The 2017 holiday season is almost upon us. Are you ready?
Last year, retailers saw a 4% increase in sales for a total over $658 billion, an increase over the 7-year average of 3.4% since 2009. As of now, retailers should expect a similar jump in sales this year, too.
To prepare for holiday shopping, check out this 12-point eCommerce checklist to make sure you’re ready for the busiest time of the year. We want you to have your best year yet!
Holiday eCommerce Checklist for Merchants
Holiday shopping means more sales, but can also cause more stress and headaches. It’s easy for things to go wrong during this time leaving you with immense pressure to fix it fast. So, start this checklist early to ensure yourself enough time to make impactful adjustments.
1. Review Last Year’s Performance
If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to review your eCommerce store’s performance from last year. What went well? What went really bad? Make notes on what you want to implement again and where you should make improvements.
Use last year’s numbers as benchmarks for this year. Determine key areas to track and then compare it with this year’s performance once the season is over.
2. Prepare for Early Shoppers
NRF reported that 54% of shoppers began researching for holiday gifts in October or earlier last year.
Your site should be optimized and ready to go by October. Try focusing on updating product information and capturing contact information from these early shoppers. Most of them are just researching, not buying.
NRF also reported that only 33% of shoppers made actual purchases in that same timeframe. It’s not until November that you’ll see most people starting to make purchases. Nonetheless, you want to attract early shoppers to your products, so they can purchase from you later.
3. Optimize for Mobile Shoppers
We can’t stress enough that sites have to be optimized for mobile shoppers on smartphones and tablets. From November to December 2016, 41% of online visits and 21% of sales were from smartphones alone.
Mobile sites should load fast, be responsive, and have easy navigation on a smaller screen. If you don’t accommodate mobile shoppers, you could be losing out on a significant group of online visits and sales.
4. Define Product Attributes
How are your products currently organized on your site? Holiday shoppers want to shop with merchants who make it easy to find and purchase the products they want. Product attributes, or descriptions used to define your products, help with that
Your products should have multiple attributes that make searching easy. This helps you organize your site in a thoughtful way. For example, customers should be able to narrow down product searches from Women’s>Apparel>Tops>Blouses>Red>Size Small – all from a side menu bar.
When you don’t use product attributes correctly, your site ends up looking like a clearance rack where everything is mixed together. It takes shoppers too much time to sift through everything to find what they need. Be sure that your products are appropriately attributed and that it’s reflected on your site.
5. SEO Optimization
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, plays a vital role in how customers find your products and your site. You want to be at the top of Google search results pages. However, it’s extremely competitive during the holidays to get those top spots.
Before October, review your keywords to ensure you’re using the right ones. You’ll want to include terms that your customers are searching for.
6. Prepare for Surge in Site Traffic
A constant horror story from holiday selling is a merchant’s site crashing. Holiday shopping guarantees an uptick in visitors to your site. With so many site requests at the same time, your systems can overload and crash.
Test your site to ensure that it’ll handle the surge in your site traffic. You don’t want your site to become slow or unresponsive causing you to lose potential sales.
7. Plan for Cart Abandonment
All online sellers face the challenge of overcoming cart abandonment. As holiday shoppers search for the best deals, you’ll face this issue head on in the next few months. There are a few strategies though to try to combat it.
First, make improvements to your site so that a customer doesn’t abandon their cart in the first place. Some quick fixes include shortening the checkout process, displaying shipping costs upfront, and providing more delivery options and time. These are some of the top reasons why shoppers abandon their cart.
Second, have a plan to recover those sales for items left in carts. Most merchants turn to email marketing to remind customers of the items left they behind and try to entice them to buy with promotions.
Making these changes now will help lower your cart abandonment numbers this season.
8. Review Return Policy
Your return policy is an important factor when shoppers make their purchase decision. 3 out of 4 holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase this past holiday season. Many ultimately backed out of a holiday purchase because of an inconvenient return policy.
You must review your return policy ahead of the holidays. First, make sure it’s easy to find and understand. Second, ensure that it’s fair and that the process isn’t difficult. 64% of shoppers said that they would be hesitant to shop at a retailer ever again after they experienced friction during the returns process. Yikes!
9. Plan Email Marketing Strategy
Email marketing is one of your best tools to communicate with online shoppers. It should be a staple of your holiday marketing strategy. There are all different kinds of software available to make this process easy for you. Here at nChannel, we use Hubspot to manage our email marketing.
Email marketing can inform customers of coupons, sales, and hot items before and throughout the next few months. However, remember that customers’ inboxes will be flooded with all different types of promotions. Think about how you can make yours stand out this season.
10. Upgrade Inventory Management Software
Inventory availability is a must for the holiday season. Shoppers want to know if an item is in stock and when it can ship. However, this means that you must be able to present accurate inventory levels in real-time. Overselling is a major problem and creates customer backlash fast.
Be sure to forecast your sales and needed inventory levels. Then, if needed, update your inventory management software to keep all your inventory counts synced across your sales channels in real-time.
11. Check Fulfillment Processes
Last year, 64% of holiday shoppers said that free shipping convinced them to make a purchase. It was the top reason. Don’t underestimate how important shipping costs and times are to shoppers making a purchase decision.
Before the holiday season, consider your current fulfillment processes. How many options do you offer your customers? Can they order online, pickup in store? How fast and accurate is your delivery? Nothing’s worse than someone not getting a present in time.
Be sure to make improvements where you can. Talk to your shipping carriers beforehand about handling the order volume you expect this season. Also, determine and make clear what your final shipping date is for packages guaranteed to be delivered by Christmas.
If you don’t think you can handle fulfillment yourself, check out using a 3PL, or third-party logistics company that specializes in eCommerce order fulfillment. It might be what saves you this holiday season!
12. Prep Customer Service
Don’t overlook customer service during the holidays. Shoppers often need help and you should be there for them. Customer service goes a long way and can help keep loyal customers.
Before October, update your customer help sections on your site. Make sure instructions, hours, and types of services are clear. Consider hiring extra customer service reps to deal with the increase in requests.
Attend Black Friday-Cyber Monday Webinar Series
The holiday season is near, but don’t start stressing yet! Use these checklist items to start getting ready for the busy season.
If you want to dig deeper into Black Friday-Cyber Monday selling strategies, be sure to attend this week-long webinar series starting on August 21st. You’ll gain new insights into how to thrive (and survive) this holiday season.
Check out the webinar descriptions and register here!