By Mark Bower, MD of Coolpink

With Christmas less than 10 weeks away, this could be the last opportunity for retailers to make the most of their planning time for everyone's favourite and busy annual shopping-fest.

Trading performance can literally make or break the year's results, or sometimes the entire businesses. Online opportunities are still massively underestimated perhaps due to heightened focus and pressure in other areas, online activity should be embraced not ignored.

But what does Christmas mean to your business? Are you set up to capitalise on all the available opportunities? Are you even aware of what those opportunities are — particularly from a digital or multi-channel perspective?

With consideration of the above... here's an early Christmas present to you - 5 golden top tips for successful multi-channel festive 'domination’ 2010.

1. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - Understand the scale of the opportunity.

Information is a key to success so make use of analytics, research and industry trends in an attempt to properly understand what a multi-channel Christmas 2010 looks like for your business. Through a lack of understanding and appreciation many potentially successful opportunities are missed. With 12 years in digital I've been a frustrated witness to missed opportunities, don't fall victim in such competitive times. Now is a crucial time to start understanding what all those figures mean to your turnover and most importantly, bottom line, figures for the year.

2. Last Christmas, I gave you my heart - Plan to out-think the competition this year…

Fortunately it’s not too late to get back in the game — though time is short. Take a long, hard look at your Christmas plans and figure out how a multichannel approach could help you to amplify and compliment your existing season marketing efforts. What could you do differently this year in an attempt to out think the competition, as opposed to merely trying to out shout them? Media is expensive, whilst a dollop of creativity is a great leveller of playing fields. Now is a good time to be thinking outside the box! Consider some different approaches, high impact, elegance and cost effective. It's about quality not quantity.

3.While Shepherds watched the flock by night — Understand your analytics

Maybe this should be ranked as tip number one - as the number of organisations still paying lip service to the idea of using ‘web analytics’ is simply frightening. Not only are many businesses failing to use analytics effectively, quite often they haven’t even decided what it is that they should be measuring in the first place! So much new information can become overwhelming especially in the online world, all this data... where to start first?

Well, a good place to start is by defining some really simple but critically important KPIs for your business. In our collective experience the number one sin in analytics is not focusing in on and understanding which numbers really matter the most.

The second cardinal sin would be a tendency to aggregate things like conversion rates and CPA targets across wildly differing product lines, or in most cases, across the entire business. Whilst this approach can offer a general indicator of overall performance, this is one area where the extraordinary granularity of online reporting really comes into its own. For example, its no use targeting an over-all CPA target of £50 across the business if 20% of sales comes from low margin, low value accessories. Unless, of course, its part of a larger strategy based on lifetime value of the customer etc… in which case your CRM / Referral and Social Media strategies all need to be geared up to driving that long-term value and measured accordingly to make certain that the profit is indeed coming back at some point in the equation!

Clearly the world of analytics can be quite complex and the numbers can often be misleading.

Considering this data is used to make critical business decisions about marketing activity and site redevelopment it really does warrant the attention of senior managers — whom I would encourage to ask as many difficult and probing questions as possible until they are completely satisfied that they a) understand what is going on and b) are convinced that they have correct, useful data upon which to base such decisions.

At this point in time the above scenario (senior management taking an interest in setting up reporting frameworks) is extremely rare, and this vital piece of work is often left to a junior ecommerce manager or assistant with little insight into or understanding of the real mechanics of the business.

4.Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow - Ramp up your visibility on search engines.

Increasingly, people start their multi-channel shopping journeys in cyber space. As more and more potential customers flood into the market in the coming months, search volumes rocket. Make certain that you are visible to these early stage researchers in order to get a shot at the sale when they eventually do decide to buy — be that online, from your catalogue or, heaven forbid, by intrepidly braving the British winter and actually turning up in one of those beloved ‘physical store’ thingies of yours. Yes, don’t worry we still love your stores!
(**After all, they give us intrepid Christmas shoppers somewhere nice and warm to hide when it’s raining or snowing outside, meaning that we can Google the price comparison engines in relative comfort to see where we could buy your stuff cheaper! So that’s nice. By the way, ever thought about installing free WI-FI? C’mon, this 3G is running like a dog. I can barely manage to upload the photo of that Sony plasma TV I just took to the Amazon instant search app! How frustrating!)

5. Joy to the World - Systematically optimise your onsite experience and conversion rate

So now we have a good understanding of how our multi-channel audience are moving between and interacting with the various on and off line manifestations of our organisation or brand. So what? How do we get more of them and how do we sell them more stuff?

Again, whilst doubling your media budget could be a tad daunting, often massive improvements in onsite user experience and ultimately conversion-to-sale can be achieved by investing relatively inconsequential sums into effective testing and onsite conversion optimisation.

The other upside to this approach — apart from the hardly inconsequential effect of increasing the ‘’bang for buck’ value of pretty much all of your existing marketing activity — is that your site visitors also get an improved experience and therefore are more likely to return and tell others!

It’s not unusual to be able to drive double-digit percentile improvements relatively quickly using simple, tried and tested methods. Yet, to this day, very few businesses take this really seriously — instead choosing to continue to rely on ‘gut instinct’ or on occasion, what colour the chairman or MD’s wife thinks the ‘buy now’ button should be.
(Err, yes. It still happens.)

In short, instigate a program of regular onsite measurement, testing and improvement. Flirt with A/B split tests or go the whole hog and commit to a long, wholesome relationship with multivariate testing. But whatever you do and however you measure it, do it systematically and do it regularly.

So there you have it. Five fairly broad-brush pointers towards a more prosperous, better integrated and ultimately more profitable Christmas trading season. To reiterate, it’s not too late to make a decision to make 2010 the year that you do things significantly differently and really make the multichannel approach pay dividends.

Wishing you all the best with your Christmas preparations!