Holidays are an exciting time for the retail business in general, but even more so for online stores. Last year saw a 16.7% increase in web sales, with American online shoppers expected to continue this trend by spending a projected $1 trillion dollars during Christmas! Of course, this surplus revenue doesn’t come easily considering all the competition. Brands who wish to have a successful holiday season need to conquer quite a few challenges first.
Shopify recently put together a list of the top five concerns for ecommerce brands during the holiday season. Each brand they surveyed brought in $10 million+ annually, but we’re willing to bet the challenges look the same for smaller retailers as well, so we’ll approach it from the angle. Let’s take a look at what they came up with and see where WeSupply can lend a helping hand for your holiday.
Rising Ad Spend
As the season with the most money on the table, it only makes sense that there’s more noise out there in the ecommerce space. For a smaller brand this can be tough to overcome as the costs of marketing skyrocket during November and December. According to Margot Whitney from WordStream, bid prices can increase by 140% over their yearly average during the holidays! While you can’t magically make these marketing costs go down, you can work smarter – and earlier – to get your message out.
Using transactional emails and SMS notifications to your advantage is an effective way to build awareness early with your existing customers. This is very effective because the post-purchase is when they want to hear from you the most. For example, compare the average 20-25% open rate of most marketing emails with the 80-85% of transactional emails.
You may be asking how these emails, usually used for confirming a customer’s order or giving out tracking information, can help spread a marketing message for your upcoming products and promotions. The answer is simple; by linking to a custom, shoppable tracking page.
By customizing your tracking page you keep customers in a fully branded experience that matches the look, language, and feel of your website. You can tailor the customer’s experience to highlight products, promotions, and campaigns that they’re sure to love based on their order history.
Throughout the year this can be used to upsell them items that will enhance their previous purchase, but in the months leading up to the holidays it can be focused on the big seasonal pushes your brand will be offering. This is a win-win because not only are you getting your upcoming promotions in front of many eager eyes, but 53% of customers actually say a thoughtful and personal experience is the most important factor when choosing a brand.
While your tracking page shouldn’t replace all of your marketing efforts for the holiday season, it’s a highly effective secret weapon that can deliver a higher ROI than those inflated bids.
Shipping & Fulfillment
Holiday shopping comes hand in hand with sudden spikes in traffic and sales. BigCommerce notes that out of all holiday digital revenue in 2018, over 40% occurred during Cyber Week (Tuesday before Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday). Without proper preparation even the most operationally sound business can easily get behind and under perform during these busy periods.
This issue is especially important for brands who ship from more than one warehouse, as well as from several of their brick & mortar stores. Looking at a “company average” processing time chart may sound helpful to keep all of your shipping locations operating soundly, but how can you spot weak points?
WeSupply’s dashboard allows you to view processing time by location in real time. Using this tool you can see how many orders each are receiving and how fast they’re shipping them out. From there you can analyze order routing, staffing, and inventory distribution throughout your centers. By spotting individual pain points you can correct issues quickly and maximize productivity.
Using the dashboard gives you insight into your customer’s end to end time, from the moment they placed the order up to receiving it on their doorstep. Compare past holiday data with other times of the year.
If there is a big increase during periods of holiday sales, you can also consider using the delivery date estimator to set better expectations for customers. Manually adjust the expected processing time for all products during that time frame, or even better yet – just for your more popular items if you expect those to take longer. It’s important to set correct expectations throughout the year, but especially when holiday gift giving is involved.
Customer Service Needs
Even though you may be expecting a big influx of orders during the holiday season, it can still be easy for your customer service team to fall behind. Even the most skilled agents can simply get bogged down by the sheer volume of those “where’s my order?” calls.
Many brands take the most obvious approach and hire temporary agents to get them through the busy period. This can be problematic though, as these new agents will be asked to represent you during the most crucial time of the year – with little to no experience with your customers or products! Also, now that you’ve spent time training them, what happens after December when things get back to normal?
WeSupply’s solution tackles this issue differently, going directly for the root of the problem. We believe the best way to free up your agents’ time is by sending customers proactive notifications after their purchase. These include order and shipment confirmation, critical updates from the carrier, as well as links to the custom tracking page. By putting this information in the customer’s hands, they always know exactly where their order is and can even get ahead of potential shipping problems.
Worried about overwhelming your customers with messaging? Don’t be, because 83% say they expect regular communication about their purchases. Only 8% of customers say that they’re receiving too many notifications from brands, but you can mitigate this number through balance. By optimizing your messaging flow based on customer behavior you can find the perfect middle ground between informative and overbearing.
While most companies are already sending email messages, it is important to branch into the channels that your customers are using. 60% say they’d be more likely to repeat purchase when they have the ability to choose their preferred method of communication. For many this is SMS notifications, which boast an impeccable 90% open rate in the first three minutes of delivery.
By giving your customers enough information handle basic, foreseeable issues on their own, you free up agents to work on more complex issues that may arise during the holiday season!
WeSupply’s Zendesk app takes things even further by centralizing all order and shipment information directly into the customer service tool. When the agent opens a ticket in Zendesk we will display all orders associated with that email address. By simply clicking into any order the agent can see the live update of the status for each shipment. This will save agents valuable time in researching the pertinent information needed to respond to emails and calls.
Cost of Returns
If you’re operating in the ecommerce space, then you know that returns are simply an unavoidable part of the landscape. Data shows that over 30% of online purchases are returned, and 96% of consumers will go back to companies who made returns and exchanges as seamless as possible.
That last statistic shows us that a good return policy is an important factor in customer retention. In the long term this has an enormous effect on your brand’s cost of doing business, especially concerning the marketing budget. Not only can acquiring a new customer be 5x more expensive, you only have a 5-10% chance to sell to them! Meanwhile, a customer who has been nurtured, or retained, has a 60-70% likelihood of making a purchase!
Even if your brand is currently offering a fair return policy, holiday preparation should make you consider if your solution is scalable. While you may be able to handle the costs throughout the year, the increase in returns after a Black Friday sale could put a major dent in your margin.
WeSupply’s scalable returns solution is based on empowering your customers through self-service. It uses the “my account” page as a centralized hub of the customer’s order and shipment information as well as a starting point for initiating returns. By letting customers initiate their own returns through this channel, you save $0.20-$0.45 per order by not including a pre-printed label in each.
Self-service returns lessen the workload for your agents by empowering customers to take care of common, easy to solve problems on their own. Studies show that this is actually preferred by customers, with an astounding 81% saying they try to help themselves before reaching out to a brand!
At the end of the day, increased holiday demand means nothing to a brand with inventory issues, as you can’t make the sale without the goods. Sometimes these issues are unavoidable, as unexpected booms can leave top sellers out of stock. Unfortunately, this is a UX dead end that leaves no further options on your site.
This is a big miss, as 30% of customers are likely to abandon carts and look elsewhere when told a product or variation is out of stock.
While WeSupply can’t magically produce more of your best products, our delivery date estimator can actually help save your conversion rate while you await a restock. Since delivery dates can be set on the SKU level, you can simply add additional processing days to these sold out items. Adjust this to accurately reflect the gap in availability as well as the standard processing and shipping time. The customer can still place an order for the product, knowing from the start that the shipment’s ETA is 10 days away.
Not only will the customer be able to complete the purchase with you, they won’t be forced to ditch the rest of their cart and head to social media in search of another brand to buy from. This avoids leaving customers feeling as though they’ve wasted their time. Also, this opens up key re-engagement opportunities through proactive notifications and the branded tracking page that can drive even more holiday sales.