, retailers must learn to sustain the communities they serve, and the planet. The 2021 holiday shopping season could be an ideal moment in your clients’ histories to begin developing new relationships with green supply chains, and you will have a profoundly important role to play in developing, optimizing and promoting new sustainable practices via websites, social channels, video media, news outlets, industry publications and other platforms.
On a micro, day-to-day level, helping your clients green themselves will give an extra reason for customers to choose them for holiday shopping. On a macro level, such work can contribute to the age-old holiday ideals of peace on Earth, founded in meaningful good will toward all.