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Preparing Your Ecommerce Site for the 2021 Holiday Season

As retailers enter the 2021 holiday season, the eCommerce industry has been grappling with the pandemic’s effect on it. Covid19 forever altered consumer behavior and launched an extraordinarily paced evolution of B2C, B2B, and D2C eCommerce. This explosion of online sales shows no sign of slowing down; per the research firm eMarketer, some metrics gathered last year project 2021 sales in the U.S. market to $908.73 billion and worldwide growth of 16.8%, to $4.921 trillion. In this blog, we will look at eCommerce experts from across the industry for insights and advice on being best prepared for the holiday season and taking full advantage of the lucrative opportunity.

The following key recommendations and best practices were primarily derived from Adobe’s Digital Insights Holiday Ecommerce Playbook and multiple blogs and guides published by BigCommerce, an eCommerce platform leader. Resources reviewed were based on analytics gathered in 2020 – collectively analyzing 1 trillion visits to retail sites and over 100 million SKUs and capturing lessons learned around the global views based on consumer shopping from over 100 countries and across the spectrum of the eCommerce ecosystem (i.e., research firms, logistics providers, supply chain management experts, eCommerce platform and marketing experts and insiders). 

The key takeaways in preparing for the 2021 Holiday Season are as follows;

Analytics is Critical
Prepare the website for incoming traffic.
Create a hassle-free customer experience.
Ramp up customer service and support.
Create the opportunity for repeat customers

  1. Analytics

Start by reviewing analytics from the previous year. See where and what performed well and what was lacking. This will help find the answers to:

· How much inventory should be stocked up?
· How many orders to expect?
· How much traffic to expect?
· What will be the behavior of the traffic?
· How fast can seller ship and deliver the products?

Define customer and visitor behavior and identify key performance indicators, giving context to the answers to the questions above. Additional questions should be:

· What are your top-performing campaigns?
· Most popular products?
· Highest traffic days and top traffic sources?
· What were the total revenue generated for the period and average order values?
· What were top-performing keywords?
All these answers will help sellers confront the supply and logistics challenges that dominated the 2020 holiday season.

  1. Preparing Your Website for Incoming Traffic

Load Test – critical to sales is the ability of a website to handle the traffic surges that occur with holiday events like Black Friday shopping. A one-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversion. Those are lost sales; perform a load test to make sure servers have enough capacity to handle spikes in traffic.
Graphic heavy pages and mismanaged inventory content management can cause critical delays in page loads. Identify ways to reduce loads on slow-performing pages – especially anything related to the product Buy Box, Product Landing Page, and Product Details Pages.
Upgrade to a better host – Choosing a shared host or going for a poorly configured setup can be detrimental to a site. Upgrading resources or using cloud hosting, which is scalable and cost-effective, is recommended.
Secure your website – Data breaches and hacks are most common during seasonal sales since more customers put in their sensitive details while executing online transactions. To stay in front of the potential violations, system administrators can run security audits and perform cyber-attack tests to patch loopholes before peak sales periods.
Evaluate third-party integrations. Review third-party integrations. Are they up to date? Test them, make sure they can handle the load, and then don’t add any others. Additional or last-minute app add-ons can break aspects of customer journey flow or slow down the site.

  1. Create a hassle-free customer experience.

Surprise and delight with shipping and fulfillment options – Online shoppers have come to expect convenience and speed. According to a report by Salesforce, 57% prefer moving to a new seller for a better purchase experience offered by a competitor. Critical to these expectations has been free shipping, thanks in part to the Amazon effect (Prime shipping, same-day shipping, etc.). According to Adobe, free shipping has become the consumer expectation, and later in the holiday shopping season, alternatives like BOPIS account for almost 40% online orders for retailers that offer it”.

Logistics providers can be contacted to advise what shipping options are available and most efficient for your industry. Fed Ex recommends incentivizing early shopping to reduce the potential bottleneck effects of shipping surges in late November and December.

One must consider how to manage shipping-related fees such as hazard fees or freight costs. Being able to accurately estimate the shipping package details such as weight and dimension, shipping distance from warehouses, etc., can help reduce expenses that the seller often consumes due to the inability to pinpoint the details accurately.

Be transparent with the inventory. Although supply chain and logistical issues are not something sellers can control, sellers can create happier customers by managing their expectations and communicating effectively. eMarketer recommends designating a holiday “order by” shipping deadline that sellers feel confident they can meet based on their promotion schedule and order projections. In addition, optimizing the customer’s journey from an out-of-stock product page to an alternative reduces the frustration of scrolling through products or pages to find another product. In stock, options should be readily displayed higher up on discovery pages. A review of trending sales and last year’s inventory movement will allow sellers to prepare better, assuming many of the same supply and logistics challenges will be present this year.

Make returns and cancellations easy. Customers frustrated with a return process are more likely to publish complaints or find a competitor with a more flexible policy. Shipping providers often provide additional options that can help in this regard, such as giving the user no-cost pick up/drop off locations associated with brick and motor stores or partners.

Facilitate and personalize the customer experience. Identify your customer’s specific needs; eCommerce sites are not a one size fits all solution. Different industries, products, and customer target groups have different shopping needs. Sellers should be looking to create a seamless path to checkout. Make sure your website or products reflect your branding. Don’t overwhelm your customers with too many options and excessive information.

Prioritize the mobile experience. Per Adobe, “Share of smartphone sales is growing despite the pandemic, it’s already driving the majority of visits at 59% in June 2021”. Having a responsive design should be a priority. Another possibility is adding a holiday-specific category in your site navigation – this will make shopping easy by organizing gifts in one place. Invest in eCommerce tools that enable setting and capturing consumer profiles – targeting their preferences with content and products specific to their profiles with increased conversion rates. Go over your internal search function – customers are more likely to use the internal search if they believe it’s providing value, minimizing the number of clicks between finding a product and adding it to their cart.

Optimize Checkout. According to one BigCommerce survey, 21% of online shoppers in the United States have abandoned their shopping carts due to a long, complicated checkout process. Few measures can be taken to simplify this. Enable Guest Checkout and create a one-page checkout; multiple pages increase the percentage of abandoned carts that occur. Offer various shipping and payment options.

  1. Ramp up customer service and support

Providing non-automated customer service or facilitating how quickly a customer can get help and support when they run into a challenge or question can determine whether a customer stays on a seller site or moves on to a competitor. Update FAQ and contact us pages. Support desk third-party apps and tools can help manage the influx of support requests efficiently. BigCommerce recommends sellers have dedicated support for phone, email, and social media — and be sure to respond to all inquiries within 24–48 hours.

  1. Create the opportunity for repeat customers

Last but not least, sellers should use the holiday shopping period as an opportunity to earn customer loyalty. Smile.io reports that “40% of an eCommerce store’s revenue is generated by just 8 percent of its customers.” The holiday shopping season is a great time to create new customer relationships and strengthen existing ones. Sellers can create Email Campaigns, and many customers appreciate a follow-up if done in an organic and organized manner. A best practice is to have a welcome email, nurture email and promotional email planned out well in advance of the holiday season.
Loyalty programs. Implementing a loyalty program gives customers the incentive they need to return. Successful programs include loyalty point systems, gift cards, or even a partnership program. Loyalty rewards can be:

· Discounts and rebates.
· Personalized promotions/rewards
· Free merchandise.
· Coupons.
· Access to unreleased products.

Successful loyalty programs are easy to understand and easy to use.

Exceed expectations. Going beyond customer expectations will keep them coming back. BigCommerce says, “repeat customers have a higher lifetime value…. throughout a customer’s projected buying time with a brand; they can predict a high return on investment” if the brand has been able to develop a relationship with them. Sellers should focus on delivering the absolute best service, customer experience, product, and unboxing moments possible.

AUTHOR
Maria Bonett
Business Analyst
McFadyen Digital
Connect with Maria on LinkedIn

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