10 Not-So-Obvious Tips to Prepare Your eCommerce Site for the Holidays

eCommerce managers understand how crucial this time of year is for their businesses. Here are 10 things you can do to ensure your shop is holiday ready.

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The holidays can make or break a brand’s fiscal year. Despite the many challenges the holidays bring, executives understand just how crucial this time of year is for their businesses.

LiveChat, a SaaS customer service company, puts some numbers to the busyness of the holiday season: eCommerce sites receive up to 120 percent more visits on high-traffic days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and throughout the holidays daily traffic is up 63 percent on average.

Veteran eCommerce managers understand that extensive preparations are necessary to meet this level of consumer demand.

Alibaba unofficially got the season underway with its Singles Day event, which shattered previous sales records this year by doing nearly $31 billion in sales in 24 hours. If Alibaba’s sale is any indicator, brands and retailers can expect industry-wide growth this year. In fact, Lauren Thomas at CNBC reports that American retailers alone should ring up more than $1 trillion in sales this holiday season.

Here are 10 things eCommerce executives can do to ensure their shops are ready.

1. Get Inventory Organized

The National Retail Federation announced in February that online sales were expected to increase 10 to 12 percent this year. That means eCommerce companies should plan to ship at least 10 to 12 percent more product than last year.

Ensure you’re properly stocked and can re-order inventory quickly when it becomes necessary. You don’t want customer demand to catch you flat-footed in early December.

Particularly during the holiday season, you want to ensure your eCommerce solution has a monitoring system in place with the warehouse so that the right inventory availability is reflected on your online store.

2. Test Your Site for Traffic and Speed

Last year, we called website performance your No. 1 priority. And it remains true this year. Your store needs to be ready, in terms of scalability and stability, to handle the increased demands on your web infrastructure. Improving your site speed by milliseconds can help you avoid shopping cart abandonment and site bounces.

Start by having your team check page loads for every element of your site — from how long it takes an image to render to how fast the checkout process is.

ornaments - eCommerce holidays

3. Check Your Site’s Mobile Responsiveness

Tara Sporrer, VP of marketing at Moxie Software, points out that mobile device adoption reached 90 percent in the US almost five years ago, a figure that only risen since. “For those of us who ‘live’ on our phones and tablets, shopping mobile has become an integral way of life,” Sporrer writes.

At the very least, ensure your images are responsive and your website design is mobile-friendly before the holiday rush hits. If they’re not, you risk frustrating and turning away customers who have plenty of other shopping options for their purchase.

If you’re not sure where to get started, Sig Ueland at PracticalEcommerce has a few suggested tools for responsive web design.

4. Create a Holiday Content Calendar

This is a critical part of planning ahead. If you are committed to content marketing, make sure you include relevant content throughout the holiday season. Gift guides, list posts focused on gifts for him or her, and holiday-specific blog topics are all great ideas.

As part of the calendar, be sure you don’t neglect social media. “Peer recommendation has the most influence on holiday gift purchases, more than blogger or celebrity endorsement,” writes James Gurd at SmartInsights. “Given the importance of peak trading to the overall sales target, you need to plan how to encourage people to share and talk about your products.”

Keep the calendar tight, too. You only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and December 21, which is the last day for UPS Next Day Air and USPS Priority Express Mail to be delivered by Christmas, says eCommerce consultant Jacklyn Deans.

5. Plan Out Relevant Promotional Emails

Jon MacDonald at The Good says email campaigns have a part to play in two-thirds of all sales. “Email works,” the McDonald writes. “And the better you do at coaxing your audience to open the mails in your campaigns and act on the content you send them, the happier you’ll be with the conversion rate your emails produce.”

What better opportunity to create relevant sales emails than the holiday season? CRO specialist Alex Harris makes a few suggestions on this front. One is to send out pre-holiday sales promotions as customers start thinking about their holiday purchases. Later on, you can create emails catered to last-minute shoppers, who may already be primed for conversion.

One important email to remember: The abandoned cart reminder. Beka Rice, the head of product at Jilt, says on days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you only have a few hours to save an abandoned shopping cart. Reach out to those customers with a message that communicates a little urgency (e.g. “Your cart total will increase tomorrow — buy today!”), she advises. It would be fine to send a reminder after 60 minutes, then a follow-up at two hours post-cart abandonment.

6. Consider Partnering With a Logistics Provider

Brian Berry at Multichannel Merchant even recommends bringing on a third-party logistics provider to handle the increase in reverse logistics during (and after) the holiday peak season.

It may be worth calculating the cost of returns, from the extra manpower needed to the actual reverse logistics process. Berry outlines some of the main components to consider:

  • Handling returns through all logistics points.
  • Refurbishing returned products for resale.
  • Labor and materials needed for customer exchanges.
  • Lost gross margin, meaning the product is damaged in fulfillment or during shipping.
  • The potential of losing customer confidence if they receive poor service during the returns process.

For many eCommerce brands that are experiencing fast growth, the holidays reveal a clear and present need for logistics and fulfillment help. The natural next step for these brands is to partner with a trusted 3PL, or even to partner with a full-service eCommerce solutions provider to help ensure growth isn’t constrained by operations.

forklift - eCommerce holidays

7. Update Your Promotional Copy

You don’t have long to make a first impression. In fact, CRO vendor JustUno found that 84 percent of website conversions occur on the first visit. If new visitors are finding your site because of your promotions, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure they fit in that statistic.

Make sure your web copy matches your promotions and builds intrigue for your shop’s visitors. Janna Ramer at 2060 Digital recommends including urgent language in your copy. Phrases like “this week only” or “one day only” incentivize customers to buy now.

Shayla Price at HostGator has a few examples of successful holiday campaigns, including project ideas like gift guides and introducing personalization to the copy visitors see. For example, Price describes Target’s updates to its website during the holidays. The retail giant takes a big bite out of eCommerce by organizing its products into gift guides tailored for specific budgets.

The idea here is to weave the holidays into your copy naturally. At the same time, Mark Duffy of Copyranter warns against getting too saccharine with it.

8. Offer Free Shipping If You Can

If you don’t already offer free shipping, consider introducing the feature for the holiday season. Free shipping has quickly involved into a must-have for many customers. According to Retail Touchpoints, nearly 9 out of 10 eCommerce customers prefer free shipping over fast shipping.

We advised shop owners the same thing last year, and the expected growth in eCommerce sales means stakes are even higher this year. The primary reason shoppers abandon their carts is shipping costs. If you can remove that point of friction, you can increase average order value, order volume and gross merchandise value.

9. Ramp Up Your Customer Service

Outreach can go a long way during this season. Phil Forbes at Packhelp notes that customers who buy from you around Halloween and Thanksgiving are already primed for subsequent purchases. All you need to do is show them the kind of customer service that will keep them coming back. A few ideas:

  • Build out your self-help resources to reduce demand on customer service staff. A FAQ page won’t solve every issue, but it be a good gatekeeping measure.
  • Communicate clearly with customers. Much of customer service is about managing expectations. If shipping times will be delayed during the season, be sure this is readily apparent at checkout. Have your returns policy clearly spelled out.
  • If you haven’t already, consider implementing customer service software. The right tool will help you get organized with help tickets and stay on top of customer complaints and feedback.

Customer service is, after all, at the heart of what makes modern eCommerce brands successful. Use this season as an opportunity to ramp up your efforts.

10. Use the Opportunity to Create Return Customers

Last but not least, you can use the holiday rush as an opportunity to earn customer loyalty. As an overarching strategy alone, this is important because, as Alex McEachern notes at Smile.io, 40 percent of an eCommerce store’s revenue is generated by just 8 percent of its customers.

Repeat customers are your bread and butter. And the holiday shopping season is a great time to create new customer relationships and strengthen existing ones.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Email campaigns. If done in an organic and personal way, many customers appreciate a follow-up. Sam Welch at MarketingLand recommends having a welcome email, nurture email and promotional email planned out well in advance.
  • Loyalty programs. Implementing a loyalty program ahead of the holidays will give customers the incentive they need to return. The Founder’s Guide editorial team recommends a range of ideas, including point systems, gift cards or even a partnership program.
  • Exceed expectations. Will Blunt at ShortStack writes that going beyond customer expectations will keep them coming back after the holiday season. Focus on delivering the absolute best service, customer experience, product and unboxing moments possible.

In other words, don’t be satisfied to see new customers become one-off customers. There’s a bigger opportunity there. Use the some of the tactics highlighted above to delight customers and create the best possible experience for them.

Images by: Srikanta H. U, Clem Onojeghuo, Elevate

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