We are on the threshold of the busiest time in the ecommerce calendar. While others turn to eggnog and office parties, ecommerce entrepreneurs are gearing-up for the period when you can receive the recognition and sales that help justify your superhuman efforts throughout the year.
The return to a version of normality, after the turmoil of the past year and a half, offers opportunity and challenges alike.
Preparation is everything, and there is still time to nail the fundamentals to ensure that the 2021 Holiday Season is lucrative and (relatively) stress-free!
We’ve asked members of the Gelato team and a number of our customers to share their tips and advice on best practices:
You are potentially about to experience your highest traffic and visitor numbers. Make sure you prepare well and iron out any problems in advance to enhance the experience at every step of your customers’ journey.
Undertaking a complete website redesign at this point in the calendar feels unwise for many reasons, but many problems can be solved through minor and incremental changes.
Talk to existing customers
Start with those who have already invested in you. Incentivize previous customers to answer a short list of questions on what they love about your store - and where they would like to see improvements. Beyond offering invaluable insights on what works, this is likely to encourage their future return, and you are able to gain insights for targeted marketing campaigns deeper into the year.
Ensure a frictionless customer experience
Crunch data on previous visits - successful or otherwise - and try and see if patterns emerge in terms of what people click on or choose to avoid in your store. Is there significant evidence of carts being abandoned at time of check-out? Go back through incoming customer service tickets, and see what people complain about (and what they like). Ask friends you trust to visit your store and share a list of improvements to make navigation on your site easier and help drive the actions you want customers to take.
Pay close attention to customer and focus group feedback on the checkout process, as well as historical data on the frequency and point at which visitors exit without completing a purchase. Make their checkout process seamless, and learn where you need to improve, well in advance of this year’s holiday season.
In a previous article, we discussed how Chinese ecommerce is being driven by 897 million mobile internet users in China with a 79.7% ecommerce penetration rate. Even if China is not a priority for you, ensure that the mobile user experience is as good as more traditional methods of visiting.
Your success with generating more traffic to your store will inevitably also result in more customers engaging with your customer service. Firstly, to ensure trust on the part of your potential purchaser, make the method people use to ask for help is clear.
Secondly, consider investing in customer service support over the holiday season. Many social media catastrophes have, at their root, a silence on the part of customer service teams which is interpreted as indifference or something more sinister. You may experience unprecedented volumes of tickets, and potentially lose out on many sales opportunities if your customers do not get their questions answered or problems resolved in an efficient and timely manner.
Test your website’s speed
If there is a delay, get to the bottom of why this is happening. A slow-loading website can leave impatient shoppers running for the exit and doesn’t inspire trust.
Last order dates for Holiday delivery
It might seem obvious, but many ecommerce entrepreneurs, having optimized everything else, forget to include specifics on the last date on which an order might be placed to ensure arrival in time for Christmas or another key date.
Include it, and customers will be more inclined to complete an order and not leave it to chance. Though not subtle, a countdown timer is a tried-and-tested formula for encouraging FOMO!
Have a clear returns policy
No one actively wants to encourage returns. We want happy customers receiving the item of their dreams.
However, although returns management requires a financial commitment, it's a wise investment to resolve customer issues and boost your store’s reputation and trust factor. Make sure this is highlighted.
Make local and sustainable production a key USP to customers
You are on our blog, so it’s not unreasonable to conclude that you are already part of the Gelato family - or considering joining us. If so, we think that our ability to help you produce customized products locally and as close as possible to your customers is pretty special.
In a year of global supply chains under strain and consumer consciousness about avoiding the environmental impact of unnecessary shipping, we think that this way of producing is a selling point for your customers. From a practical perspective, by using Gelato, you might just save the Holidays as your last order dates for delivery become extended beyond stores offering traditional produce-and-mail models. You are also empowering your customers to make an impact by choosing to buy products made locally, with shorter transportation distances and a lower carbon footprint.
Customer service inquiries can be headed-off by offering detailed Frequently Asked Questions. This section should cover the queries that research on previous customers, visitors, and transactions helps reveal.
Anticipate opportunities within the calendar, and plan strategic marketing and promotions around key dates. In a previous blog post on key Holiday dates, we covered the national and international retail seasons which offer opportunities in 2021 (and around which we must prepare for the first quarter of 2022).
The most immediate are:
One size need not fit all
Having spoken to your previous customers, you should have a sense of their profile, and what made them spend with you before. You should consider a campaign geared towards this group, but also plan separate engagement strategies for other demographics that research suggests should also love your products.
If selling internationally, then do not expect that all customers are precisely the same, irrespective of location and country, and have the same points of reference. Research local trends, cultural preferences, and use your insight to launch different and much more effective marketing strategies in each market. As you scale, you may also want to consider collaborating with a local partner, someone on the ground who can help offer you tips and tools for what works in each market.
Know your influencers
A question to put to previous customers (and future target groups) is to cite the social media influencers most relevant to them.
Social media campaigns should be activated sooner rather than later, but if you are utilizing social media for the first time, don’t pin everything on its results, as they are rarely instant and tend to provide a snowball effect developed over many months or even years.
Content is king
Use as many channels as your customer research and conversations have shown to be relevant. From videos to blogs to social media content, make sure that there is a significant volume of smart and engaging content, each piece reinforcing the other.
Think about how you and your team might play a part in this process. Large faceless corporations struggle to retrofit compelling consumer-facing narratives about team members or the company’s creation; you and your independent business have nothing to lose in terms of getting your very human stories out there. In fact, many customers are supporting you precisely because you are independent. So be sure to also have a very approachable ‘About Us’ page.
As has been discussed, don’t silo yourself and your company by producing content so specialist that it might dissuade engagement on the part of someone not already expert in what you do. Create content that reflects your consumers lives, reveals how your products might improve them, and, most importantly, is inspired by the holiday season.
Consider memorable contests
Social media contests offer the opportunity to engage with potential customers. Avoid contests that look spammy, and instead devise something which sparks conversation. Your product is the prize, so avoid technical competition questions about the product, which might exclude many participants, and instead think about challenges about how your product might be used or relatable questions about the holiday season.
Plan your email strategy
Research has suggested email open rates around the Black Friday weekend exceed 60 percent. As such, it is the best opportunity of the year to reach customers directly: promoting deals, offering special discount codes, and keeping both loyal or occasional shoppers informed of your offering.
Make the emails clear and to the point. What will bring value to your customers? What action do you want them to take? Many of the most successful campaigns encourage the recipient to visualize themselves owning the product that you offer, and it being relevant to the season.
Follow in St. Nick's footsteps by making a list and checking it twice to ensure you are as prepared as possible for this Holiday Season. For more tips and tricks to succeed in the upcoming peak months check out our blog and Holiday Preparation page, or visit our product catalog to add new products to your store.
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