Written by David Renwick
We’re about to enter the busiest time of the year for retail – peak season. The perfect storm of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas, spell opportunity if you’re running a retail business, but a lot can go wrong, especially if you’re not prepared.
A lack of preparedness could be anything from not having the right discounts in place, to not giving customers the shipping options they expect at the checkout. Regardless of what it is, taking the time to stress-test your business, processes and systems now will save you lost sales when Black Friday finally rolls around.
So, how’s your holiday readiness? If you’re feeling like there’s still a million and one things to do, then check out our list of tips.
Let’s start with something simple: it’s important that you have a sales plan for the holiday season. What are your goals through the end of the year? For example, you might want to set some targets around attracting new customers or retargeting old customers.
It sounds basic, but defining a basic sales plan can help you craft the right promotions and packages, inform which products you push and your marketing strategy.
Overcome one of the easiest eCommerce purchase barriers by offering a variety of payment options. Give them the choice of whether they use a more traditional method like a credit card, or PayPal, Klarna or Afterpay.
Not sure which options are best? Check out what your competitors are doing or do some research of your own.
Want to push more customers through to a purchase? Remove barriers in your checkout process - remove unnecessary fields from the main form and navigation. It’s always a good idea to run some user testing too – have family and friends go through the process of buying a product (and watch them) so you can see where they get stuck.
Just remember that you are not your user – what may seem intuitive to you could actually be costing you sales!
“There is a direct relationship between page load speed and revenue”. That’s according to the CIO of Guidance, Jon Provisor. This means speed and security. Make sure your website is reliable heading into peak season, despite how much traffic comes through. Downtime means lost revenue.
Sticking with reliable providers for your website hosting, eCommerce platform, eCommerce frontend and shipping is the best way to avoid any hiccups.
Note: Peak season isn’t a great time to experiment with your website. If you’re going to make changes, make sure you test them out before you see increased customer volume.
You need to make selling on your social channels a part of your overall sales strategy. Listing your products on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and elsewhere can speed up sales by sending customers straight from a social post to checkout with one tap.
Square’s Future of Retail report found that 74% of retailers who sell online also sell through a social channel.
Shipping can be a huge bottleneck during peak season – but it doesn’t have to be. Using shipping automation software can save you money and minutes on every order and help you to get home on time on Black Friday!
Starshipit is a centralised shipping automation platform that integrates with your eCommerce sales channels and couriers, allows you to automatically print shipping labels, autocorrect invalid addresses, easily manage returns and keep your customers in the loop with branded tracking and shipping notifications.
Here’s what one Starshipit customer said about peak season after implementing Starshipit:
“Black Friday was a breeze this year. It was an absolute pleasure. The fruits of all the work that we did really paid off in our busiest time. We pretty much cruised through – but pumped out significant amounts more.”
The humble gift guide can be a great way to help customers out who may need a nudge heading into the holidays. You will have seen these before – they’re the sections called “For Dads” and “For Her” on the front page of most eCommerce sites. You may also want to break gift guides up based on target audience or occasion.
Here’s how Oz Hair & Beauty channel customers based on who they’re buying for.
The holidays are a manic time for everyone, including your customers, so anything you can do to make their lives easier is appreciated. Offering things like gift cards, personalised messages and gift wrapping at checkout can simplify things massively.
The more you can do to make your customers’ lives easier (especially during peak season), the higher the chance of seeing them come back next year.
LoyaltyLion's recent consumer research shows that shoppers are most likely to sign up to a loyalty program within a day of making a purchase (41%), quickly followed by 2-3 days (31%), so get your loyalty messaging out in your post-purchase communications and hit customers when they’re most receptive.
Efficiency is the name of the game during peak season. You need to give your teams the tools they need to save time on the repeatable tasks and give them more time to spend on the things that matter – like taking care of customers and getting orders out the door.
Automation can be a big help here, especially when it comes to shipping. For example, automated fulfilment platforms can reduce handling time, create packing slips, shipping manifests and more. Then, once orders are out the door, automatic branded tracking and shipping notifications can keep customers in the loop while reducing enquiries to your support team. More on this below...
When customers are left in the dark about the status of their orders, your help desk queries spike. During the busy holiday eCommerce period, that’s the last thing you need.
Two solutions can avoid this problem. Branded tracking pages update customers on the whereabouts of their orders, and automatic shipping notifications via email and SMS ping customers as an order hits delivery milestones. Easy!
Branded tracking pages are also a great way to market to customers post-purchase. You can embed your social links, sign-ups for your email database and more.
Service level agreements (or SLAs) categorise the estimated or promised shipping times for orders. For example, same day, overnight or weekend). Couriers often have these in place so retailers know what to expect.
Heading into peak season, it’s a good idea to reach out to your couriers as they’ll be able to tell if they're expecting delays and what they think the average transit times might. This can help you to proactively update your checkouts and avoid people getting annoyed about unplanned delays.
Staying in contact with your couriers also means you’ll stay in the loop around delays and can make quick changes to your shipping policy. More on how to action this below.
So you’ve reached out to your couriers (like Australia Post and DHL) and now you’ve got an idea of their transit times and possible delays. What next?
Well, the best course of action is to feed this information back to your customers by updating your shipping policy as well as your shipping options at checkout. During the holiday rush, your customers want certainty around when they’ll receive their orders.
Just over 10% of retail sales were returned in 2020 – an amount calculated to be worth around $101 billion. It’s a fact that with the volume of orders trending up during the busy holiday eCommerce period, a good portion of those sales are destined to be returned.
As a retailer, you need to ensure that you have a solid returns policy in place to avoid extra handling time. Then, you can consider implementing an automated, self-service returns portal that lets customers manage returns themselves, saving you time and improving the customer experience.
Heading into the holiday eCommerce season, why do more work than you already have to? Integrations between your existing platforms can save you time, stress and even money. Let’s see how.
Through smart software and simple integrations, you’ve just saved hours per week.
How did you go with staffing during the last peak season? Chat to your team. If you get a sense that some additional help could’ve eased the strain, then look at bringing in some temporary help over the busy period.
The old adage of working smarter not harder also applies here; if you can automate some repeatable tasks with technology, give them a go!
Whether you’re planning special seasonal packaging or sticking with your existing packaging, now is the perfect time to investigate more sustainable options.
Did you know that 43% of respondents to one recent study said environmental impact was extremely or very important when it came to packaging? The tide is turning, and the businesses that prioritise things like sustainable packaging are certain to have an edge over competitors that don’t.
Check out the offerings from our friends over at Better Packaging Co if you’re looking for some sustainable ideas.
We touched on the importance of a sales plan earlier, but you also need to think about the discounts you’re going to offer during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Discounts, as you’re certainly aware, are a great way to increase conversions and retention rates (when implemented correctly).
Here are some effective discount strategies:
You can do a lot to prevent customers coming through to your support team, like implementing automatic shipping notifications and branded tracking pages, but the peak season always means higher call and email volumes. So, what can you do?
Look at your rosters from last year and use that as the basis for planning this year. What’s changed in the business? Has your support team grown or shrunk? Are you estimating a particularly busy period? Asking yourself these questions can help to guide decisions around bringing in temporary workers.
And, of course, technology is a huge help. Making your self-service experience as seamless as possible will help to keep customers moving through without bogging down your team.
Create personalised experiences for your individual customers using software like SearchSpring. These types of tools allow you to offer custom products based on previous searches, and also send those infamous “We think you might like” emails.
With your customers having no shortage of options when shopping online, anything you can do to personalise your offering and stand out will help you become the preferred offering.
Filters are an essential tool for helping customers refine their search results, especially on websites with large quantities of products. Being faced with too many choices can overwhelm customers and result in them simply giving up due to paradox of choice.
When you offer filters to narrow down the available options, you can help them find what they’re looking for and improve the user experience.
Your customers want choice when it comes to delivery options – but you need to ensure that you’re able to meet these options. We’ve found the best approach is usually identifying the couriers best able to meet your timeframe requirements, and then using shipping software and smart rules to auto-assign orders to the right courier as soon as customers click “buy now”.
In practice, this might mean that you offer same day delivery in Sydney using Uber and weekend delivery using Australia Post.
Small retailers often find the ship from store model useful as they won't typically have a distribution centre, instead using a few retail stores to ship from store. But during peak season, you need to work out whether you can service both the traffic coming through the store and through your website.
Shipping software can make things easier. In store, staff simply need to access one dashboard on a computer, where they can print orders with a few clicks. Then, the software passes the relevant information across to your couriers and updates the source system with tracking data and order status.
If you’re using Starshipit for your shipping and fulfilment automation, several features make it easy to use your carrier networks efficiently. For example, you can setup custom rules which automatically assign orders to certain couriers based on your required delivery timeframes.
You can also click “Run cheapest carrier where not set” to automatically assign all unshipped orders to your cheapest carrier.
Within a shipping and fulfilment platform, you have a tool that can correct invalid addresses automatically. It's really simple – you can filter orders to only show those with incorrect addresses, and then simply click the auto-correct button. You can then review changes update addresses in bulk.
Auto-correction is an impressive time-saver, removing the need to look up addresses on third-party sites or contact customers to confirm. Address validation minimises the chance of delays and helps to ensure deliveries arrive when they’re supposed to.
Check out our other holiday eCommerce content that we’ve put together to help you prepare for peak season. If you want to make shipping a breeze this year and get your evenings and weekends back, you can try Starshipit for free for 30 days.