7 Ways Online Retailers Can Make the Most Of This Holiday Season


Originally published on AW360.

Article Takeaways:

  • Strategies you should be considering in the run-up to the holiday commerce season
  • The impact Amazon has had on customer expectation
  • The technological drivers that change our online behavior

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales in 2019 are forecasted to grow between 3.8% and 4.4% and online sales are expected to see a 10-12% increase. As retailers continue to face unprecedented marketplace shifts due (in part) to changing consumer behaviors and needs, the holiday season can be a game of high stakes, with Amazon continuing to up the ante. Additionally, with six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year compared to 2018, retailers have less time to engage with shoppers.

It’s important to have an effective strategy that starts with the basics. Here are seven tips and actions, to gear up for a successful holiday season: 

Be Mindful of Shipping Times and Costs

Due largely to the Amazon effect, customers expect free and immediate shipping, and 56% of respondents from our 2019 consumer research supported this, saying that one of the top advantages Amazon has over other retailers is speed of delivery, and 61% agreed they only make a purchase when shipping is free. So, it’s important to streamline shipping logistics so products are sent ideally within a few hours and at a maximum of 24 hours after order placement. You should also test free shipping on orders and returns during the holidays to appeal to shoppers. And finally, try to frequently update order tracking and shipping notifications in real-time to keep customers informed and to help deter customer service inquiries.

Strengthen the Mobile-First Experience

Our research revealed that while consumers use mobile less often than desktop when researching or purchasing (55% vs. 96%), 33% will increase their mobile device shopping during the 2019 holidays. So, you will want to ensure that mobile pages load quickly and your site is devoid of broken links. Implement 1-click checkout and alternative payment options for convenience and to save shoppers’ time. Improve navigation by incorporating merchandising tactics and a decreasing number of clicks to reach products. And if applicable, optimize your mobile app for more tech-savvy customers.

Optimize Search

Failed search attempts are one of the leading causes of missed sales conversions, making visual and voice search technologies valuable tools for shoppers. While our research showed that the majority of shoppers (66%) have no interest in voice search, Gartner predicts that nearly a third of all web browsing will be voice-activated by 2020. So, to be prepared, allow geotargeted search for a more personalized experience and provide visual and/or voice search for increased efficiency. You will also want to evaluate refinement and sort options to effectively aid in the search process.

Create an Effective Holiday Communication Strategy

Consumer behavior continues to evolve and so must your marketing efforts. Today’s consumers are time-starved and don’t have an extra second to waste. Save them time by ensuring that emails are mobile optimized; the message is targeted and personalized and engage shoppers on other channels such as social or SMS.

Don’t Fear Amazon

Amazon dominates the retail sector, but it’s not invincible. By clearly identifying and communicating to customers what your brand has to offer, you can deliver a customer experience that goes far beyond fast delivery and low prices. Tout services such as in-store pickup, price matching or personal stylists can be a differentiator. Cultivate customer relationships at every touchpoint including post-purchase and highlight experiential offerings, if available.

Excel at Customer Service

Customer service interactions are inevitable for many shoppers during the holiday season and retailers must be ready. A negative experience for the customer can have serious implications for the retailer. Clear return policies and comprehensive customer service information was rated as very important by our survey respondents (58% and 38%, respectively).

Before the holiday season, you should review customer service and store policies for inclusiveness and clarity. Take a customer-first approach by providing superior service at every turn: in-store via associates, social channels and online. Be transparent and provide detailed information around all customer service issues and invest in resources such as personnel, training, and technology. Finally, make returns as easy as possible; provide free online returns, printable shipping labels and allow for in-store returns.

Reward for Loyalty

A strong loyalty program is important, with 67% of respondents in our study saying they gravitate to sites where they are part of a loyalty program. While current loyalists will definitely revisit your store, the holiday season provides an opportunity to attract new customers and foster long term relationships. To communicate your program clearly, prominently display the details across all channels to encourage new shoppers to join. Offering special deals or rewards exclusively to loyal shoppers may lead to established trust and a bigger annual spend. Continually monitor programs and adjust when necessary to ensure retention and member engagement; remember to focus on the reward redemption experience as well as the rewards.

The holiday season can be a daunting time for online retailers, so it’s important to work with clients throughout the year to ensure their complete digital ecosystem is optimized for the all-important holiday season. This means looking at site performance, optimized user experience, and relevant and personalized engagement with customers at all touchpoints, before, during and after purchase.

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