The holiday season is one of the biggest sales times of the year, with some businesses capturing 80-90% of their revenue during this period. With more holiday shopping shifting to online channels, it’s a great time to be an ecommerce service. To help you capitalize on the holiday season, we’ll address the following:
- 9 top concerns for the ecommerce holiday season
- Ecommerce holiday calendar for marketing and sales
- Ecommerce holiday planning and strategies to optimize your checkout
- Predictions for 2019 ecommerce holiday trends
- Ecommerce holiday checklist to hit all the marks
This article will cover strategies for improving your checkout, from process to checkout design.
9 top concerns for the ecommerce holiday season
The holiday season brings unique challenges to ecommerce retailers. Below are 9 of the biggest ones:
1. Increased website traffic
Additional traffic is usually a good thing, as it often means more sales. However, unpredictable website traffic can mean surges that cause performance issues, and can even cause your store to go offline!
To avoid this, coordinate with your website hosting company and technology partners to ensure your disk space and bandwidth are increased appropriately during the holiday season. Cloud hosting services are available, and some website hosts will offer flexible bandwidth that automatically adjusts according to your site traffic. Rather than using shared hosting, you can use a dedicated server, giving you complete control. The only downside is that it will require more maintenance.
2. Shipping demands are higher than ever
Customers already shop online for the convenience of delivery. More than ever, delivery times are important, as customers count on these items as gifts during the holidays. Failing to meet delivery deadlines will result in unhappy customers who will take their business elsewhere.
Evaluate your shipping options, supply chain, and logistics to make sure you are prepared to meet customer needs. Any mistakes will lead to increased customer service volumes and angry customers. Make sure final order dates are clearly outlined to your customers, and that you can meet the delivery date you give customers.
3. Overspending on ads
Exposure – especially during the holiday season – is a great thing, as it gets customers interested in buying from your online store. However, ads based on clicks and views can cause your ad spending to skyrocket during this time. It’s important to manage your advertising strategy over the holidays, and refrain from overstretching your budget. This is also a great time to switch from a cost-per-click or cost-per-mille advertising schedule to a cost-per-acquisition one, and define the acquisition as a click to a product page.
4. Stocking adequate inventory
It’s extremely important to have sufficient stock to meet customer demands throughout the holidays. It’s just as important to make sure you don’t overstock yourself and add unnecessary expenses. Monitor your inventory closely, and use previous sales records to predict the need for this holiday season. Predictive analytics can aid in inventory management issues.
5. Exceeding customer service expectations
Many holiday season purchases are gifts purchased for others. Your shoppers are likely to require more support than usual during the holiday season to ensure that the gift is exactly as ordered; delivered on time and to the right address; and received in good condition. Give customers prompt, targeted customer support throughout the holidays, and have more hands on deck to handle delivery requirements.
6. Establishing clear return policies and support
The return policy you offer on items is more important during the holiday season than any other time. Since many of the purchases made are gifts, return periods will need to be longer. This gives customers a chance to return or exchange gifts, and for buyers to swap out for a better gift. It’s common to offer a longer return period to customers, and to enable returns or store credit into the New Year.
7. Optimizing your site for mobile devices
Customers increasingly expect better performance from ecommerce sites, and a fast, smooth user interface. It is important to exceed customer expectations when it comes to a memorable user experience (UX).
Mobile optimization is extremely important, given that more than 50% of online shopping is done using mobile devices. In fact, it’s important to design your checkout to be mobile-friendly first, as this trend is only growing. Try to make desktop and mobile checkouts standard across device types, and consistently work with designers and developers to improve the store’s UX.
8. Circumventing payment fraud
Malicious actors know that ecommerce sales skyrocket during the holidays, and they are waiting to take advantage of this increased traffic. Fraud is greatly increased during this time, and it’s important to be aware that your customers are more at risk of payment fraud than usual.
Ensure that you offer a secure checkout experience for your customers that detects and prevents fraud. Display security badges, and make sure your customers know that your website is secure and can store credit card and banking information safely.
9. Competing with other ecommerce offers and promotions
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and Boxing Day bring with them an abundance of ecommerce promotions and sales. With all of these options, customers will go wherever they can to get the best price. Offering too many deals will cut into your profits, so you’ll want to be smart about sales during the holiday season while still offering competitive deals.
Ecommerce holiday calendar for marketing and sales
Below is an ecommerce holiday calendar for marketing and sales, with 2019 dates. These include the main dates for the holiday seasons, but there are more ecommerce holidays that you can optimize your checkout for. These are in no way comprehensive, but will help you optimize for the holiday and prepare your content strategy for the final quarter of the year:
American Thanksgiving (November 28th)
American Thanksgiving is a time for celebration and appreciation, kicking off the holiday season that will lead into the New Year. It’s a great practice to thank customers for their loyal service and offer loyalty rewards for them when they buy during this weekend.
Black Friday (November 29th)
Black Friday has become one of the biggest sales days of the year, both in-store and online. Stores offer some of their most competitive deals of the year, and customers are online and willing to buy. Offer great deals and impeccable service to back it up.
Cyber Monday (December 2nd)
With the rise of online shopping, Cyber Monday is ecommerce’s version of Black Friday. Many businesses offer online and offline deals through Black Friday, with even greater deals exclusive to online shoppers. As an ecommerce retailer, Cyber Monday is a time to go big and capture sales, foster loyalty, and build your brand through exposure.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (December 24th – 25th)
In the U.S. – and North America, in general – Christmas eclipses the holiday season, taking over malls starting at the beginning of December. Ecommerce stores should be no different, planning the start of holiday shopping far before Christmas Day. Holiday deals should start early, and escalate as demand ramps up throughout the season. Make sure you alert your customers about when they need to order for deliveries to be completed in time for Christmas.
Boxing Day (December 26th)
After the hype of the Christmas season, Boxing Day is a great way for stores to clear out excess inventory and overstock. Cut losses or simply capture more revenue by offering great Boxing Day sales.
Remember, though, that Boxing Day sales will need to be marketed differently than Christmas deals. Christmas shopping is mostly about buying gifts for others, while Boxing Day shopping involves personal shopping and indulgences. So choose your audience and strategy accordingly.
Customers buying online won’t get items right away, so make sure you consider this when developing your Boxing Day marketing plan. For example, teens won’t want to buy a video game online that they won’t get before the end of the Christmas holidays, as they’d rather buy it in store and play the game while on vacation from school over Christmas.
Ecommerce holiday planning and strategies to optimize your checkout
Here are some more strategies to increase holiday sales. Combine these with ecommerce social media marketing plans for the holidays for best results.
1. Go for mobile-friendly checkout first
In recent years, more than 50% of ecommerce has moved to mobile devices. Ensure that your checkout loads quickly and is responsive, and prioritize mobile-optimized designs first when designing and developing your checkout experience.
2. Streamline the checkout process
One of the best ways to prepare for holiday ecommerce is to optimize your checkout to be simple, convenient, and fast. Reduce checkout form fields, optimize the page loading time of your checkout, and test to identify and eliminate any performance issues. Use progress indicators throughout checkout to guide users along and show them how long is left in the ecommerce checkout process.
3. Enable guest checkout on your platform
Over the holidays, you’ll likely get customers outside of your typical loyal base. Whether you usually offer guest checkout or not, you should adjust your checkout to allow guest checkout – and make it obvious, clear, and accessible – for the holiday season. This will help you capture conversions from visitors who are not regular customers. The last thing you want to do is turn away potential new customers.
4. Allow social sign-in
Along the same lines as offering guest checkout, allowing customers to sign in and register by linking a social network account will save them time when buying. This eliminates steps required for checkout, making it more convenient for your customers to complete payment.
5. Remarket to recapture abandoned carts
Customers have a range of options when buying online, and you need to stand out to make sure they choose you. You should ramp up checkout abandonment recovery efforts throughout the holiday season, perfecting the timing and content of abandoned checkout emails. Make sure these emails are sent out with enough time for customers to buy for the holiday as well.
Predictions for 2019 ecommerce holiday trends
There are always some general best practices for perfecting your ecommerce store for any season. But from previous ecommerce holiday trends, we can predict the patterns for the future. Below are some of the predictions for trends that will be most significant in 2019:
- Customers are looking for personalized experiences when buying: With more options, customers are getting savvier and demanding more from businesses. Create a relationship with customers, and personalize their experience with your online store as much as you can.
- Targeted campaigns are more effective than broad marketing efforts: Segmenting and targeting your marketing efforts yields better results than cookie-cutter approaches and mass emails. Understand your customers, and address them directly.
- Creative business partnerships make or break your campaign: Customers are more in touch with the mission statements and values of businesses, choosing companies that align closely with their own beliefs. Choose creative, intuitive, and meaningful marketing partnerships to gain traction with customers and build loyalty.
- Customer reviews carry more weight than ever: With curated content constantly being consumed, customers want authentic feedback. To get this, customers seek out real-life reviews of products, services, and more to get an idea of the value they are getting, based on other customers’ experiences.
Ecommerce holiday checklist to hit all the marks
To help you determine if you’re properly prepared and are ready to handle needs as they present themselves, we’ve given you an ecommerce checkout holiday checklist.
- Review last year’s ecommerce performance; specifically, the performance of your checkout
- Test that your checkout can handle increased traffic and bandwidth over the holidays
- Standardize checkout page design, layout, and style across device types
- Enable guest checkout so visitors can easily check out on your platform
- Ensure shipping and delivery channels are prepared for the holiday season (e.g. they can deliver items in time to be given as gifts)
2. During checkout
- Consistently check the performance of your checkout, ensuring that it is withstanding the burden of holiday traffic
- Monitor the success of your sales funnel, making corrections as needed
- Cross-sell and upsell effectively without pushing customers out of your sales funnel
- Manage and replenish inventory as needed
- Ship in a way that minimizes chargeback risk
- Send customers a summary of their order; for the holidays, include a gift receipt for their convenience
- Ensure shipments and deliveries are fulfilled in a timely manner
- Send checkout recovery emails to customers to capture abandoned checkouts before the holidays are done
- Offer customers adequate customer support, and give customers a great customer experience from your store
- Remarket to customers after their first purchase to cross-sell and upsell relevant items, increasing your average customer value
To save you time – and headaches – over the holidays, Bolt’s checkout comes optimized for a seamless checkout with fewer fields, less clicks, and a checkout time twice as fast as competitors. It integrates easily with your ecommerce store, so you can have it up and running in no time.
These best practices for creating a superior checkout experience come hand-in-hand with high-level security that identifies a multitude of data points to detect and prevent fraud on your ecommerce platform. It’s designed to approve more valid orders, understanding that many authentic orders are rejected based on false fraud indications. This means you capture more holiday sales while still protecting yourself against the increased fraud during this period.