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An expert weighs in: 3 things everyone should be doing for Christmas promotion

Every Month Now In Store hosts MTL + Ecommerce, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Experts in the field of ecommerce and online marketing come and give talks to a packed room. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Johnny Russo, the Director of Ecommerce at Mexx Canada.

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[1] Explain to us the need for online merchandising…

There’s a need. A definite need. Especially for the brick and mortar and ecommerce world. It’s different than in a pure play. Think of a predominantly brick and mortar retailer evolving into digital. You have all these styles that sell well in stores, but does that translate into online success, and vice versa? Those same styles might not sell well on the web, because of the intricacy with sizing or shipping. And then what happens? They collect storage space. They eat at your margins.

And then there is the opposite thing that happens. Some items sell better, much better online than offline (in stores). Like T-shrits, kids items, accessories, etc.  So how do you strategize and merchandize your site differently as a result?

There is not a great level of dedicated merchandising yet for online sites in Canada with a brick and mortar presence. But I think as that specialized skill set is developed, we will see more and more of them in the next 12-18 months.

And I am hoping schools are teaching this more and more, because it is becoming a huge need for online businesses selling products.  For any students out there looking to get their feet wet in ecommerce, and combine fashion and business, an online merchandiser would be a great and exciting start.

[2] What three pieces of advice would you give to people who are not making any to very low sales online?

#1 Test: If you launch a site and sit there and wonder why it is not working you probably have not tested different things. There are some great tools out there that enable you to do this effectively to drive your conversion rate up. But I caution: have the right testing framework or you will be wasting money.

#2 Grow your email list: Email is a huge part of Mexx’s online business. It is usually a top 3 revenue earning channel for most online retailers. Email is not dying, email is not dead. Grow that list, grow that customer base, and then focus on retention and segmentation. Word of advice – treat your best customers best.

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#3 Affiliates: In terms of acquisition, affiliates are a good place to start. This is especially true for a site that’s just starting out and you need some traction… what better way than to actually pay for performance. I think that CPA (cost per acquisition) model is very attractive to startups and will help you get some leads. What do you have to lose by at least testing (there’s that word again) affiliates on a pay for performance model? Win/win scenario.

Let me add a fourth.

#4 Know your analytics: Without data, you are blind to the possibilities in Ecommerce. For example, let’s say you have a small budget for paid search and your boss wants maximum ROI. Look at where your traffic is coming from (geography), what keywords they are searching and clicking on, and which words (from which locations or times) are driving the maximum conversions. But it all starts with knowing your data, inside out.

[3] What is the most effective email marketing strategy for you?

Personalization and cart abandonment emails.

In terms of email what’s worked best is personalization. Segment your emails as much as possible and tailor them based on purchase history, behaviour, fashionability, lifetime value, etc.

Send out emails to your customers, based on what they are most likely to open, browse, and buy. Take the guesswork out and instead insert some predictability. Your customers will thank you. Just look at Amazon’s success, and how excited you are to open their personalized emails.

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And Cart Abandonment email… if you’re not sending them, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. But you have to have the right sequencing and strategy in place to make it even more effective. Think about all the reasons you may have abandoned your own cart on the websites you shop on, and now try to target your audience based on some of those reasons. I am obviously simplifying this, but it’s a start.

[4] Why do gift cards work so well?

For gifting! No, but seriously, no one buys a gift card for themselves, so when buying a gift card for someone, there is less pressure in getting things wrong, as in the wrong gift in general, or the wrong sizes or styles. It’s just so simple to buy a gift card, especially around the holidays.

Here’s an example – say you live in Saskatchewan and you have family in Montreal. Let’s say you want to send a gift for your nephew’s birthday, but you are not sure of your nephew’s size. Why would you not buy a gift card? It’s simple, and I think still thoughtful.

Guys like spending on gift cards too. That’s one reason why we see the spike in the holiday spend from men. I think having that option there, even as an add-on, is really effective. Someone will go shopping on the site and remember they have a friend’s birthday or something coming up and they will get a $10 or $25 gift card. We offer $10 – $-25 – $50 – $100 gift card increments and they are always the same levels, not one outsells the other. You would think that the $10 one and the $100 one would be the highest – but we are always replenishing them at the same rate.

I think a big part of the success Mexx has online for gift cards is the kid’s business. And the fact that our gift cards are multi-channel, so you can use them in-stores or online, makes it all the more worthwhile.

[5] How do you prep for Christmas sales?

We start right after the “Back-to-School” period ends. Online is usually a bit more ahead than brick and mortar stores in term of planning, just because there is often more flexibility with promos and exclusives (and free shipping offers!). But we definitely work hand-in-hand with our friends in retail to ensure we all aligned. We want to ensure that the “franchise” type promos (the 30%, 40%, 50% type promos) are similar, since we do have a multi-channel shopper. We need one clear message during this period.

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But there is so much more than a promo calendar to holiday prep. For E-commerce, you need to think about your digital marketing strategies (and spend) and your holiday banners, imagery, and merchandising. There’s also the interactive and social element(s) to consider. Q4 is a big time for all retailers, so there’s no such thing as spending too much time on holiday prep.

[6] 3 things everyone should be doing for Christmas promotion?

1. Have exclusive offers for your affiliates. After all, it’s your online salesforce. A lot of people are bargain hunting around that time. There is definitely a gifting aspect, but I think that a lot of people are also shopping for themselves at Christmas time – to get good deals.

Look at your best affiliates, those that are sending you the best traffic and those that convert the most traffic – and maybe give that select group unique offers. Or work for a placement/offer exchange.

2. It might be a good idea to insert bounce back offers into each package you send out; take advantage of the spike in holiday traffic to incentivize customers come back in slower February and March months.

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3. Do not chase your competition. If your competition goes 40% off and you’re at 30% – don’t chase them. Have the right strategy at the start, be able to be flexible a bit, but don’t necessarily just chase them – because their business model and their profit margins might be a bit different. And you see it a lot, someone goes on additional 50% and the next day they are going on additional 60% off. Sometimes it pays not to follow.

[7] If I sell pricy higher ended garments, should I invest in a branded video to showcase styles?

Different for every company, but here’s my take. That is where an online merchandiser comes in. It is easy to look at the list and say – hey! That is my top style. But why is it your top style? Maybe there was a sale behind that – did that style only sell when it was on sale? You do not want that product on your video. You want top sellers that are there at regular price and they have a branded element, they have a style element to them – that is where the online merchandiser will come in and say – “here are my five products I need to showcase in a video.” I think, to stay within a reasonable budget, yet use video to showcase some styles, you should look at your fashionable top sellers, or styles that may need a little more attention in order to sell (i.e. blazers, dresses, etc).

Johnny RussoJohnny joined Mexx Canada in May 2013 and was brought on to lead their e-commerce and digital marketing division, which had launched in October 2012. As Director of E-commerce and Digital Marketing, he oversees everything from operations, customer service, design, marketing, social media, and project management. Prior to joining Mexx, Johnny worked for leading denim retailer Buffalo David Bitton in a similar capacity. Johnny has over 10 years of online marketing and E-commerce experience in retail, manufacturing, mobile, and software sectors. Johnny is energetic and passionate about the e-commerce and digital marketing field, and is obsessively trying to optimize and improve upon the online and multichannel customer experience. He believes vendors are partners, and technology and the finance department are friends. Follow Johnny on Twitter.


Photos from:  mexx.caMTL + Ecommerce, Montreal Deals Blog, and Keep It Beautiful



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