Ecommerce businesses are deep in preparations for the 2022 holiday season, expecting more customers to shop and make larger percentages of their purchases online than ever before. Deloitte, for example, predicts this year's US holiday ecommerce sales to increase as much as 15% over last year, totaling between $210 billion and $218 billion. As online sales increase, a business's ability to fulfill orders can determine whether it will have a prosperous year. The following 23 tips can help improve your fortunes for this holiday season and well into the new year.
23 Ecommerce Holiday Readiness Tips & Tricks
Holiday sales accounted for nearly 20% of all retail ecommerce sales in 2020, according to Statista. Key to such success: Advanced planning, up to a full year ahead of the season. Following are 23 tips and tricks that the best merchants put to work to ensure the holidays are happy for their top and bottom lines.
- Diversify payment options: Customers are likely to abandon their intended purchases if their preferred payment method isn't offered. While traditional credit cards remain the predominant form of payment among online shoppers, bank-operated peer-to-peer (P2P) networks like PayPal, Venmo and Zelle — which automatically withdraw payment from shoppers' bank accounts — continue to grow in popularity. The full-year 2021 forecast calls for 37.9% growth in P2P payment volume over 2020, for a total of $785.2 billion, according to eMarketer. Another payment option: digital wallets, notably Apple Pay and Google Pay, which encrypt and store shoppers' credit card information in their mobile phones for digital payment.
- Create promotions early: Many big-box stores start gearing up for the holiday season in September, replacing gardening equipment and patio furniture, for example, with Christmas trees and all the trimmings. Likewise, online merchants should be thinking ahead and have a marketing plan in place in advance of each holiday for their various ecommerce channels. And it's never too soon: A recent survey of 23,000 US consumers found 25% plan to complete most of their shopping by Thanksgiving, while 10% are aiming for Halloween.
- Create a holiday content calendar: A holiday content calendar can help a business stay on top of all occasions, big and small, that matter to its shoppers. Holidays like Christmas, Valentine's Day and Father's Day are obvious to most, but lesser-known occasions, like National Pi Day and World Emoji Day, provide additional opportunities to devise creative marketing campaigns that maximize revenue. The calendar should also include realistic time lines for campaign planning, execution and order fulfillment.
- Plan email marketing campaigns: While social media and other digital channels are important marketing channels, email is still where you'll find the most internet users worldwide. Moreover, email marketing campaigns, on average, see a return of $36 for every $1 spent. Results will vary, of course, depending on how carefully a business crafts its campaigns; those that flood customers' inboxes and otherwise annoy are likely to have their messages sent straight to the trash. Take the time to use effective subject lines, personalize messages and ensure each blast offers value to the recipient. Properly segmented email lists will keep campaigns from reaching the wrong customers.
- Demand forecasting and planning: Retail executives have expressed concerns about inventory shortages during the holidays due to the ongoing slowdown in global supply chains — and they're factoring it into their plans. According to KPMG, 55% of retail executives are establishing alternate local suppliers and 55% are investing in safety stock. They're also implementing omnichannel strategies to meet demand and accelerate support for last-mile delivery, including buy online and pick up at store (BOPIS), buy online and ship from store, and buy in-store and receive as home delivery.
- Integrate systems: An ecommerce platform that integrates with a business's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system puts the business in the best position to predict product demand, manage inventory and, ultimately, fulfill purchases in a timely fashion. An integrated system also keeps track of all customer information, automates marketing communications — for example, a customer leaving an item in their shopping cart might trigger a reminder email — and analyzes all the ensuing data across functions.
- Improve related content/product experience: The ability to fulfill orders is paramount, but that alone doesn't ensure customer loyalty — especially for ecommerce merchants that sell commodity products. An additional way is to create and/or provide supplemental content aimed at educating customers about the products they are shopping for, and about the category in general. Topical articles, blogs, buyers' guides, forums, FAQ pages and user-generated content (UGC) can help educate customers and establish trust. Displaying related products and accessories, such as a pack of USB wall chargers to go with a new tablet purchase, is also valuable.
- Use reporting and analysis: Reporting and analysis tools are especially critical during the holiday shopping season, when ecommerce retailers have a narrow window of time to adjust their tactics based on what the data is telling them. For example, if the company sees a drop in sales for a popular toy, it may decide to email a discount code to shoppers who visited the product's web page but didn't buy. Reporting and analysis tools can also provide invaluable insight about shoppers (how many, how they arrived at a site, what they're buying), as well as any number of important key performance indicators (KPIs) to help discover trends. (More on that soon.)
- Prioritize user experience: User experience can make or break ecommerce holiday success. Merchants whose sites or apps perform slowly or are difficult to navigate more than likely will send shoppers heading to competitors. Hallmarks of a good user experience include easy checkout options, customer service at the ready and up-to-date product and shipping information. Of note: Customers will pay an average 13% price premium with a better customer experience, according to PwC.
- Create memorable packaging: Businesses should think of their packaging as an extension of their brands. Customizing a box or bag with something as simple as a logo can leave a favorable impression, which can then be multiplied if shoppers post images or “unboxing” videos on social media. Including free samples — say, hand lotion that matches a perfume gift set — can go a long way, too. Finally, sustainable packaging — think biodegradable boxes, corrugated bubble wrap and other recycled/upcycled materials — has also become increasingly important to shoppers, the majority of whom are willing to pay a premium for it, a McKinsey study shows.
- Personalize: Hidden behind computers and mobile devices, ecommerce is often an impersonal experience for customers wanting to shop. But much like the shopkeeper who greets people when they walk into their store, there are ways to make online customers feel like their presence is known. Using AI and advanced data analytics, for example, retailers can create profiles of customers' search and purchasing histories and offer promotions based on their preferences. Other ways to provide a personalized experience include displaying products visitors have looked at previously or serving up a customized home page with the shopper's name at the top.
- Set goals and KPIs: Ecommerce success can only be determined with established goals and KPIs that track progress toward them. Among the important organizational and operational KPIs an ecommerce provider may want to monitor during the holidays — and all year long — are sales performance and revenue, average order value, cart abandonment rate, marketing campaign performance, customer acquisition rate and sales channel effectiveness.
- Implement ratings and reviews: Online ratings and reviews can be highly influential in a customer's decision about whether to purchase an item. A BizRate survey of more than 1,200 online shoppers found 91% read at least one online review before deciding to make a purchase. Positive reviews can boost trust, loyalty and sales, so it's important to encourage shoppers to submit their ratings and reviews. Customers may also post reviews on social media as well. But wherever the reviews may be, it's important for a business to acknowledge them, respond to questions and address any issues.
- Optimize the website: Core website functionality is among the most critical investments a merchant can make. These include:
- Speed: Websites that load slowly — more than two seconds — pose the most significant risk of customers moving on. Ways to boost speed include file and image compression, optimizing code and improving server response time.
- SEO (aka, findability): The key to bringing in more customers and increasing revenue is to rank high up in shoppers' web search results — and above competitors. It is critical to invest the time and resources in search engine optimization (SEO), such as optimizing web page content for keywords that express buyer intent and understanding other factors that influence page rank in search results.
- Mobile: As with websites, shoppers will give mobile sites and apps about two seconds to load before moving on. Considering the rapid growth of sales coming from smartphones last Christmas, mobile optimization is a growing imperative.
- Load testing: Many factors can impact the performance of an ecommerce site, so it is important to get out in front of issues before customers experience performance degradation. As merchants make ongoing updates to their sites and apps, and more shoppers flock to them, experts recommend automated testing to ensure sites can handle the load and continue to function.
- Keep checkouts simple: Nearly 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned before shoppers complete their purchases, and that's partly due to complicated checkout processes that require too much effort. Some of the ways merchants can simplify things is by removing barriers such as requiring customers to register before they check out, having a functional back button during the checkout process, being transparent about available inventory and providing clear action items, like "Click here to purchase."
- inventory management (part of a modern ERP system) can streamline error-prone manual processes and provide real-time data that ensures product availability across all locations and sales channels. This not only makes for happy customers, but it also reduces a business's handling costs while optimizing cash flow.
- Use sophisticated search: Just as it's important for ecommerce sites to be optimized for the major search engines, so too must they empower customers to search for products within the site itself. Indeed, 43% of retail website visitors head straight to the search bar, according to Forrester Research. A sophisticated internal search engine will offer filters such as price, size and availability — also known as faceted search — to deliver the most relevant matches. It might offer an auto-complete function as visitors key in their queries. And semantic search, which goes beyond literal matches to understand the overall meaning of a query.
- Add sales channels: It stands to reason: The more places an ecommerce business promotes and/or sells its products, the more likely it can increase its sales. Beyond a company's own website and email, additional sales channels can include online marketplaces, such as Amazon and Etsy, and affiliate partnerships, whereby partners promote a merchant's offerings and receive a sales commission. Social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, is another big draw; 72% of all US adults now use some form of social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Online influencers whose audiences match a business's target may prove useful, too.
- Consider market expansion: The world is a big place, but new and emerging ecommerce platforms and capabilities make expanding into new regions easier than it used to be. A solid strategy must come first, of course. Customs, culture and other market nuances should also be considered, as should whether the business has the resources for 24x7 customer service.
- Offer free returns: It can be costly for ecommerce providers to offer free returns, especially given how much is bought online during the holidays. However, many consumers are coming to expect it and, if it comes down to two places to make their purchase, will likely choose the one that offers free returns. What's more, several studies have shown that customers are more likely to continue purchasing from online merchants that offer free returns. Businesses should be upfront about their return policies, make it easy for shoppers to find them, and offer convenient return methods.
- Roll out free shipping: Just like with returns, online shoppers are more likely to purchase from a merchant that doesn't charge for shipping. In fact, many will abandon their shopping carts if a shipping fee is tacked onto their payment total at checkout. Merchants hesitant to absorb the shipping cost can offset it in other ways — for example, setting a minimum order total for shipping to be free or offering free shipping as an incentive to join their loyalty programs.
- Expand customer service: More shoppers mean more inquiries to customer service. Representatives should be at the ready across all of a merchant's different channels and regions, whether by phone, email, live chat or chatbot. They should be well-trained to handle questions, well-acquainted with holiday promotions and otherwise provide for a good customer experience. Self-service customer service options, such as help-center content, community forums and automated call centers, can also help customers quickly resolve their questions.
- Nurture buyers: Online shoppers may be motivated to buy during the run-up to the holidays, but that doesn't mean they'll buy the first item they see at the first site they visit. This is where strategic nurturing comes into play, informed by real-time customer data. Examples include personalized welcome emails for new customers and incentives, such as free shipping or a discount, for shoppers to purchase items they had been viewing or placed in their online carts.
The outlook for the 2022 holiday season calls for consumers to spend more online than ever. That’s why it pays — literally and figuratively — for ecommerce businesses to invest in an ecommerce platform tailored to their needs and plan their strategies and tactics as much as a year in advance. From planning promotions and email campaigns, to optimizing their websites, to adding sales channels and expanding into new markets, there are plenty of ways online merchants can prepare for a successful holiday season that sets the pace for the year to come.