Sellers wait anxiously as distant bells chime through the chilly air. Less than a week remains until Black Friday, and projections are looking good. Despite the ghost of retail’s past taking down giants this year, U.S. retailers are positioned for a “Trillion Dollar Christmas” in 2018 (eMarketer).
In line with holiday tradition, Redstage and our partners have an early gift for online merchants. Together, we’re launching this last-minute holiday prep series to ease your seasonal anxieties. The geniuses at Brightpearl combined this year’s top trends and strategies to create the ultimate holiday guide for omnichannel and back office prep.
Use this post as your last-chance optimization guide so you can sleep soundly and avoid the dread of feeling there’s one last thing you forgot. Here’s 8 critical areas you need to master to survive this year’s holiday rush:
#1 Understand your omnichannel buyer journeys
To truly tackle omnichannel retail this holiday season, there are a few steps you need to take. The first is to understand your omnichannel customer and the path they take to get to your ecommerce website or brick and mortar store, so that you can ensure you’re on the channels they use the most.
Nicole from Retail Minded has identified the following omnichannel buyer journeys. Which do you focus on?
1. The Omnichannel Savvy Customer:
○ The journey: Visits store > Connects on Facebook > Buys online via mobile
○○ This customer typically spends 10% more when shopping online
2. The Last-Minute Buyer
○ The journey: Searches online via mobile > Buys online via tablet or desktop.
○○ 75% of last-minute buyers rate shipping costs as the most important buying factor.
3. The Researcher
○ The journey: Searches online > Visits multiple stores > Continues researching online > Buys from one of the original stores
○○ It’s said that over 92% of online consumers don’t intend to buy during their first visit.
4. The Impulse Shopper
○ The journey: Visits store > Buys in store almost immediately.
○○ 5 in 6 Americans admit to impulse buying.
5. The Feel-Good Buyer
○ The journey: Scrolls through social media > Buys online or in store.
○○ 45% of digital buyers worldwide say reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influence their shopping behavior.
#2: Gain a strong presence on your customers’ most used channels
Today’s digital age means connecting with customers has never been easier. As the above buyer journeys show, the majority of shoppers experience multiple touchpoints before buying. It’s important to show your presence across a number of channels and offer a consistent customer journey throughout (based on what you know about your own customers).
The following channels are a guide to show you what you need to consider adopting within your business:
- Brick and mortar
- Social media
- Online marketing
- Email marketing
- Special events
- Location based marketing
- Loyalty programs
- Text message marketing & live chat
“Know which popular channels your customers are most frequently fulfilling their orders, so that you know where to concentrate your marketing and inventory planning.” – Anthony Payne, VP of Global Marketing, Brightpearl
#3: Use omnichannel fulfillment as a differentiator
Getting omnichannel fulfillment right can have a huge payoff but it can be one of the most difficult areas to implement without the right technology. This is because it requires inventory to be tracked across all physical locations and sales channels.
Some key examples of how omnichannel fulfillment can be used as a differentiator this holiday season are listed below. Which are you taking advantage of this season?
- Click and collect: The option for a customer to purchase online and pick up in store. By offering this service, you can expect an immediate uplift in revenue based on impulse purchases made in store when picking up items.
- Ship from store/endless aisle: The ability to offer products not available at the location the customer originally visited. This helps avoid losing a customer if a product is out of stock at a particular location.
- Online store inventory availability: The ability to lookup inventory at a given store online. This is important as it’s said that 33% of millennials (today’s most influential spenders) won’t visit a store if online inventory availability isn’t published.
#4: Clean up your inventory data
No one likes the idea of disappointing a customer due to inaccurate inventory availability, and especially not when that item was intended as a gift for someone else. Therefore, ahead of the holiday season, you should always endeavor to do a complete inventory count in your warehouse, ensuring inventory is correct across your back office and sales channels.
Furthermore, it’s also important that you know (and have recorded) your true landed costs as well. The holiday season is driven by discounts, promotions, and flash sale days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so getting a clear gauge on your true landed cost of products (e.g. the associated freight, duty, tax, and storage expenses) ahead of time is essential for making business decisions on pricing and for final supplier selections.
#5: Analyze your sales and inventory data
From knowing what items your customers love the most to knowing where you should be stocking your products, last year’s data is this year’s sales gold mine. At the very least, you should use your back office data and reports to analyze the following (and act on your findings) ahead of the holiday season rush. Check the box if you’re using your data for the following:
- Best selling products: Stock them again if possible or look for similar alternatives
- Top performing channels, stores and locations: Ensure you’re fully stocked up on your best channels
- Most loyal customers (MVPs): Send offers and discounts to lure them back to your website or store
- Stock-outs: Consider ordering more inventory or implement a process that ensures reorders are fast
- Returned inventory reports: Ensure you know why inventory is being returned; you may need to add more detailed product descriptions, change suppliers or improve packaging
- Time to ship: Consider the use of automation bots to speed up your time to ship and avoid unnecessary fulfillment delays
- Warehousing inefficiencies: Implement barcode scanning in the warehouse to power up your staff and reduce cases of human error
- Checking for business-wide integration
It’s not too late to ensure your different departments are all talking to each other where relevant. We suggest you focus on the following as a priority. What tech are you using to keep teams informed, in the loop, and up to speed?
- CRM + Marketing: Ensures order confirmation emails, discounts, offers and other marketing messages can all be personalized, which increases their ability to convert.
- Ecommerce + Shipping: Customers want to be able to track their orders all the way to their door, which means shipment notifications must contain tracking references. This is where easy to use back office shipping integrations like ShipStation or Shiptheory become your new best friends.
- Inventory + Ecommerce: Avoid stock-outs and disappointing customers by ensuring your inventory levels can be automatically updated across all your sales channels whenever an item is brought into stock, shipped or returned.
- Inventory + Accounting: With holiday season discounts and sales taking place, knowing your true margins is essential. With each inventory update, you should ensure your accounting is updated automatically… after all, who wants to be updating their accounts manually during the holiday season rush?
#6: Automate your workflows
If you already have a back office system that allows for automated workflows, then you should definitely make use of it as best you can. When setting up automation bots, it’s recommended that you map out your current workflows first in a tool like Lucidchart. This allows you to identify where bottlenecks can be removed by automation software.
“Make sure your operating systems don’t need any final touches and any special workflows are all set up before the holiday season because as you get closer and closer to the big day, your order volume and site traffic will just continue to increase. Fast and Frictionless experience is key for all your busy customers. Both before and after the holidays.” – Justin Press, VP of Global Customer Success, Brightpearl
#7: Make sure you’re ready for the inevitable holiday season returns
It’s estimated that 28% of holiday gifts bought last year were returned at a value of $90 billion. We all know that returns are inevitable after the drama of the holiday season, but you should be putting in steps now to ensure you’re able to ride the returns tsunami like a surfing pro.
Here are a few actionable steps for you to take as a starting point:
- Assess your current ability to handle holiday season returns
- We’ve recently created a self-assessment that enables you to assess your current returns processes. You’ll also gain actionable advice along the way for what needs to be improved. Check it out here.
- Understand your return rates and reasons for return
- Analyze your returned inventory reports from last year to identify common themes for why items were returned. Do you need to source a new supplier to improve quality? Should you stop stocking a certain item altogether? Does your packaging need to be improved? Try to isolate the problem and prevent it from happening again this year.
- Give customers what they want
Everything that happens in exceptional events (such as when items need to be returned) is where your customers will measure the service they receive from you and whether they want to shop with you again, so it’s important to understand what your customers want (and expect) from your returns process. A survey sponsored by shipping technology leader Endicia revealed these insights about American shoppers:
- 51% want free return shipping
- 36% want an easy and convenient shipping process
- 12% want a swift refund or credit
- 89% say they’ll shop again at an online store after a positive returns process
- 62% want a returns label in the package
- 61% want an easy to print returns label
#8: Identify your “serial returners”
Recent data suggests there is a rise in “serial returners.” These customers are identified as those who purposefully buy more items with the intention of returning some. By flagging this type of customer within your CRM software, you can ensure they don’t receive certain marketing promotions or discounts as they are already likely to inflate your return rates. Check out Brightpearl’s Returns Readiness Guide to assess whether or not you’re ready to face the returns tsunami this season.