Holiday eCommerce for 2019: How to Prepare
‘Tis the season for holiday eCommerce!
Last year was a record year for eCommerce, and it looks like 2019 is about to beat it.
Between the holiday season of 2017 and 2018, eCommerce grew 16.7% to $123.7 billion.
Ecommerce sales this holiday season will increase by 13.2% to $135.35 billion. That means ecommerce will represent 13.4% of all holiday retail sales this year, a figure that has been growing year over year.
The season is underway, and more users are shopping on eCommerce sites than ever before. Are you ready?
Preparing for the holidays requires months of preparation and execution to make sure you make the most of every transaction, and – most importantly – hitting that sales goal before the year is out.
The good news: you don’t need a six-figure marketing budget to drive sales from your site.
You just need the right plan and the right tools.
Plan Out a Calendar
When does the holiday season actually start?
Experts say it’s as soon as you see the first seasonal Starbucks cup. That usually means the first Thursday or Friday of November, up to the first couple weeks of January. Even if you’re reading this well into November, it’s never too late to prepare.
You are probably already familiar with the big shopping days this year, but just in case you aren’t:
Black Friday – Friday, November 29
Cyber Monday – Monday, December 2
Cyber Week – December 2 – December 8
Giving Tuesday – December 3
Green Monday – December 9
Free Shipping Day – Saturday, December 14
Is Your Site Ready for the Holiday?
A recent survey by 360Commerce shows 91% believe the quality of a retailer’s website experience is the main factor that causes them to shop where they do. If your website is clunky or missing some features, you are definitely missing out on some serious sales. Make sure these elements are in place before you go any further.
Why do some websites seem like they put up roadblocks between you and entering your credit card info? Research from Baymard shows that the average cart abandonment rate is 70%.
This year, pledge to make it as easy as possible for users to make a purchase during the busiest shopping season. You can start by following these rules:
Optimize your site for mobile. This can’t be stressed enough. More than half of all web traffic comes from a mobile device. In 2018, nearly 40% of all online purchases were made on a smartphone, and this number is projected to grow to 54% by 2021. Not only will a responsive site offer a more seamless shopping experience; it also sends a positive signal to search engines.
Try Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool to see how your site stacks up.
Ensure the “Cart” icon is available on every page. Make it easy for shoppers to review or revise what’s in their cart at any time. Most shopping cart templates have this, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
Make sure your site loads fast. Customers are fickle, and their attention spans are getting shorter. A Google study shows that if a mobile user has to wait more than 5 seconds for a website to load, they leave. Learn how to increase your site’s speed.
Optimize your checkout process. Most cart abandonment happens on the checkout page. It’s one of the most important pages on your site, but one of the most neglected. A smooth and trustworthy checkout process will bring your cart abandonment rate down.
- Only require the information you really need: Name, contact information, shipping information, payment information. Users will lose interest if there are too many fields on the page.
- Invest in a one-page checkout to make the process more quick and simple. Consult your web developer or use a powerful shopping cart platform to learn how.
- Remove unnecessary distractions on your checkout page, like banners, promo code boxes, even headers, and footers.
- Don’t ask for the same information more than once.
- Allow guest checkout so users don’t have to create an account to make a purchase.
See below for an example of an optimized checkout page:
Offer multiple payment options, and let customers see them upfront. Add the logos of different credit card types your site accepts. This will help build trust and safety with your customers. There are several different options out there:
- PayPal: One of the biggest and most familiar online payment options.
- Amazon Pay: As the leader in online retail, users of Amazon (which encompasses a wide group) will easily be able to checkout.
- Afterpay: A new way to buy online, Afterpay gives shoppers the option to split their purchase into installment payments.
- Google and Apple Pay: Both facilitate the checkout process by saving card information for users with accounts.
- Stripe: Makes it easy to accept payments from a range of sources (credit cards, digital wallets, ACH transfers, different currencies).
Have a clean user interface on your home page and landing page. Eliminate distractions. This means having only the information necessary to facilitate and guide the user through the sales process. Reduce text and be very visual. This is especially important for mobile. Check out the example below:
Be upfront with shipping details. Nobody likes an unexpected shipping cost at the end of the checkout process. A Baymard study shows the #1 reason customers abandon carts is because of unexpected costs. If possible, be upfront with shipping costs, or offer a flat rate. Make sure shipping details are available throughout the site.
A strong SEO strategy will lessen the need for expensive holiday advertising and result in better ROI than any other marketing channel. Plus, it’ll make all your other marketing channels perform better.
Optimize for promotional keywords. During the holiday (or any other busy shopping season), there is a huge growth of promotional keywords you should use throughout your product pages. Pay attention to long-tail keywords like “gift,” “sale,” “discount,” and “deal” – and add those where appropriate.
Create title tags and meta descriptions built around the holidays, and your promotions in particular. These will show to users who find you on search engines and help them index your site more intelligently.
Create a special holiday URL, and stick with it. Don’t get rid of your seasonal landing pages when the holiday is over. Get more search engine authority over time by using the same URL and keeping it live. For this reason, you should avoid holiday URLs with the year in them.
Link internally to your key holiday landing pages. This helps search engines know that these holiday pages are important to your site, and how they should be indexed.
Write quality product page descriptions. Not only will this benefit your SEO (using carefully researched keywords relevant to your users), you’ll make it easier for your customers to find your products and make a purchase decision. Shoot for 1000 words for each description. Beyond product information, offer product reviews, videos, and other content.
Holiday eCommerce Site Content
Offer a holiday gift guide as a centerpiece to your holiday sale plans. The way it’s presented depends entirely on your brand. It can be as simple as listings of products that have something in common, or a graphics-heavy interactive landing page. But the goal should remain to show shoppers what they need immediately.
A well-designed gift guide can:
- Help shoppers find an ideal gift for someone, even if they don’t know about the product line or your brand
- Show items that customers might not know about.
- Help customers build wish lists to share with friends and family.
- Inspire themed gift-giving, which may result in shoppers buying multiple products.
- Present products for every budget.
Design holiday-themed banners and other web graphics for display throughout your site. This helps brand your promotion and goes a long way toward creating a unique digital experience for users.
- Ensure all images load quickly.
- Use images of your products being used by real customers.
- Consider updating your logo to a more festive version, to reinforce the promotional period.
- Use affiliate links through sites such as Amazon, ShareASale, and CommissionJunction to earn a bit of extra money for each sale you make.
- Optimize your content for SEO and promote your gift guide across social media to boost traffic.
Use video on your product pages. Videos are the most engaging content type, and just about the most popular. People are a lot more likely to watch a video overview than read a long product description. Customers can see upwards of an 80% increase in conversions when a video is incorporated into a landing page.
Some video types you can try:
- Product overviews
- Tutorials or product how-tos
- User-generated videos (i.e. product reviews)
Leverage customer reviews. Social proof goes a long way in eCommerce. On your product pages, create a collection of easily scannable reviews for customers to view in one click.
Is Your Customer Service Up to Par?
A business can only go so low on price, or offer the perfect shipping option. In the end, it’s customer service that wins. Have a plan to address your customer’s issues as soon as they happen. No matter what your customer’s issue is, do your best to make it right.
A recent consumer report shows the #1 reason people shop online is because they can shop at all hours of the day. And like at any store, customers expect speed and efficiency.
Invest in 24/7 support. Somebody behind a keyboard won’t do in this day in age. Invest in automated workflows (or “chatbots”) that handle questions and support, anytime a customer needs it. Remember: the longer it takes for you to return to a customer with information, the more likely they will shop elsewhere.
Here are a few chatbots and workflows we like:
- ManyChat and Chatfuel: Integrate with Facebook Messenger and allow you to create a flow of responses depending on how the conversation goes.
- Zendesk and Help Scout: Keep track of support tickets and customer support.
Use customer service software like Zendesk to organize your online queries, and ensure they are handled efficiently. This software:
- Manages support request forms, so you can ask the right questions and gather all the info you need to help a customer
- Allows you to use workflows and macros to respond to standard requests with pre-defined actions
- Integrates with your site, email, social media, and other channels, so your customers can reach you wherever they are
- Provides important analytics to measure and improve your customer service
Help your customers help themselves.
Invest the time and energy into building out your self-help resources - FAQs, support pages, etc. This will not only save many customers the trouble of having to reach out to you but also save you the time in responding.
Many holiday shoppers are stressed out. And the holidays are the worst time for your shoppers to feel misunderstood. Be sure your customer service team understands the importance of listening to a customer’s feelings and responding to them appropriately. This helps build that all-important connection with their customers all ecommerce brands seek.
Be everywhere your customer is.
As a successful eCommerce retailer, you probably know who your target customer is. Where does your target customer hang out? What methods of communication does that customer prefer? What social media sites does the customer use? Make sure you know this, so you can always be available to accommodate your customers.
What are you offering?
What you choose to promote on your website is one of the most obvious ways to separate yourself from your competitors.
Offer a unique product or experience.
Personalization is the name of the game in eCommerce in 2019. If you are on a modern eCommerce site and engage in any form of digital marketing, you have data at your disposal. This will allow you to:
- Personalize digital communications with the customer’s name.
- Recommend products based on what the customer purchased in the past.
Holiday bundles are hugely popular, and it’s easy to see why. Shoppers are attracted to holiday products and offers they can’t get any other time of the year. It saves them the time putting together a more elaborate gift. And they typically provide a steep discount and great value.
Do something special in January.
A lot of eCommerce stores don’t consider the opportunity of marketing to customers after the holidays are over. Try a bounce-back offer, redeemable in January. This could be a discount code or special pricing on certain products. Give out the offer immediately post-purchase during your holiday promotion.
Be sure the offer is enticing enough to bring people back. You are, after all, rewarding people who already made a purchase on your site.
Promote your holiday offers without breaking the bank.
Email Marketing gives you the opportunity to reach your current customers. These customers don’t need to be sold on your brand. The major email platforms allow you to segment your customers into highly targeted lists. You can send personalized emails to people interested in particular products. And the options for automated emails are very attractive to eCommerce marketers:
- Welcome emails - introduce new customers to your brand, offer an incentive or discount
- Cart abandonment emails - remind customers they have an item in their shopping cart. The average conversion rate of a cart abandonment email is an extremely high 18.24%.
- Order status emails - update customers on their orders. You can automate an email to confirm the order, another when the item has shipped, and another when the product has been delivered.
A solid social media presence allows you to go beyond just selling products. According to Hubspot, 81% of customers are more likely to trust their friends and family over business. Social media influences your brand’s reputation. And often, a brand’s reputation will be the one deciding factor on whether or not someone will purchase from your website for the first time.
The social network you focus on (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) will depend specifically on where your “community” lives and communicates. With social media, you can:
- Post positive customer reviews and feedback.
- Share user-generated content like product reviews.
- Post your holiday gift guide and other related content.
- Create paid advertising campaigns for products.
- Allow social media visitors to shop directly from your profile using features such as the Instagram shopping tool and the link in bio.
Develop a social media strategy that will help you understand who your customer is. You can use this information to tailor your brand to those people. Think about how you can increase your followers, and share useful content your audience will relate to.
Paid Advertising during the holiday season is more important than any other time during the year. Costs are typically the highest, due to increased competition and slimmer margins on your product. But the benefit of digital advertising is the fact that you are targeting an individual - making it far more likely you’ll experience a good ROI if you know your customer.
- Search (Google or Bing): Targeting customers based on what they’re searching for. Here is where your SEO keyword research comes in handy.
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram): Useful for very specific targeting beyond what search advertising offers. The social network you choose depends on the demographics and interests of your customer.
Is Your Product Ready?
Make sure your product and fulfillment issues are dealt with before the holiday season really kicks into gear.
Reinforce your inventory.
To get the most out of the holiday season, you’ll need to plan to maintain a good inventory of your most popular products.
Consider product seasonality. Look at real-time and historical sales data to forecast demand. Don’t let your customers go to your competitor because their favorite product isn’t in stock.
Adjust your return policy for the holidays.
More sales mean more product returns. Having a crystal clear return policy is crucial. A great return policy could even get shoppers to purchase from you in the first place.
Since you’ll see more returns in early January than any other time in the year, and because a lot of purchases are gifts for other people, you should relax your rules on returns during this period. If you have a restocking fee, try waiving it. Or increase the number of days to return an item.
Have the proper analytics tools handy.
In the meantime, you can use this opportunity to understand what your customers prefer, potential product flaws, and how you stack up to your competitors. Track the unique reason for each return, look for patterns, and create solutions to keep those returns from happening too often. Here are a few:
- Hotjar: uses heat maps to understand consumer behavior on your website.
- Google Analytics: tracks traffic on every page of your website.
- Zendesk: data that helps you improve your customer service.
For more, check out these eCommerce analytics tools:
Seasons Greetings From Pacific54
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