The evolution of holiday e-commerce these past few years has been fascinating to watch. From the height of pandemic impacts in 2020 to significant supply chain disruptions in 2021, retailers have been forced to adapt to continued disruptions ahead of their busiest buying season. This year is no different.
According to a recent report from CommX, retailers’ top concerns of factors affecting holiday e-commerce sales include:
- Shrinking consumer confidence (63%)
- Generating marketing ROI (47%)
- Increased discounts and sales industry wide that e-commerce must match (45%)
- Changing ad targeting abilities for marketers (38%)
- Ongoing inflation forcing consumer price increases (31%)
And while these concerns have 45% of merchants expecting holiday sales to generate lower profits than last year, they do still expect profits to be better than in 2019. Although inflation remains high, unemployment remains historically low — and as they look for gifts for friends and family (and perhaps a treat or two for themselves), consumers have increased their reliance on digital channels to provide inspiration and to find the perfect gift. Last year, 57% of shoppers shopped online. This year, 85% of consumers expect to shop online.
How do these evolving shopping behaviors translate into revenue? Deloitte forecasts holiday e-commerce sales growth between 12.8% to 14.3% YOY this season, generating at least $260 billion in overall holiday sales this season.
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For businesses looking to see these gains, the time for holiday preparation is now. Here’s how to get started.
1. Prepare for customers to begin their shopping early. Really early.
Recent years have seen the holiday buying season pushed earlier and earlier. Though this strategy undoubtedly helped retailers looking to mitigate supply chain impacts by getting orders in early, it also spoke to a shift in how consumers were shopping. The pandemic brought shoppers online en masse, yet even as physical stores reopened, many shoppers stayed online. This provided retailers with the ability to reach consumers even sooner with holiday marketing campaigns and promotions on digital channels.
And regardless of whether or not consumers have been happy to see the fall season cut short to make room for the holidays, it’s clear that they’ve come to understand and expect this earlier buying cycle. As such, retailers have continued to perpetuate it, with big box stores and online retailers including Amazon planning to run sales beginning in mid-October.
Preparing for a holiday influx of online sales beginning as early as October (though most holiday shopping in earnest starts closer to November 1) will help businesses get ahead this season, particularly as they compete against bigger players. That preparation includes ensuring your website can handle increased demands on its infrastructure. Test your third-party integrations, too, verifying they’re up-to-date and able to manage the increased load. Test your site speed and load page times for every website page and feature. Refresh your site with updates and a new feel to ensure it reflects your brand — but keep it simple and easy to navigate. Test how your website looks and performs on mobile devices, too.
2. Prioritize the customer experience at every step of the buying journey.
Few shopping seasons are as stressful as the holidays, so retailers looking to build trust and confidence among consumers must take strides to remove friction from the buying journey, making their digital experience hassle-free for busy shoppers. There are a few ways to do that:
Offer a personalized experience. The easier you make it for consumers, saving them time by personalizing their experience, the more likely they’ll return. Gather information via zero-party data about who people are shopping for or what they seek this season. Use AI to interpret data from past buying behavior, applying those insights to tailor campaigns and send promotional content relevant to targeted customers.
Optimize your search experience. The same search data used for SEO can boost on-site searches, helping customers find products quickly and seamlessly. You control the keywords, pages and results when you update your search. The most effective SEO yields higher search quality and increased relevance. For example, you can break down bundles and promotions based on likely gift recipients. Shoppers pressed for time will appreciate the automated assist.
Enable cart abandonment notifications via SMS or email marketing automation. These notifications offer your marketing team another opportunity to offer discount codes, link to the proper URL, and promote any available various payment services and delivery options.
3. Focus on your shipping and fulfillment options.
Customers have become accustomed to various choices for picking up (and returning) orders. Focus on omnichannel fulfillment within the search and browse experience, empowering customers to choose whether to buy online and pick up in person or research products at home and visit the store to make their purchase in person. Many options exist:
- Ordering via an app and having their order brought to the car.
- Choosing to buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS).
- Returning merchandise ordered online at a retailer’s brick-and-mortar store.
- Leaving returns out with a prepaid label for the USPS to collect.
Convenience and choices matter.
And though obvious, another shipping and fulfillment point worth emphasizing — order volumes will increase as we get closer to the official holiday shopping season. Plan by deciding whether your store will outsource shipping and fulfillment via a drop shipper or third-party logistics provider (3PL) or handle it in-house.
4. Strategize holiday campaigns and promotions.
You’ve probably pivoted and adapted your online selling strategy multiple times to increase sales efficiency. If you’re planning to join the 73% of retail executives saying they’ll be ‘more’ promotional or the 21% saying they’ll be ‘much more’ promotional this season, start planning those promotions now. Think about launching on November 1, if not earlier.
Integrate your marketing efforts with a constant stream of content on your social media channels, website blogs, video content and more. Use product tags consistently. Shoppable posts on Instagram and Facebook, for example, increase your reach and drive customers to your website.
5. Elevate your customer service and support.
As you prepare for the holiday season, don’t neglect your back-end support and e-commerce platform. Your platform needs 24/7 global support and automatic backup — both ensure you’re covered if you run into challenges.
A dedicated support team is key to delivering a positive customer support experience. Train teams to anticipate and address questions or concerns, offer information and respond quickly to customer inquiries. All your sales channels — website, email, phone, social media — need dedicated customer support.
Make it easy for customers to find your contact information. Build customer trust by including an FAQ page with quick answers to common questions. (Bonus: this page can help take pressure off your customer support teams.)
Despite concerns around consumer confidence, retailers still have the opportunity to win in the holiday season ahead. To do so, it’s critical that they begin preparing now, optimizing digital channels and ensuring customers are greeted with a friction-free buying journey. This holiday season will certainly have its challenges, but e-commerce trends remain strong. Those prepared to capitalize on those trends may learn that consumers are actually a bit more confident than they’d expected.
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