HolidayEcommerce_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

If you’re in e-commerce, you know the crucial holiday selling season is right around the corner. And with consumers looking for the best deals—and Amazon expanding the range of products and services it offers—it’s getting increasingly difficult for independent retailers to compete.

With these concerns in mind, we turned to leading e-commerce experts to ask them what small business owners need to do right now to enjoy a more profitable holiday season.

1. Seed the ground now for holiday sales

In an environment of economic uncertainty, customers want to make the most out of their purchasing dollar. Ron Rule, an e-commerce engagement expert, urges retailers to start offering gift cards on their websites now. “There is a psychological difference between gift cards and coupons and they're perceived differently by buyers,” he says. “A coupon means you're saving money, but a gift card is money.” These gift cards can be used to make additional holiday purchases, boosting your customer’s buying power. “In the end, you're still just discounting your order but that difference in perception to the buyer will make result in a better response than a coupon of the same value,” Rule adds.

2. Time is of the essence

For every person who’s starting their holiday shopping right now, there are plenty who wait until the very last minute. That’s why it’s important to be clear about your delivery times, according to Andrew Youderian. The author of Profitable e-Commerce operates several e-commerce businesses. “Shipping times are always important to communicate clearly, but there's no other time of the year when it's as important to get it right as during the holiday season,” he says. “At the forefront of most shoppers’ minds is: ‘Will this be here in time?’”

Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery has made it an incredibly popular option among holiday shoppers. When you’re competing with Amazon, you need to provide the same level of service. Details matter, Youderian says, adding, “Make sure you're very explicit about when items will ship and, more importantly, when you guarantee they will arrive. Don't simply say things like ‘Three-Day Shipping’. Instead, give an exact arrival time so customers don't have to guess or calculate themselves.”

HolidayEcommerce_PQ.jpg3. Highlight your recommended products

“Gift buyers want to get the perfect gift with the least amount of research,” says Youderian. “So while they know Dad would love a new power drill, they really aren't interested in researching tools for two hours to find it. Make life easier on them, and prominently recommend your top-selling products, and the best choices for different types of applications and users.” Top-of-the-page placement is often best, as it helps you capture the attention of shoppers too busy to scroll down. “Keeping these recommendations short, specific, and to the point will dramatically increase the chance of the shopper buying that gift from you,” he says.”

4. Reach out to existing customers

Remember to re-engage past customers, says Rule. “It's a million times easier to sell to someone who's already purchased from you than it is to attract a new customer,” he says. “The best way is to segment your customer list based on what they've previously purchased and email them a promotion on something else they're likely to buy. Even sending the same message to everyone is better than doing nothing.”

5. Build demand through strategic blogger outreach

Terry Lin, creator of the podcast, Build My Online Store, recommends reaching out to bloggers as a long-term strategy to boost holiday sales. “Bloggers enjoy sharing new stuff they like with their audience, so reaching out and sending them a sample to provide a product review, or working together to host a giveaway contest is a great way to get started,” he says. “In addition, you'll also get on the radar of other bloggers in the market as the recognition snowballs over time.” The fall season is the ideal time to leverage established blogger relationships by asking for their input and participation in holiday marketing campaigns.

6. Don’t forget to say thank you

“Using a smartphone, record a 60-second  thank you video and send it out to all your customers over the past year giving them a quick update on the business, and include a coupon code at the end of the video thanking them for their support,” Lin say. “People buy from brands they know, like, and trust, and nothing conveys this better than seeing the owner of the business in a video. Once it's recorded, promote it across your social media channels, email list, friends, family, and colleagues.”