The holidays hold amazing potential for ecommerce businesses, but they’re also plenty scary because of everything that can go wrong. Being smart about your prep is the best way to land in the group of sellers that do up to 80% of their annual sales in this short window.
So, to help you capitalize on the billions that’ll be spent during the year-end, from Cyber Week to those last-minute days and even the weeks in January where people return goods and spend coupons, we’ve put together a list of our favorite, proven tactics to be better prepared.
Don’t just survive the holiday, build your business through it with these eight tips.
Table of Contents
Learn Your Full Inventory
You might know what you have in stock right now, or you might not. It’s time to get that straight, right now. To maximize your ability to reach customers and offer deals, while not overpromising or spending ad money to promote products you don’t have, you’ll need to learn your “full” inventory for the holiday season.
The “full” aspect is important here. What we mean is that you’ll need to have a specific understanding of the amount of inventory you have currently. Then, you’ll want to forecast over the next month to understand what additional inventory you will have and when. You might get a shipment tomorrow or next week, and that can make a significant difference for the orders you fill and offers you make.
Forecasting and understanding your inventory will inform the other steps you make and can prevent one of the biggest customer complaints around the holidays: buying something and then not getting it due to delays or backorders.
Create Your Offers in Bold
Are you going with free shipping offers? Will you have a BOGO to move best sellers? Are you giving away freebies with orders over a certain value (a wonderful way to get rid of products that are just sitting on the shelves collecting dust)?
Define what you’re doing and then make it as obvious as possible. Not only should your ads be clear about your exclusive deals, but your website should make them clear. Your goal is to get as close to the neon-billboard landscape in the Blade Runner films — because if people have to hunt for your deals, they’re not going to find them and use them.
Banners, pop-ups, and displays are all high-quality wants to display your offers. To make the most of them, make these elements look visually similar to your ads. Then, implement them across your site and test them. Make sure you’ve got something that’ll work on every browser and some that’ll still display if someone has an ad-blocker on their browser.
After that, push those deals on every advertising channel you’ve got. If you’re going the social route, consider building landing pages specific to each offer, it’s good to match color to intent as well as to things like the specific social channel the user is coming from.
Publish Your Limits
Many deals come with restrictions and these need to be clear to avoid annoying visitors and customers. If you have a threshold for an offer, put that on your banner too. It’s important and builds trust. Plus, you avoid lots of abandoned shopping carts when someone finds out a surprise cost, tax, or requirement that keeps them from getting the deal they want.
At the same time, you’ve got an opportunity here too!
Help your ads and your website sell a little more by including information from our first tip. If you’ve only got 100 items left, why not put a ticker on your website to show that. Visitors who want the product will be encouraged to buy because you’ve created scarcity.
If you’re using real-time data — possible with most of today’s leading ecommerce platforms — then you can not only create that scarcity when someone visits but your numbers will be updated as soon as new inventory is stocked. That can keep a promotion going longer but still have the value of the sense of urgency.
Another all-important thing to publish on your site is the limits on shipping in time for certain holidays. Tell visitors the exact last day they should buy for each shipping method so that products are guaranteed to arrive before they need to be given.
Get Customer Support Help
Service requests climb during the holidays, across nearly every consumer-facing organization and channel. You’re going to see a lot more questions on your Facebook page, tweets asking your info, and visitors to your website looking for an FAQ. You’ll need support for all your mobile traffic too.
If you’ve got time, consider picking up a bot that can answer basic questions and installing it on your site. They’re a terrific way to be available 24/7 and generally are quick to teach answers to frequent questions.
If not, it might be time to add a few extra humans to your marketing and customer service teams to be around and answer questions. People are also your best option if you have complex products or ones with a lot of options.
Sometimes, an ecommerce shop just doesn’t have enough cash to do either. If that’s you, consider growing your FAQ. Make sure you’ve answered the most common questions and then look for things that you can pull out and use again. Size charts, for example, should be available on every clothing product page.
If you have a complex question that comes up a lot, consider making it a blog post and linking to that on relevant product pages. The more information, the better — plus your banner ads promoting these products can live on blog pages too.
Review the Checkout Process
If you want to maximize your conversions, start with the checkout process.
According to Statista, ecommerce businesses see just under 70% of their shopping carts get abandoned. Increased deals, shipping requirements, and window shopping can all cause this number to spike during the holidays. So, you need to capitalize on people who want to buy from you by making that as easy as possible.
Walk through your current checkout process and streamline as much as you can. You can grab plenty of plugins and tools based on your ecommerce platform or make form adjustments to reduce what you ask of your customers.
A good tip is to get the process down to as few pages as possible, so customers aren’t jumping around and have less time to decide against a purchase. Consider the information you ask for and reduce it whenever possible — plus you never want to ask for the same piece of info twice. Simple and streamlined are your best shopping cart friends.
At the same time, remove all the clutter that’s on the page. Don’t give a pop-up or banner that could interrupt the process. Go minimal to avoid having images or video that make the page load slowly. Tweak everything you can so that it works across all browsers and situations, with as little in the way as possible.
Expand Shipping Options
You already know to publish the last dates for different shipping options and deals. Now, look to see if you can expand them. It’s okay if these options cost more and it’s also okay to pass that entire cost onto your customers.
Try and add two-day and expediated options when you can, plus see if your area has any locations that would support an in-store or locker pickup. If you are going to offer deals on free shipping, be sure to include these in your lists. Last-minute shopping happens all the time and you may be able to catch a few extra buyers if you can ship from later dates.
Verify everything with your carriers first before you add things to your website and make sure your warehouse and fulfillment team knows the process for rush orders. What’s great is that it’ll take minimal effort to get ready for this addition, and you’re generally not facing any additional related costs for simply adding in the option.
Prep the Warehouse
Holidays hopefully mean big shopping days. That’s great, until it comes time for your existing staff to fill those orders. Run through your fulfillment process with everyone and go over any plans or procedures they need to understand to get things done. There will be time when you need all hands on deck, so everyone possible should get some warehouse training.
You might also consider any automation tools that are available within your existing ecommerce software. Look for modules that can automate part of the order generation process, with things like sending list to pickers or printing labels. Whatever you can do to remove the chance for human error and introduce verification steps will be great. They’ll keep the process running smoothly and help you avoid mistakes.
We tend to see a lot of companies considering a new partnership with ecommerce holiday fulfillment companies before the holidays for a little extra help getting things out in time. It may be too late for most of the 2019 holiday season now, but you can track your metrics and see what you want to accomplish so you can approach a partner with a strong game plan in the second half of next year.
Create a Plan for Returns
The final piece of advice for all businesses during the holiday, but especially relevant for growing ecommerce brands, is to know what to do with returns. If you don’t accept them, this needs to be readily apparent on your site throughout the purchase process.
If you do accept returns, provide your policy in the follow-up emails that thank customers for their purchase. Don’t hide it or make it hard to read. Keep things simple and direct. Clarity can help build trust, while confusion ensures you’re going to experience some customer drop-off after the first sale.
BigCommerce also suggest that you relax your return policy around the holidays to account for mistakes that happen during gift buying. It’s easy to get the wrong size or color. If you make returns easy, then you can gain new customers who were gifted your products. It might lead to greater sales in the long run.
There’s a lot you can do around the holiday season to get ready and be successful. The returns policy is a smart place to end because it’ll help you keep the most important thing in mind: be good to your customers.
By putting the customer first and building your web experience around what makes their shopping and gift giving more enjoyable, you encourage them to come back next holiday season and throughout the year too.
About the Author
Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing, Red Stag Fulfillment