Holiday 2019: Stay Ahead of the Craze and Capture Ecommerce Sales

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Ecommerce retailers, let the countdown begin! October is the last chance to prepare your ecommerce site and operations for the 2019 holidays. Hopefully you are ready to dig into a strong sales season. However, given that the holiday sales could account for as much as 20-30% of your 2019 sales, you may be feeling stressed. We get it: there’s a lot on the line during this busy ecommerce season.

So, before we turn the calendar, let’s confirm that you’ve completed the final steps to take full advantage of the holiday sales opportunity. Here are the last-minute elements to lock into place to ensure your top ecommerce ROI for the 2019 holiday season.

1) Confirm Optimal Site Performance and Support with Your Development Team

Every year, more people do their holiday shopping online. According to Digital Commerce 360, from November through the end of December in 2018, shoppers spent $122 billion online. This represented a 17.4% increase in ecommerce holiday sales from the year before. (And that’s converted sales; it’s certain that traffic volume was much higher.)

As you expect higher traffic and sales during the holidays, talk now with your development team about their holiday support options. Will you be supported in the event of feature breakdown, or worse, a site crash? Does your development team offer supplemental holiday support packages? Make sure your dev team is on deck to fix any problems that arise ASAP.

Also, confirm that your site is operating as fast as it possibly can. Remember: site hosting is the biggest factor here. (Note: if you’re on a hosted platform, like Shopify Plus, this isn’t a concern, as Shopify Plus reports 99.98% uptime.)

However, if you keep your site live through a third-party hosting service, be sure to confirm your site’s hosting capabilities in light of the increased holiday traffic. Is your hosting service prepared for a shopper surge to your site? Are they planning to add more bandwidth? If so, is that included in your hosting package or will it cost extra? It’s worth the extra cost to rest assured that your site will run smoothly, but it’s also good to know if any new fees will apply.

Now, bear in mind, sites can be slow for a variety of reasons. For example, if you’re on an older version of an ecommerce platform, it may be time to replatform. Unfortunately, there’s no time to replatform prior to the holidays. Nonetheless, perhaps there are some smaller fixes to speed up your site in the interim.

Site speed is also super important on mobile. The commerce division of Salesforce reported that 66% of ecommerce site traffic came from mobile devices over the 2018 holidays. That was an 11% jump! Additionally, across all retailers surveyed, 48% of the average share of orders were processed by mobile phones – an increase of 19% from 2017. Indeed, mobile is a huge factor in ecommerce holiday sales for most businesses. Make sure your mobile experience is fast and streamlined.

Photo courtesy of Verizon Media

2) Incentivize Customers to Increase AOV (Average Order Value)

As retailers know from experience, ad spend goes up around the holidays. In fact, as retailers bid on online ads for the main busy weeks, the prices can go up as much as 140%. So, yes, you’re doing more business, but you’re also probably spending more to get those customers to your site. An important way to recoup the extra ad spend is to encourage customers to add more products to their cart. In other words, increase the AOV of your site.

For instance, have you set a spending threshold for free shipping? To get started with this, take a look at the average order value that your customers spent last year. Let’s say it was $50. As a general rule, add 30% to create the spending threshold to offer free shipping. In this case, your site promotion would be free shipping on orders of $65 or more.

Other ideas include creating packages of products to buy together a.k.a. bundling items for bulk sale. Additionally, the holidays are a great time to implement the classic retail strategies of cross-selling, selling companion products with a customer’s selection, or upselling, encouraging them to buy a higher-priced version of the product in their cart. Before you plunge into the holiday rush, take a step back and review with your team how you can get creative with your inventory to boost AOV.

3) If You Have a Physical Store, Offer Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store (BOPIS):

This year Thanksgiving falls late in the month on Thursday, November 28th. That means Black Friday is November 29th, setting up a holiday shopping season that has six fewer shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas than last year. As the gift-giving day nears, the shortened calendar is likely to catch a lot of shoppers by surprise. As a result, you want to have a game plan in place to serve last-minute buyers. One of the best ways to do this is with BOPIS: Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store.

Shoppers, especially Generation Z who are starting to take jobs and get their own income, increasingly like this option. For example, in 2018, shoppers increased their click-and-collect purchases by 50 percent on Black Friday and 65 percent on Cyber Monday compared to 2017. We expect to see these numbers jump again given the shorter crunch time for shopping during the 2019 holidays.

4) Stay True to Your Long-Term Ecommerce Priorities During the 2019 Holidays

Once the holidays get rolling, retailers can fall into a pace that doesn’t let up until mid-January. But here’s a word to the wise: to the best of your ability, stay grounded. As things come up, whether that’s an inventory system you wish would update more often or a sales promotion you wish you had set up, add it to your backlog and/or project management software. Even it if’s not to be addressed immediately, keep a running list of everything you want to improve in 2020.

Get your whole team involved by starting a Slack channel or a Basecamp list on the topic of needed improvements. This will make it easy for everyone to add their suggestions to streamline your site and operations. It may feel like it takes a second of extra time (when there are already too few seconds), but this will prove to be such useful information in the new year.

After the holidays, it’s always good to have a team conversation about what worked and what needs to be improved. Then you can prioritize that list. But if no one records the day-to-day issues, large or small, people will only discuss their overall impressions of how things went. As an alternative, recording issues as they happen will give your development team a springboard to comprehensively solve the problems. This information will take a second to jot down, but it will have a big return on the time investment as it informs the future roadmap for your business.

The holiday season is the opportunity for ecommerce retailers to perfect their best practices. By taking the final steps to confirm your support and hosting packages, you’ll ensure your site is working at peak performance. You can also use this busy season to your sales advantage by increasing AOV and offering BOPIS to maximize the opportunities. Lastly, as you record any ecommerce issues that come up during the 2019 holidays, you’ll be ready to optimize your site and operations well in advance for next year’s sprint.

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