The winter holiday shopping season is coming, and ecommerce sellers are hoping for big things. The US Census Bureau’s latest retail sales report shows that this past August saw 15.1% more sales than last August, which bodes well for the upcoming shopping season.
Since vaccines rolled out and malls recovered, ecommerce as a share of total retail sales has fallen, dropping from 15.7% in Q2 2020 to 13.3% in Q2 2021, but total online sales volume didn’t budge. Q2 2021 still saw the highest quarterly retail ecommerce revenue in history, at over $222 billion.
While the outlook is bright for ecommerce sellers, there’s no room for complacency. Consumers are carefully comparing prices and quality, so you can’t assume that your previous customers will return. Competition is scary high in the online space, and loyalty is scary low, with 75% of consumers trying a new brand or shopping behavior in the past year.
With Q4 underway, now is the time to prepare your online ecommerce store for the 2021 holiday season. You might have even already set up your Black Friday marketing campaigns, but is your business ready? Here are a few things you can do to be ready for the activity spikes you’re hoping are headed your way.
Customer experience (CX) is crucial, but it’s hard to deliver unless you can visualize the customer journey. The trouble is, that journey is becoming increasingly complex and non-linear, making it difficult to anticipate.
For example, recent research shows that 63% of consumers now use Amazon and Walmart for initial product research – regardless of the company they actually buy from in the end.
On top of that, this year’s holiday shopping patterns may be very different from anything you’re familiar with previously, as consumers emerge from COVID-19. The only way to keep on top of customer expectations is to update your customer journey map.
Begin with logging all their touchpoints before analyzing how they respond to each one. You can use tools you already own, like Google Analytics, to see each stage of the journey, and/or add more advanced solutions like Hotjar, which reveals exactly what visitors see and pay attention to most on each page of your site.
If you’re gearing up for a high volume of orders, you need to prepare to scale up now. The supply chain is still unstable, so you might want to start hoarding your hottest inventory items to avoid being caught short if overseas shipments you’re expecting get stuck or delayed.
Think through your entire order and fulfillment process to look for ways to make it more efficient; compare prices on logistics companies and product suppliers; and make decisions about free shipping options.
It’s best to hire extra sales and fulfillment staff when you have time to train them and won’t make hiring decisions under pressure. The calm before the storm is also the right moment to add delivery options, switch fulfillment partners, or upgrade business software; you don’t want to be struggling with a new system when orders are flooding in.
With so much competition, customers are looking for friction-free, smooth purchase journeys at least as much as price. Two-thirds of online shoppers say that convenience was the primary issue behind their choice of retailer, compared with only 47% who say the price was paramount, and even at the height of the pandemic, the main reason for shopping online wasn’t to avoid infection, but for convenience.
That means you need to zoom in on conversion rate optimization (CRO) and remove any obstacles in the purchase journey. Carry out CRO research, looking for points of friction or confusion where visitors bounce off, and implement your findings before the holiday sales hit.
You can take CRO a step further by using an AI-powered personalization tool like Dialogue to generate hyper-relevant cross-sell and upsell opportunities. The tool leverages AI to recommend the right products at the right time for each user, based on advanced data analytics.
Well-known brand L’Occitane en Provence used Dialogue to analyze first-party shopper patterns in real-time so as to connect each shopper with the matching product from their broad range. The AI-based platform helped L’Occitane drive a 15% rise in ARPU, 25% rise in conversion rates and a 62% rise in session time.
Seize the opportunity to do some mundane but crucial house-cleaning on your subscriber lists. Weed out expired contacts, check for duplicate addresses, and refine your segmenting so that you’re all ready to go with your marketing campaigns.
You can do this manually or with the help of your email marketing platform, but there are also dedicated tools like ZeroBounce, which make the process faster and more accurate.
At the same time, you can build and edit audiences on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads, so that all the pieces are in place for marketing success.
Think of ways to make your business stand out and tap into this year’s zeitgeist, such as social justice; Black-owned, woman-owned, or immigrant-owned businesses; products made in the US; or sustainability, which is particularly huge this year.
You can use a tool like Exploding Topics to identify the hottest new issues before they trend on social media, so you can position yourself as a thought leader well in advance. Just choose one that meshes with your existing branding.
Do you offer products that fit into any of the trends that this platform identifies as spiking? How can you tell stories that help align you with what’s happening in the zeitgeist? Once you’ve decided how to differentiate your business, you want to establish narratives, prepare content, and come up with topics before the storm of holiday sales hits. That way, your marketing will be ready to roll out, with maybe just a few tweaks, when the time comes.
Getting the timing right on your promotions and special offers can make all the difference to your retention rates.
For example, offering a large discount very early in the holiday sales season can boost your online seller profile and help draw customers to return to your store over the next several weeks.
Alternatively, sending a special offer code to previous customers when they’re comparing your prices or products against a competitor, or have left items sitting in a cart, can be all it takes to draw them back to your site.
The winter holiday season is always a major event for retailers, and 2021 is definitely no exception. By offering relevant marketing narratives and discounts, ensuring your subscriber lists, conversion processes, and logistics are all they can be and striving to understand the customer journey, you can prepare your ecommerce business for a bumper sales experience and look forward to scaling up sales for 2022.