How to Prep Your Online Shop for This Unusual Holiday Shopping Season
There’s something strangely normal about prepping for the holiday rush, no? Sometime in October, the realization sets in that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are looming, and this year has a bit of extra dread thrown in with the whole global pandemic thing. So, what’s an eCommerce business to do?
Well, some things change, some things stay the same. Let’s jump into some ways you can prepare your online shop for this unusual holiday shopping season:
1. Avoid a Traffic Jam
While every business owner is looking forward to the increased revenue, not everyone is prepared for a potential flood of traffic. On its face, it doesn’t seem like there could possibly be a downside to more traffic, but unfortunately, many businesses have fallen into this trap in years past. Even big businesses (like Costco and Nordstrom in 2019) have made this mistake and crashed on Black Friday, and the effect is disastrous. The business loses sales, frustrated customers take to social media to vent, and they lose even more potential customers who are dissuaded from shopping with them.
There will always be a bump in traffic during the holidays but prepare for this holiday season to be even more extreme than in years past. Your customers have now had months to get comfortable ordering online and will almost be guaranteed to make their holiday orders this way. Make sure that your website can handle more traffic without crashing, especially if you run a flash sale or other event with the potential for a demand spike.
Also remember: You want to avoid slowdowns as much as you want to avoid crashes. If a site takes too long to load, many customers will leave, whether or not it would have eventually loaded. To prevent both scenarios, start by compressing your images and deleting unnecessary lines of code. Other more “advanced” methods can involve deleting out-of-date widgets or creating an online queue. You can always run load-time tests periodically to check on the health of your site as well.
2. Set Deadlines Early
Halloween may be the last bastion keeping Christmas products from creeping up even earlier, but it’s never too early to start formulating your plan for Christmas shopping. The most important date to finalize as soon as possible is the Christmas order deadline: In other words, what is the last day that your customers can order from you and still have their product guaranteed to be delivered by Christmas?
There are three main numbers you want to come up with to arrive at this date: your longest processing time, your longest shipping time, and the wiggle room. You should already know the first two numbers, and to come up with the wiggle room, think about shipping delays you’ve had to deal with in the past, and just make your best guess at how many days you want to allow for wiggle room. Now add those days together and work backward from the day before Christmas, and that’s your Christmas order deadline. Run a banner and make sure that all your customers are aware of this date in the months and weeks leading up to it.
Here’s a tip: Be even more generous with time than in previous years because of already-documented postal delays this year. A customer who is happily surprised that their order arrived in time for Christmas is infinitely better than a disappointed one whose order didn’t arrive.
3. Ignore the Elephant
Literally, everyone on the planet (except those remote tribes that don’t interact with the outside world — more power to them) knows about COVID. It is absolutely encouraged to be as transparent as possible with your customers about how your company is handling COVID, what preventative measures you’re taking, etc. You should also make it very easy for people visiting your site to find information about how (or if) your order fulfillment is affected by it.
However, leave it out of the marketing messaging. No one wants to hear about “in these unprecedented times” when they’re thinking about buying a sweater for their mom. Online shopping is a way to find some normalcy and feel good, not be reminded yet again about the global pandemic. Keep your social media posts and email newsletters free of COVID mentions.
4. Open the Lines of Communication
More traffic and more orders mean more of your customers will be trying to reach you — don’t make it hard for them! Consider enabling a more sophisticated automated chat feature that can answer the most commonly asked questions without you needing to log on, or just hire on additional help to monitor and answer queries. In addition to a customer service email, you might also want to think about communicating through private messaging on a social media page that you are active on, like Instagram, Linkedin, or Facebook. If your customers are already engaging with you there, you should make it a priority to answer questions in your DMs and even in the comments on photos.
5. Rev Up the Ad Engine
The earlier you can start running ads, the earlier you can start narrowing down your target market for the holidays. Instead of creating one or two general holiday campaigns next month, start with some general campaigns now, and then you can remarket to potential targets through the end of November.
6. Please Optimize for Mobile
Every year this feels more like outdated advice, but every year I do my online shopping and realize that the message still hasn’t reached everyone, so here it is again: Optimize your site and online forms for mobile! Every year more customers make purchases on their phones and tablets instead of desktops, and every year more potential customers become lost conversions because they hate your website.
Common problems that websites have when viewed on mobile (when they’re not meant to be) include slow loading times, confusing site navigation, and CTAs that don’t even appear without scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the page. This is such a key area to improve before the holiday rush — pandemic or no pandemic.
7. One-Click Wonder
When it comes to the checkout process, friction is bad, which is why Amazon’s one-click checkout process was so revolutionary. The easier it is for the customer to make a purchase, the better, and a system that can save their payment information for future checkouts will only increase future conversions. So if you have customers converting now, if they come back for some additional holiday shopping in a month or two, it’ll be easier than ever to win them over again.
8. Make Returns Easy
The last thing any business wants to think about is customers returning their products, but just take a moment to accept that it will happen, and prioritize making it as painless as possible. With the upcoming expected spike in purchases, there will be a corresponding spike in returns, so better to get ahead of the game now. This is a great checklist that goes over all the elements of a great return process, including having an easy-to-find policy, providing a return label, and giving them multiple options. Using QR Codes on product packaging is another great way of making it easier for your customers to reach the returns section. This can be easily achieved by using a QR Code Generator. Of course, there will be additional concerns because of the pandemic, so check out this resource for how to handle returns during the pandemic.
In the end, a good returns process can mean the difference between a lost sale and a lost customer. The less stress your customers have to face, the better, so make their life easy, even if they have to return a purchase.
9. Be on Standby
If you have a big event coming up — unique to your business, like a product launch or a nationwide event like Black Friday — have some support on standby to help you with any website bugs. Whichever platform you use — Shopify, Magento, etc. — you can work with their team and get help, or you can even have someone in-house to address any issues. Either way, it’s better to be prepared on days that you know have a high potential for issues so they can be fixed as quickly as possible.
10. Protect Your Customers (and Yourself)
Sadly, when times get tough, fraud goes up. Many eCommerce businesses are so preoccupied with sales, marketing, social media, and the million other things that it takes to run a business that they forget about fraud. The type of fraud ranges from fake credit cards to chargeback fraud, and all of it can negatively impact your business in a big way. Even if the customers are getting targeted, you’ll usually end up absorbing the cost. Investing in a good fraud detection system can help protect your customers and your bottom line.
At the end of this unusual year will undoubtedly be an unusual holiday season, but there are certain trends that can be foreseen. Preparing your online shop now will help you handle all the curveballs thrown your way over the next few months, probably even including ones that nobody could predict.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.