The last 12 weeks in the run-up to Christmas are peak season for most e-commerce retailers, says digital marketing specialist David Schulhof – yet the furniture trade sees sales peak instead during the post-Christmas sales, so it’s critical that anyone selling furniture online plans their seasonal sales accordingly …

What does occur in the run-up to Christmas, particularly for furniture items, is a great deal of online product research. Customers have come to expect huge promotions as soon as the big day has passed, and many will enter into the sales with a pre-picked shopping list of items that they intend to buy.

Make sure that your site can provide visitors with as much information about your products as possible, including size guides, detailed images and customer reviews to attract attention. Best-seller lists and top rated-items are also useful areas to include on your home page, and, as most online reviews now take place on mobiles or tablets, your site should be responsively designed to ensure your visitors can access the information they are after from any device.

Set the date
Retail sales are beginning earlier every year. If you want to keep up with the national retailers and capitalise on all those eager online sales shoppers then now is the ideal time to get your campaigns in order. A bargain price will always get a consumer’s attention.

Bear in mind that most nationals launch their major online sales on Christmas Day. In fact, online orders placed on Christmas Day last year were 22% higher than in 2011, and this figure is only set to rise! You may need to consider bringing your sales forward to Boxing Day at the latest if you want to compete with the larger furniture retailers. Leaving your offer until the first of January could mean you miss out.

Implement your campaigns in advance
The most effective campaigns require careful planning, but the end result should be very easy to ‘turn on’ once you are organised. We recommend spending the next month focusing on all the elements of your sales campaign, making sure they are ready to go live on your website at the flick of a switch.

Not sure where to begin? The biggest projects to implement will be identifying your discounted products, getting your campaign graphics planned, created and uploaded to your site ready to publish, and optimising your site for search engines to capture all those potential customers.

Ensure your on-page content is optimised for sale and offer keywords, and that any Pay-Per-Click campaigns you are running include your sales offer. Whether you are offering a 50% discount or a variety of percentage reductions, your paid advertising and page descriptions need to display this information on search results pages to attract bargain hunters.

If you are worried about completing everything yourself, then now is the time to consider outsourcing some aspects of your campaigns to a specialist, especially if you have limited knowledge of search engine optimisation and Pay-Per-Click best practice, as these can be quite time-consuming.

Warm up your customer base
As well as preparing your sales message for your website, you also need to prepare a message that will reach out to your customer base. It’s likely that you will want to send out a range of different messages over this period to begin building interest in your upcoming offers. We would advise segmenting your mailing list into different customer groups, and running separate campaigns depending on previous customer data.

For example, you may want to send one targeted email informing previous e-commerce customers about your online sale, and another email inviting previous in-store buyers to an exclusive in-store sale preview event. Whatever campaigns you decide to run, sending a series of targeted messages prior to launch will stimulate your customer-base and help to drive the traffic or footfall you want on the day.

Co-ordinate your social media
Use your social media to strengthen your sales message and really get your customers excited about what you have to offer. Facebook and Twitter can be used to increase interest, but be careful you don’t overdo the sales messages. Bombarding your followers with multiple updates about your amazing half price offers isn’t very compelling.

Use your updates to display the most popular items in your sale – perhaps even some snippets from customer reviews about a particular sale item – or increase customer engagement by getting customers to share their own sale wish-lists.

Pinterest is a great social media platform to use for furniture and homeware items, and its popularity with retailers is set to soar in 2014 since it recently overtook Facebook in terms of referral traffic. The platform allows users to upload images and ‘pin’ them to boards, creating virtual scrapbooks of their most loved items and looks. The retailers finding greatest success on this platform are the ones using their boards creatively, and encouraging users to do the same.

Rather than pinning uninspiring images of products straight from a website, try to create moodboards based on certain themes that show your products in the home. The idea is to create aspirational images that users want to replicate. And don’t worry if you don’t currently have great product photography – you can pin other users’ images to your own moodboards to get started in time for your sale, and then add your own images gradually as your profile builds.

The New Year’s sales period is a highly lucrative time in the furniture industry, and it makes sense to get organised well in advance. Investing the time in your online campaigns now will put you in a much better position once you come to launch, and will help you achieve the sales you want on the day.
Finally, remember to measure your results. You can use your findings to strengthen the New Year sales campaign you choose to run next year, and once you have an effective strategy in place it is easy to replicate this across the rest of your seasonal activity for 2014.

David Schulhof is the head of digital marketing at Metakinetic, an award-winning full-service e-commerce agency. Based in Wokingham, Berkshire, with a team of 20 specialists, the company provides e-commerce solutions, digital marketing and creative design services to a wide range of online retailers.