The Big Retail Tactics Winning the Holiday Sales War

Online retail has come a long way since the first ever online sale, of a $12 Sting CD, was closed by 21-year-old Michael Kohn.

More than two decades later, online shopping has ballooned into a bustling $1.8 trillion marketplace. This holiday season, analysts predict record-breaking sales from e-commerce, led by online retail giants like Amazon and Etsy. Businesses can pick up a lot from these retailers’ holiday marketing campaigns.

Amazon: Quality deals topped only by customer service

Half of all US ecommerce sales this holiday season will go to Amazon. That’s driven by huge inventory, low prices, and excellent customer service–in other words Jeff Bezos’ “flywheel” philosophy, just draped in tinsel.

To entice more sellers to the site (just in time for the holidays), Amazon recently gave artisans crafters their own corner with the overhauled Amazon Handmade Gift Shop, and gave grocers a reason to consider Amazon with lowered fees for non-perishable goods.

As for pricing, research shows that Amazon has successfully created a perception that it has the best deals. However, it’s rare that Amazon actually has the lowest prices online, especially for holiday-related categories like electronics and toys. Over 75% of the time, another retailer will offer a better price. You can get the same deal with a different retailer, if you look hard enough.

But a massive inventory and low pricing could describe any retail giant. What drives sales through the roof for Amazon is its stellar customer service, particularly for Amazon Prime members. Members spend twice as much as non-members, and are set to stuff Amazon’s stockings with even more dollars as they’re expected to increase spend by 20-25% more this holiday season. The retailer is working this season to push sales further through exclusive deals and coupons that could shave up to $15 off on top of competitive pricing.

Etsy: Visibility through organic and social

Compared to Amazon’s 372-million-item inventory, Etsy’s 45 million may seem small. But Etsy boasts the most unique, handmade crafts. To help drive its 1.9 million sellers through the holiday season, Etsy helps vendors boost visibility on social media and on the actual store.

Last year, Etsy helped vendors improve visibility during the holidays by offering free critique sessions on their listings. Etsy’s Shop Optimization Team handed out feedback during the first week of November, so search engines could index the changes just in time for Thanksgiving.

On social media, Etsy creates yearly campaigns to help vendors promote items during the holidays. Two years ago, Etsy created a tool that allowed sellers to upload photos of items, with quirky and endearingly specific captions for intended recipients: “your smelly roommate” or “the dad in need of a massage.” Etsy then curated photos under the hashtag #EtsyGifts and promoted select photos on its official social media channels. This year Etsy’s rolling out weekly themed gift guides, again using hashtags on Instagram. Hashtags give Etsy a simple way to showcase its unique inventory, as well as make it easier for shoppers to find what they’re looking for in a sea of handcrafts.

Most retailers are far smaller than an Amazon or Etsy, but similar tactics work, particularly for loyalty programs, boosting your store’s visibility using SEO, and being strategic on social.

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