How To Drive E-Commerce Success for the Holiday Shopping Season

Sabrina Smith, European Marketing Manager, LucidWorks shares useful tips for online retailers this Christmas season

As we approach the holiday shopping season, progressive online retailers should carefully assess their search capabilities, in terms of the product discovery experience for their customers, and whether they are creating an ideal shopping experience for them or creating online frustration.

Effective search capabilities will drive higher conversion rates, order sizes and loyalty by presenting the right results for customers. So, in preparation for the biggest shopping period of the year for online retailers, we’ve highlighted five key focus areas that online retailers should assess before the official code freeze, at the peak of holiday shopping, and in preparation for January’s analytics report.

Prepare For High Traffic Levels

According to our recent report, almost three-quarters (73%) of retailers noted downtime, degraded site performance and poor customer experience, collectively, as their biggest concerns during peak demand periods. As an example, American retail giant Target experienced a 90-minute outage earlier this year, which could have reportedly cost it $100 million in sales, triggering the development of much-overdue contingency planning across the sector.

Take precautionary measures and work with your partners that manage different components of your site, to ensure that they can handle significant spikes in traffic. In theory, if a million people shopped on your site last year over the Christmas period, for example, ensure that your site can handle the same number of people searching and navigating simultaneously, even if you didn’t encounter issues last year. Page-speed improvements are important as potential customers often bounce if a page takes too long to load.

Understand Year On Year (YoY) Performance

To gain a better understanding of your performance year-on-year, retailers should analyse statistics from the past holiday shopping season and compare it against the prior year. Criteria to assess include click-through rate (CTR), add-to-cart (ATC) percentage, product returns, bounce rates, conversions, traffic, page load speeds and site downtime. As a general benchmark, not specific to the holiday shopping season, here are some guidance statistics from retailers with over $100 million in revenue to support your business planning and insights.

• Forty-two percent of retailers have a CTR of 16% to 25%, with 31% of respondents claiming that their average is above that.
• Nearly half of retailers (47%) say their ATC percentage is between 11% and 15%, with a quarter of retailers (28%) averaging an ATC of 5% to 10%.
• Sixty percent of shoppers visit a site up to four times before making a purchase, with 40% making five visits or more before they buy.

By completing this data analysis, sooner rather than later, will allow yourself time to make changes to any technology and business strategies before the cycle begins again.

Focus on Seasonal Merchandise

Update your site pages to include themed banners and relevant content, and ensure that you showcase any special holiday promotions on the home page. Sharing promotions and special offers with loyal shoppers ahead of time is a positive way to build anticipation, and provide a sneak peek into what deals you’ll be offering. Previewing upcoming offers to shoppers can also potentially attract them to revisit the site in anticipation of the deal.

You can also pre-merchandise products for specific search terms. For instance, when shoppers enter “decorations” into your search during the Christmas shopping period, for example, which is an incredibly broad search term, it should include holiday decorations specific to that holiday season. There should be a clear distinction between results during different holiday periods like Christmas, New Year and Valentine’s Day.

You can also pre-merchandise product categories and pages, so when a shopper searches for “decorations”, the drop-down menu immediately shows the option to view all seasonally-themed products labelled under “Christmas Decor”.

Connect Inventory Across Online and In-Store

PwC’s 2019 Holiday Outlook report revealed a change in shopping culture, with 54% of people planning to shop online and 46% planning to shop in-store for the 2019 shopping season, a notable shift from 2015 when 58% shopped in-store and 42% online. Progressive retailers need to effectively balance staffing patterns between a combination of ecommerce and brick-and-mortar, for example, by increasing holiday hires to manage e-commerce orders at stores.

In addition to catering for staffing, retailers need people to fulfil these online orders in store, ensure that your inventory is updated frequently, and in real-time, to avoid the dreaded “no longer available” message at the online checkout. According to our research, more than half (53%) of retailers reported that they needed up to 24 hours or more to make a new catalogue item available to be sold online. If not, during peak demand periods, this could leave customers with avoidably empty carts while checking out.

Establish Customer Support Begins At The Search Bar

A holiday shopping report from Bazaarvoice found that from early October 2018, there had been an 8% spike in user-generated content (UGC) interaction rate across its network of more than 6,200 brands and retailer websites. This means that shoppers have a tendency to conduct their own research, engaging with customer ratings, providing reviews and visual content on product pages before finalising a holiday season purchase.

So, ensuring that essential customer support information including return policies, shipping information and sizing charts are easily accessible to shoppers is key. Making key information easily accessible to customers also helps them become more self-sufficient shoppers, which can be a welcome holiday miracle during peak demand times.

Conclusion

While the holidays represent an important and highly concentrated shopping period, which retailers should look to capitalise on, it is a small part of a much bigger picture, with more shopping now taking place online throughout the year. The year-round need for relevant search results, personalised recommendations and real-time responsivity will be what helps some retailers pull ahead of its competitors in the long run.