Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.
If your website isn't ready for the holiday selling season, it's time to get cracking.
U.S. e-commerce holiday sales, excluding travel, are forecast to reach $54.5 billion this year, up 16.8 percent over last year, according to eMarketer. If you're not prepared, you could be missing out on a big selling opportunity, say experts.
"I think the biggest missed opportunity comes in the preparation stages," explains Matt Winn, social media manager at Austin, Texas-based Volusion, an e-commerce software provider, which offers tips on boosting e-commerce holiday sales (onlinebusiness.volusion.com).
Many smaller merchants tend to prepare closer to Black Friday, when they should be starting earlier. "The holiday mindset starts at the beginning of fall," Winn says.
To prepare, pay extra attention to the design and usability of your site. Look at your favorite brands to garner ideas for your own site design, he notes. Make holiday items and specials easy to find.
Package holiday items. You can even create bundles or gift baskets of your products along with a specific category for them, says Winn.
Chip 'n Dipped Cookies & Chocolate in Huntington does this with holiday specials.
It has a dedicated tab on its homepage for "holiday specials," where it is now highlighting Thanksgiving gifts that include a variety of cookie, brownie and other chocolate treat gift basket combinations. It has also added tabs for specials for Hanukkah and Christmas holidays as well.
"We try to make it as easy as possible to buy," says owner Peter Goldfarb, adding they're already getting Christmas orders.
If you have any specials or discounts, you should also make that visible on your site.
People look to shop online not only for convenience but for "bargain hunting," says Winn. Just be sure to carefully study your margins on each product before launching a promotion, he adds.
You may want to set limits like free shipping on orders over $75, he notes.
Use your email list to send your best offers at the best times, adds Patrick Norton, director of business development at Active Web Group, an online marketing and development firm in Hauppauge.
If you think sending two emails a week is too much the week before Thanksgiving, then send four, he advises. Everyone's spending on these days, he says. Schedule your emails to go out early -- between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. -- to beat the daily email rush.
In addition, make sure your on-site search is tuned up, says Norton. Search for your top 10 best-selling products a few different ways and make sure they display in the top of your own site's results.
Make it mobile. Make sure your site can be accessed easily through mobile devices, adds Kevin Kelly, chief creative officer of BigBuzz Marketing Group, a Melville-based integrated digital advertising agency.
"Everything we do has to be mobile compatible," he says. A lot of consumers will shop on their mobile devices when they have downtime, and if it's hard to navigate or load, they'll abandon the site.
Beyond that, don't overlook social media as a means to promote your website, he notes. Tweet out offers and also highlight them on your Facebook page, he suggests. You might highlight a different coupon code for Twitter versus Facebook to see how many use one over the other, he says.
Create urgency through "flash deals," says Kelly. These are limited-time deals, such as a 10 percent-off coupon that's only good for three hours.
"Everybody's competing to get the attention of the consumer," he says. "You've got to make sure your web presence is compelling and breaks through the noise."
Smartphone and tablet shoppers together will generate more than 20 percent of total online holiday sales.