Why holiday e-commerce strategy planning starts in summer

Last year’s Christmas challenge for retailers and brands transitioned seamlessly into digital commerce and tackling new shopping trends.

The challenge this year is to apply what we learned in 2020 to adapt to changing customer habits and higher expectations for holistic shopping experiences than ever before.

In November and December alone, online shopping grew 50% globally compared to the same period in 2019, with holiday shoppers spending more than $1.1 trillion in 2020, according to Salesforce data. Holiday e-commerce sales are projected to grow more than 11% in 2021 in the US alone, according to data from eMarketer and Insider Intelligence.

This is good news for merchants invested in digital customer experiences, but challenges remain. Here’s a checklist of strategies to implement now to get your business ready for the 2021 holiday season:

Step 1: Improve pickup and delivery options

Demand and supply chain issues have brought the e-commerce logistics system to a halt in 2020, and it’s still not fully resolved. Many multichannel and omnichannel retailers who haven’t yet offered curbside or online in-store pickup have added these options in 2020 to offer customers an alternative to potentially risky in-store purchases and slower home delivery. Now many customers expect that convenience to last. Retailers who didn’t set up their BOPIS or curbside pickup functionality in time for last year’s holiday season have until October to make improvements and add the finishing touches to their store pickup.

Step 2: Unify customer and inventory data

A seamless customer experience is critical to holiday sales and loyalty, and great CX starts with accurate, consistent data. More than three-quarters (76%) of customers expect consistent experiences across all departments in an organization, so your customer support, order history, inventory, and location data must be accurate and available across every channel.

Inventory information is particularly important for brands to ensure their direct-to-consumer customer experience matches that of the retailers who carry their products. If a customer orders directly from a brand only to have to cancel the order due to a stock issue, they are likely buying from a retailer that offers a better shopping experience. This means the brand loses D2C margins and risks losing loyalty as well.

Step 3: Communicate clearly and quickly with customers

Are your online chat features ready for the holiday season? With all the logistical issues this past holiday season, and with 83% of customers expecting immediate help when contacting a business, chat availability will be a key driver of customer satisfaction this winter. Likewise, the quality of the information these chats provide – another reason to start working on data standardization now.

It’s also important to keep customers informed of the status of their orders. No one wants to wonder when – or if – the gifts they’ve bought will arrive. Review your logistics now to understand your carriers’ delivery times and evaluate your customer notification options. Ideally, you give your customers a choice of channels to receive order updates, including SMS and email.

Step 4: Retain new product categories that emerged in 2020

Pandemic restrictions may be lifted in areas with rising vaccination rates, but many of the hobbies and habits consumers have picked up over the past year and a half will remain. That means retailers should stick with the new categories they featured heavily last year.

For example, pet adoption rates have skyrocketed in 2020, meaning there is continued demand for pet supplies. Demand for hobby equipment such as baking accessories and gaming equipment is also likely to remain strong. There is also a lot of interest in loungewear, webcams and other accessories that make working from home comfortable.

Step 5: Prepare for pre-holiday shoppers

For years, retailers saw November as the start of the holiday shopping season, but most shoppers started earlier in 2020, and that’s likely to be the case this year, especially with online retailers holding sales events in October. In 2020, 59% of consumers had completed more than a quarter of their Christmas shopping by early November, according to data from the National Retail Federation. All of this means that retailers and brands should have their holiday experiences tested and ready to go by October 1st.

Step 6: Prioritize your vacation ecommerce strategies

Merchants who don’t have the resources or time to implement all of these strategies ahead of the holiday season might want to focus on two key CX improvements.

First, enable SMS to send order management messages to your customers. This is a relatively inexpensive way to automate fulfillment, shipping, and delivery updates. It also uses the channel most consumers now prefer rather than digging through a crowded email inbox. In a December 2020 survey, 58% of US consumers said texting is the most effective way for businesses to reach them quickly.

Second, once your SMS program is up and running, give your customers a choice about how they want to receive their order updates — via email, SMS, or another channel like mobile app push notifications.

Prepare the conditions for a successful holiday
Now it’s time to tackle all the data unification, CX, logistics, product and communication issues.

By building on the changes your store or brand has made over the past year to adapt to the pandemic, you can meet and maybe even exceed your customers’ expectations for a seamless and engaging experience as we anticipate another holiday season Head like none before.

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