Before we can prepare to enjoy the holiday season, businesses have to prepare for the oncoming storm. In the last couple of years, the retail world has changed dramatically. With the eCommerce boom and the effects of Covid still being felt, brick and mortar sales are down and retailers have had to adapt their stores for an increasingly digital age.
Shopping preferences have evolved and customers are under pressure to buy more for less. There’s also more hectic days in the calendar that ever before, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which means eCommerce stores have to be more prepared than ever to cope with the demands of the season.
This covers all areas of your business: customer service and support, marketing logistics, you name it. Everything will be under strain at this time of year due to the sheer amount of traffic coming your way. Thankfully, we've prepared a guide to help you navigate the difficulties this holiday season!
- Optimise your holiday marketing
- Bulletproof your website
- Encourage return visitors
- Sort out your logistics
- Invest in customer service and support
Optimise your holiday marketing
Innovation can be the difference between stores that sink and swim in this difficult period, and that's why it’s so crucial that before important periods for your business hit, like Black Friday and Christmas, every aspect of business operation is prepared.
The holiday season is the perfect time to strengthen your marketing efforts. Make sure you have a solid strategy in place, so you can budget accurately and have all the right teams in place to execute any holiday campaigns planned! Here are some holiday eCommerce tips to make sure your strategy is a winner this holiday season.
Plan ahead of time
Planning is often the root of your marketing efforts for the holiday season. It can feel ludicrous, and no-one wants to be thinking about Christmas when they're lying in the Summer sun, but the more time and effort goes into it the more effectively you can prepare for the season. It may sound dramatic, but it's true - the longer you give yourselves to prepare, the better equipped you are to do well.
Take this blog, for example - we've been working on this throughout September, and even we're worried about not ranking well enough in time for the Christmas boom! Sharing relevant content can really boost your organic traffic, and when trying to build your online presence and rank well for your target keywords, it's really important to get in ahead of time.
Whether it's Semrush, Moz or whichever service you prefer, carry out an SEO audit and see where you're lacking and what keywords you can improve on early doors. The longer content is up for, the better chance it has to rank well, so start sewing those keywords early so your relevant content is ranking highly in Google search terms by the time the consumer starts searching.
The same is true of any newsletters, email marketing, offers and discounts you're sending out to your customers. While this stuff obviously will head straight to a customer's inbox and doesn't need as much time to permeate as SEO-driven content does, it's worth noting that people spread their purchases out throughout the year, so sharing your holiday season deals in December is massively undercutting your potential impact.
This also gives you time to come up with some creative campaigns that require a little more imagination! Here are a few creative marketing ideas we've studied before - if you start putting your heads together in good time, you're increasing your chance of coming up with something more clever and more impactful!
Optimize your ads and get customers onsite
Organic traffic is a valuable asset, but as we've touched on, content marketing is a slow-burner. Paid advertising can help you make your brand stand out in an overpopulated market and gets results much more quickly.
Depending on your offering, you may want to target your ads to different areas, but ads on socials tend to do pretty well. Facebook and Instagram are heavy hitters, but it's also important to consider new players such as TikTok, who may not have been in the conversation this time a year ago but are now a staple of people's daily routine, and ads there are bound to generate some buzz.
You can push clicks towards a tailored landing page for your holiday season deals, and this can do most of the talking for you. A powerful ad grabs attention, gives all the important details and makes people want to click on it to find more. If you start early enough, it could be worth A/B testing different wording and imagery, or trying out different sites as mentioned above.
Having ads pointing towards one unified landing page, whether that be a homepage or one created specifically for the holiday season, is a great way to streamline your traffic into one hyper-optimized space. Over the years, brands will have different things to offer, and their strategies may change over that time. This can cause your sitemap to become cluttered with outdated or irrelevant material. Using 301 redirects to send all traffic to those old pages to an evergreen URL that can be updated year on year with new holiday content and landing pages is a great way to ensure all of your traffic is going to the right place and everyone is seeing relevant and up to date information.
Again, to use this blog as an example - the slug is 'ecommerce-holiday-season-tips.' We can update this page again and again, with the year only being in the title of the blog itself, ensuring we can update and change our guide each year to ensure relevancy without creating entirely new pages onsite. The same strategy can be easily applied to any seasonal landing pages you employ.
PPC (pay-per-click) ads will garner attention more quickly, but that doesn't mean that planning ahead won't help; it will enable you to make more informed decisions about copy, and where your ads go to. More research and data will means the ads you launch around the festive season will be as effective and engaging as possible!
Don't limit your audience
It can be hard to resist the temptation to cover your site in tinsel and baubles, with a big Christmas countdown and festive gift wrapping options. And this is all great! But it's worth remembering that there are a ton of existing and potential customers out there who won't celebrate Christmas, and may be celebrating other holidays around the same time of year.
Try broadening your offering slightly - add some more neutral gift-wrap options and cards, as well as stuff targeted at other holidays. It won't apply to everyone but some customers will be touched that you've thought of them if they see an option to include a Hannukah-themed gift wrap or card, or just a 'Seasons' Greetings' option for those who don't celebrate anything specific but still want to get in on the gift-giving action.
This seems like a really small touch, but stuff like this really matters to some people, and it will help specific sections of your customer-base feel seen, and they'll remember that positive experience and share it with their loved ones.
Bulletproof your website
The eCommerce season is approaching fast. Before Michael Buble has even started defrosting, eCommerce store owners are scrambling to get their websites ready for a deluge of traffic from potential customers looking to buy gifts.
But how does your store keep up with the festive frenzy? In this section, we will look at how to prepare for the high traffic volumes, improving the speed of your store, making it work for all devices, and ensuring that it can be easily navigated for different types of customers.
Load testing high traffic volumes
Load testing helps you to see how your eCommerce site will behave at high loads. You can simulate how high traffic volumes will impact the loading times of your product and checkout pages, and identify bottlenecks to performance before you miss out on any Christmas Custom.
For stores built on major eCommerce platforms such as Shopify, then you shouldn't need to conduct load tests. Shopify regularly models how stores would cope with "sales events" such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and just before Christmas. Check out this blog post that dives into the technical side of their performance tests.
If you have built your own eCommerce store then we recommend creating your own tests or using one of the many tools available online. These will verify the loads that your store can cope with, and conduct test to find the upper limit on performance.
We've all heard the idiom "slow and steady wins the race," but if you want to convert eCommerce traffic, you're better off being a hare than the tortoise.
Users expect pages to load near instantly, and so does Google. Sluggish pages have a higher bounce rate, because impatient users won't wait for content to load. If you don't show them the content, they won't convert at all. This has the knock on effect of decreased traffic and missed conversions.
One of the easiest ways to improve loading times is to reduce the amount of content that needs to be loaded. This could be reducing the number of images on a single page, compressing images so that less data is required to render the page, and removing unwanted scripts that run in the background.
We run into this regularly with our Shopify customers. The average Shopify store has X apps downloaded. How many of these stores use them all? Many apps load scripts on your site in order to work, so even if you're not using the app all of the time, they will slow everything down unless they're deleted. If you are a Shopify merchant, it is very important that you delete apps that you don't use.
If you've built a custom store, we suggest using a tool like PageSpeed Insights. Google built this to help store owners understand how their page loads, and what takes the longest.
If I enter the url of our most recent blog, a score out of 100 is provided based on the loading time performance.
We usually compress all of our images before they're uploaded, but Google identified one 2.2mb image that must have slipped through.
By reducing the image size and changing the format we ended up with a 50kb file. WebP is a modern file format that is designed specifically for the web. Because of the compression it is far more suitable for your product images.
Your online store needs to look fantastic on every type of device. Most eCommerce themes are designed and built on big screens, with mobile responsiveness often more of an afterthought.
Reducing page loading times is especially important for mobile devices, as often the internet connection is not as strong as when on desktop. A mobile design frequently restricts navigational capabilities too; you may not be able to include all of the tabs and pages that exist on your site's desktop version, so make sure the essentials are all accessible to avoid frustrating your customers.
One of the most important aspects to think about ahead of time is your navigation; you want to make sure that it helps users around your site with ease and maximise your conversion rates. If you sell lots of gifts we suggest looking at your store navigation, to make it easy for customers to find the perfect gift.
One way of doing this is including a banner across the top of the screen. Often reserved for information about free shipping, this is valuable real estate that can help shortcut users to gift products. It's important that it doesn’t distract from your main navigation, but can be a great way to fast track customers to the most relevant part of your store.
Another important consideration is navigation hierarchy. For example if you use drop downs to group different parts of your store, are gifts buried in a drop down, or do they have their own dedicated drop down item that reveals specific gift categories?
Exit intent popups are used by eCommerce stores to try and discourage visitors from leaving the store. There are many tools available that will trigger the pop up at the right time, based on user behaviour and mouse positioning on the page.Although controversial, exit intent pop ups can be a great way of showing users holiday gifts before they leave. They’re controversial because users often find the popups annoying and obtrusive, and sometimes it is hard to predict when the users is about to leave your store. This is especially challenging if the user is on mobile, so we suggest avoiding exit intent pop ups for all traffic that isn’t on desktop.
If you do make changes to your navigation for the holiday season, remember to revert them as soon as possible after the festivities. If you can schedule an update to happen automatically at the end of Christmas day, then that is perfect. It is time to shift the focus away from gifts, and to your boxing day sales!
Encourage return visitors
The busy holiday season is a chance to re-engage customers but also a really good opportunity to gain new ones. How can you ensure that these customers stay beyond the holiday period? Here are our top tips for eCommerce businesses to retain the new customers they attract as well as re-engage previous customers.
Encouraging return visitors during this period is really important, and customer retention statistics show what a positive impact they can have on your revenue. Keep your messages positive and show appreciation for loyalty, but also don't forget about attracting new customers with incentives and offers.
A learning opportunity
The holiday season presents an opportunity to learn about your customers and collect data that will enable you to target them with relevant offers throughout the year. When signing people up to your newsletter, why not take the chance to ask them to tick the most relevant categories to them?
You could even create a quiz-style survey to recommend a product based on their interests. For example, you could recommend a certain wine based on a person's usual favourite, lifestyle, food preferences. This can then give you a better understanding of your customer and inform campaigns for later on in the year - in this case, a wine and food pairing campaign!
One thing worth remembering is that many people buy for others during this period, and their purchases may therefore not reflect personal preferences. Asking for feedback on what they would like to receive or giving them a list of options could be the best way of ensuring that you are marketing based on their interests rather than building up an inaccurate profile based on gift purchases.
The season presents a huge opportunity to gain new customers, but don't forget about your existing customers who have shown support for your business year round. A great way to re-engage customers is to make recommendations based on past purchases, keeping your finger on the pulse and picking up the conversation on a product you know they are interested in.
"Hey X what did you think of Y?
We think you might also like Z"
Gifting season is the perfect opportunity to make them feel special and thank them by rewarding that loyalty. This could be exclusive discounts, extra treats, or a simple 'thank you' note to remind them that you appreciate their custom. Consumers will be spending money with tons of brands during the festive season, so anything you can do to forge a stronger relationship with the customer will help set you apart from the rest.
Show you're here to help
Frame your delivery deadline days as a gentle nudge to customers:
‘Hey, have you remembered to buy a gift for X’?‘, or 'Know someone who deserves a special thank you this Thanksgiving?’
We'll touch on this later, but it's really worth investing in customer service and support ahead of this period to ensure everyone has a seamless experience. People will remember any bad experiences but they will also remember a brand going above and beyond for them. Unexpected touches help. If something out of your control does go wrong, apologize and make it right. React quickly and you can turn a negative into a positive - people will talk about bad experiences with friends and family but they will talk more about bad experiences turned good!
Promote your socials
Encouraging holiday buyers to follow you on social media encourages them to keep up to date with your offering and new releases all year round. Make sure your socials are linked in all email communication as well as any printed marketing flyers included in orders. If this is a valuable channel for your business, or one you are looking to grow, make sure the inbox is monitored and integrated with the rest of your customer support. And importantly - we've already touched on it, but it's important to reiterate - keep on top of content scheduling and engagement! Anticipating a busy period means you can plan content ahead and focus on more immediate engagement when needed.
Sort out your logistics
It's not necessarily the most glamorous part of your business, but it's important not to underestimate the logistics side of things. A smooth and seamless experience is incredibly valuable to your customers, especially during the most stressful season of the year.
It can take some time to prepare yourselves for the holiday season, so here are some tips to ensure your service is efficient and keeps your customers happy during the holiday season.
Identify weaknesses in your current fulfilment
Make sure your current process is up to scratch. Try and identify any areas where you are currently strained or facing difficulties, and start to work on solutions ahead of time. Those issues are likely to become a lot worse during the peak season, so working out your strategy now will save you from a lot of potential headaches.
Equally, if you are looking at outsourcing any of your fulfilment, or aren’t happy with your current provider, you need to find a new fulfilment partner very soon. It’s much easier to do this well before the peak season; you can meet with potential providers, and make sure they understand your goals and can help you achieve them. A lot of 3PLs won't be open to new business as the peak season approaches, so it’s now or never! (well, until January that is).
Solidify your delivery options
Look into the carriers you are using, and their last delivery date before Christmas. Take this date with a pinch of salt, as this could change subject to delays that the whole industry is facing due to continued impact of Covid and the eCommerce boom. Consider having your final cutoff day BEFORE your carriers' cut off date. It's one thing to let them down due to your own shortcomings, but it's even more frustrating for both sides when the middle man lets you both down.
Whatever happens, you need to make sure that your customers are getting their orders before Christmas - perhaps consider offering a premium delivery option to get those last minute sales and make sure your customers aren't missing out, even if they're running behind. Plus, when they're cutting it fine, they're likely pay that little bit extra to get it there on time!
Gift wrapping options
The customer's experience is the most important part of any business, and Christmas gift-giving should be no exception. Make sure that you offer your customers the ability to gift-wrap and leave a gift message, helping them streamline their gift shopping experience. Many brands WILL offer this, so don't let a lack of customization be the reason that customers opt for your competitors instead of you.
The reason some customers don't opt for gift wrapping is not knowing exactly what they're getting. Making sure that your customers can see exactly what their gift wrapping will look like will make sure that the customer is making an informed decision. Different options for packaging are also important - some customers will want you to pull out all the stops, whereas others will prefer a more understated or cost-effective option. Make sure you strike a balance, though - if the process is too complex, you may irritate your customers...
Think inside the box
Adding a note in the purchase with a discount code is a great way to incentivize future purchases. Most people spend the festive season surrounded by family, friends and loved ones, so there's an opportunity to make an impression on more than just the gift recipient. Even if they aren’t thinking about purchasing again, someone in the room when they are opening their present might be!
Notes aren't the only thing you can add to enrich your customers' unboxing experiences and make it more special and memorable. Theatrics, sensory appeal, environmentally conscious packaging: there are all sorts of approaches you can take to make the experience more engaging. If you're short of ideas, we've got you covered - check out our guide to creating a memorable unboxing experience here.
You know best
Of course, the logistics for your business may have lots of subtle or specific moving parts that you will know best, and we can't cover every possible process you might have. But one thing that's for sure is that you need to start thinking about this very soon - no matter how efficient your eCommerce holiday season logistics are, no matter how much experience you have with eCommerce holiday season logistics, there will be something that has to change or adapt.
Invest in customer service and support
Logistics are super important for making your customer journey seamless, but you can never completely bulletproof your service. There are all sorts of things that can cause issues for customers: human error, technical difficulties, product dissatisfaction and many more.
Whatever it may be, you need to ensure your team are ready to deliver an exceptional customer service to assist your customer in whatever they need help with. Here are some things to consider to make sure your customers are wholly satisfied even if things don't go quite to plan:
Multi-channel support is a great way to ensure your customers are satisfied with your support process. It allows for multiple customer interaction touch-points so your customers have the flexibility to resolve their queries through whichever channel they are most comfortable. There are a ton of different options for this: tried and tested methods like live chats or email submissions stand the test of time, but community discussion forums are becoming a huge part of customer support.
This can take multiple forms: many companies will have official forums, where people can ask questions on a number of topics. A classic example is Apple, who have forums dealing with bugs and issues, but are also a community hub where people can ask questions that might seem bizarre to ask your support staff. Apple forums will frequently have questions weighing up the choice between two products, and users can compare their experiences. Companies with fanatical followings like Apple will have very active and devoted communities, so it's never too early to start cultivating a following on your forums to develop a thriving community support ecosystem.
This is also an opportunity to provide your customers with answers you might not actually have on hand! For example, clothing brand Monki have a community feature built into their chatbot. You can choose to ask a customer support representative or the 'Monkisphere.' If you're having trouble with your billing, you're going to want to talk to technical support. However, if you're interested in finding out the fit of a pair of jeans, the community will be able to offer more insight, and can potentially remove any doubts a customer has over a potential purchase with valuable extra info!
Extend your returns period
Extending your returns period over holiday season is also really important. If you're like me, you'll have found yourselves in countless situations around the holiday season trying on new clothes and finding them to be way too tight (even after the Christmas lunch bloating has subsided) or way too big. The figures for seasonal gift returns are huge - according to one study, 61% of Americans reported receiving an unwanted gift, with the total value of these every year totalling an estimated $15.2 billion.
Returning a gift can be seen as having negative connotations, but sometimes it's as simple as getting something more fitting or suitable. Extending your returns period means you're allowing customers the freedom to ensure they're happy without having to rush around immediately to ensure they get their money back.
The same is true for genuine mistakes or issues with a product. Human or manufacturing errors creep into every business, and it's always possible one of your customers ends up with the wrong product. Increasing their window of opportunity to return (for free) will make up for any initial frustration or disappointment your customer may be feeling. It's particularly important at this time of year, as so many purchases are gift. A lot of people will be buying for other people, and will be extra anxious that they might be letting down the gift's recipient. The easier and quicker you make it to rectify the issue, the better!
Make sure your team is ready
Lastly, which mostly goes without saying, make sure your team are completely up to speed with how to deal with any and all support queries that come through. When your traffic is as high as it is in the seasonal period, queries will be coming in thick and fast, so having an efficient and established process is vital to ensure frustrated customers are back on track as soon as possible. Make sure your process is airtight and your support documentation is robust - you're going to need it!
Overall, the holiday season is always an enormous opportunity to build brand awareness and generate and retain new customers. It can be daunting, but a well-prepared team will be aware of their goals and begin planning their strategies and campaigns in advance to ensure they deliver high quality results for their customers across the board, from purchase to receipt of the gift itself.
We hope that some of these holiday eCommerce tips can give your business some pointers on how not just to cope with the holiday buzz, but to thrive off the back of it with a strategy in place to retain all the new happy customers you bring in. There's no time like the present to get ready for the gifting season - excuse the pun - so keep this guide in mind as you prepare for the season ahead.