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3 Keys To Online Retail In 2012: Doing More With Less

3 Keys To Online Retail In 2012: Doing More With Less

We are only a month into 2012, but 2011 already seems like a distant memory. Christmas was over a month ago and Black Friday was approximately 6 months ago by my calculations. But as we reminisce on the year that was 2011, hopefully you were pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

For a year that started with fears of a 10% unemployment rate, things seemed to end on an up note.

The economy seemed to improve, digital marketing rebounded nicely after a few shaky years (roughly 15% growth according to comScore), and heck, Bing managed to not go bankrupt and even gained a point or two of marketshare – all-in-all, 2011 shaped up to be an alright for many retailers.

Unfortunately, the early projections for 2012 don’t look quite as rosy. Just this week, the National Retail Federation released its numbers projecting U.S. retail sales should rise 3.4 percent this year, down from an increase of 4.7 percent in 2011.

Given the terrible economy of the last few years, any growth is good growth, but slowing retail demand makes all of our jobs harder. But this is by no means a death sentence for 2012, and by focusing in three key areas – evaluation, improvement, and testing – we can not only survive, but grow our business in the coming year.

Take The Time To Really Evaluate 2011

This is probably the most boring, unsexy part of our jobs, but in order for 2012 to be better than 2011, we have to truly evaluate what worked and what didn’t work last year.

Look at your normal metrics like revenue and ROI, but take things a step further and look at secondary and tertiary metrics like new customer acquisition or the influence search had on email signups, or even the interaction of each of your marketing channels.

Only after you have truly evaluated what worked and what didn’t work in 2011 can you determine your approach for 2012.

Trash What Worked

Take your best, most effective channel from 2011 and trash it. I don’t mean that literally – if you just hit “delete” on your Adwords account, you jumped the gun just a bit – but theory goes something like this:  When things are broken, you have to rush to fix them just to get them up to the status quo.

But once things are in a good spot, people tend to be complacent and stop working to improve them (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?).

Unfortunately, complacency inevitably leads to things not working as well as they should, and the cycle repeats itself. So instead, take your best channel and challenge yourself to change it, think about it differently, revamp it, and improve it.

It is always easier to improve things when they are working and there is no stress than when things are broken and you are stressing just to get your head above water.

January Is More Important Than December

It is exponentially easier to affect your annual numbers in January than it is in December. This one seems like common sense but an incredible number of marketers hold back their budgets, testing ideas, etc. until it is late in the year and they realize they are short of their goals.

This leaves them with only a few weeks to try to find new tactics, test them, and implement them – and since you are so late in the year every test must work or you risk missing goal.

Instead, front-load your budgets a bit and test early in the year. This will do two things: 1) you will quickly learn the effect each tactic has on your business (meaning you will know which new tactics work and which don’t) and 2) you will be able to more accurately project results for the rest of the year. In the end, you are left with more accurate projections and a list of proven tactics you can implement whenever you need.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet that will magically make 2012 better than 2011 and there are a ton of outside factors that will ultimately determine the economic climate for 2012 (on the downside, escalating tensions with Iran, but on the upside, what if Europe solved their debt crisis – wouldn’t that be nice?).

But if you prepare for 2012 to be a slower year and you take the proper steps to strengthen your campaigns, you should be able to do much more in 2012 despite less retail demand.