While the Consumer Electronics Association says people plan to spend $200 less on the holidays this year, smaller companies will be glad to hear that shoppers are being urged to shop at regional stores instead of big-box retailers as well as at online-only shops and Web sites of their favorite stores.
Here are some ideas on how to steer the budget-conscious shoppers your way:
- First of all, you absolutely need to get a Web site, if you haven't done so already. You can't compete with the big boys if shoppers can't find you. And if you're already well-known in your small town, chances are there are people out of town, out of state, and even out of the country who would be interested in purchasing your wares, as well. Companies such as Verio can host your site as well as help with search engine optimization.
- Once you have a Web site, make sure it works for you. The first step is to track how many people are looking at it. Companies such as VisiStat.com offer Web analytics and marketing analysis solutions so you can get simple reports, such as most-read pages, and more extensive numbers, such as how long people spent on your site. To go even deeper than tracking your site, think about testing it. Testing a site helps identify what users respond to. For example, Google's Website Optimizer is a free, easy-to-use tool that lets you test and refine your search marketing campaigns. It can take some time to generate meaningful numbers, but figuring out how to create more -- and higher-quality -- traffic is a pretty worthy trade-off for using a free tool.
- Make sure your site is easy to use. Remember that a lot of your customers might not be technologically-savvy. So design a site that is simple to navigate -- a table of contents on the left side or along the top of the page, a button that directs you back Home on every page, and a Contact Us tab that has up-to-date information. The contact information is key, because if shoppers become overwhelmed with product claims, they'll have questions they want answered immediately. One trend popping up on Web sites is a feature in which customers can engage in live chat with a customer service representative. For example, Conversive offers the ability to add live Web chat to your site or automated responses to frequently asked questions.
- Finally, remember that a lot of people still have an old-school mentality about shopping -- they might need some assurance that their personal and banking information is safe with you. Check out this article for ideas such as including on your site proof that you protect customers' privacy as well as listing certification from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
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So now that your Web site is up and running and generating tons of dollars, don't forget you have your own holiday shopping to do. And here are a couple of ideas to save you money and make it easier as well as why you might want to avoid major stores:
- A widget from Yoono alerts you to hot deals. You download the Yoono sidebar here, and then while you're browsing the Internet, Yoono sends you product recommendations and price comparisons. What's handy is if you have a vague idea what someone wants, you can go onto a Web site you know they're interested in, and Yoono will come back with recommendations based on that site -- for example, go to NFL.com for your football-loving sibling, and Yoono might come back with a jersey or bobblehead. Or click on an expensive-jewelry site, and Yoono will provide a list of bling sorted by price. And because the holidays are all about caring and sharing, Yoono lets you share items you think others would like with your contacts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Imeem, and FriendFeed.
- ShopLocal.com is a site that takes the paper out of newspaper circulars. You choose your city, and it lets you browse the ads you'd normally find in your local paper.
- Also, although you can find all sorts of deals on CyberMonday.com's site, try a little karma this season -- if you patronize smaller companies, perhaps they will turn around and give you some business too. In this trying economy, a lot of regions are urging consumers to shop locally, thus keeping tax dollars in their own cities.
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