The 2017 holiday rush was a tipping point for eCommerce optimization. Between mobile sales taking over traditional retail and other trends that took the industry by surprise, the holidays gave retailers myriad reasons to rethink digital strategy. Today, with Black Friday looming only days away, 2018 stands to be another make-or-break point for online sellers who did or didn’t adapt.
Our partners at Shoppimon put together this list of last-minute reminders for retailers prepping for the big week of sales ahead. Dive in to discover the top recommendations for managing traffic, guaranteeing uptime, and perfecting conversion optimization that just might save your store this season.
#1. Test the full sales funnel – from landing page to checkout.
The full sales funnel should be tested and optimized leading up to –and throughout– the holiday season. However, some key points of weakness that lead to significant business downtime are:
1. Search: 0.7% of all issues Shoppimon sees are problems with search. When search isn’t working on a website and shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s all too easy today to buy elsewhere.
2. Page Errors: Exposed error messages are surprisingly common. In fact, they’re responsible for 0.6% of all issues Shoppimon identifies. These pose a problem for several reasons. The first is that they stop the shopping process dead in its tracks. As a result, they also scare shoppers off. Not only are customer unable to complete a purchase, but after seeing an error message, they may lose all trust in the site going forward. Lastly, depending on the error, exposed messages can pose a serious security risk to a website… Ensuring these types of message don’t happen should be a top priority.
3. Error Message Text: To cover all your bases, make sure the language in your error messages is friendly and less automatic. This will let the customer know you are aware a problem is occurring, and that it may be fixed soon. “Error 506!” sounds a lot worse than “Hey there! We are experiencing a slight issue due to heavy site traffic. Check back in 15 minutes and the problem should be resolved. Happy holidays!”
4. Missing Product Images: If a shopper can’t see a product, they won’t buy it, end of story. Missing product images are surprisingly common. In fact, they make up 2.1% of all issues we spot. Understanding when this happens and fixing it before you lose a sale is a must. Monitoring your site will help keep you aware and in the know about missing product images and info.
5. Add to Cart & Checkout Errors: You are likely losing 4% or more of your total sales to issues occurring in these two key shopping stages. Issues here range from missing add to cart buttons to problems with payment providers. The average retailer will lose approximately 13% of sales to functional and performance-related website issues during the holidays. To avoid this, thoroughly test your conversion funnel and upgrade your website in advance of the seasonal surge. It can make a significant difference to your bottom line. If you’re out of time for a significant upgrade, monitoring your site closely and proactively address issues as they occur. It will have a dramatic and positive impact on your bottom line.
#2. Stress-test your site’s ability to handle increased traffic.
Under enough stress, every system will fail. Stress-testing your website before the holidays is a great way to find out if additional traffic could be your downfall. Leading up to Black Friday, we recommend you do both of the following:
1. Load Testing: making sure that your site can handle a given number of users/requests consecutively and concurrently.
2. Completing A True Stress Test: load the site to the point that it crashes to see how that crash is handled by your software (and potentially, your team).
When a site is overloaded, if a server is properly configured, it should be able to handle the benchmarked number of consecutive or concurrent requests, after which requests will be queued. If you then pass the benchmark for you queuing, requests should time out, rather than the site itself going down completely.
If your server does crash, splitting the load across other third party solutions like CDNs will help in the long run, so the servers don’t need to handle each and every request. However, if you need a last minute fix you can quickly tune the configuration of your servers to change the amount of memory they use. You may also be able to manage the number of requests they handle (assuming your code has been built to allows this).
#3. Be prepared to scale-up on the fly (and know how to).
The first thing an eCommerce manager should do is simply talk to their team. Understand what is already in place and what it would take to scale-up their web and database servers if needed. In an ideal situation, when a website is on a cloud platform, you should have deployment automation that allows you to quickly spawn more servers (which should only take a couple of minutes to complete). This does however require that automation is already in place to allow you to do this, and that the code was written in a way to support the expansion to additional hardware. And this is true not only of web servers, but database servers as well.
In a typical eCommerce setup, the biggest bottleneck is the database, which also tends to be the hardest to scale in an emergency situation. With limited time to prepare before Black Friday and Cybyer Monday, your top priority should be to check if your database hardware can scale if necessary. This is critical. If the situation arises where the database needs to be scaled and it wasn’t prepped in advance, it will usually result in significant downtime for the full site.
Going deeper into the issue, Redstage CEO Adam Morris states, “…when downtime occurs, or things do go wrong during the holidays, the effect of those issues is compounded because you’ve probably expanded your customer service team to make up for higher demand, as well as increased marketing budgets to attract more holiday spending. So when things go wrong, those marketing dollars are lost, and [customer] support may suddenly be relegated to a more junior team with less experience and a lower quality of service.” (Check out more insights on holiday emergency management from Adam Morris here on Shoppimon’s blog).
#4. Find problems before your customers do.
At Shoppimon, we see retailers monitoring their websites in a multitude of different ways; From manual checks conducted by different team members, to using completely automated systems like Shoppimon, and everything in between. Unfortunately, many of the systems require resource-heavy investments, not just for setup, but also to understand them and react to the data they generate.
While we know that monitoring automation is key for any business at scale, it’s important that a team’s resources spend as little time as possible on the monitoring itself. Instead, team members should be free to spend their time making a website or application better, fixing bugs, and creating a great customer experience.
Luckily, Shoppimon supports script-free and integration-free automated setup, which takes minutes. The solution also automates issue prioritization and notification, so users get critical information when it’s most needed, but never bothers them when it’s not.
These benefits have made a huge difference for our customers leading up to the holiday season. We’ve seen brands successfully roll out new updates and upgrades just before the sales surge, and also helped them identify better ways to plan for next year.
Each year we see the biggest challenges and successes of major brands in the eCommerce Industry. Last year, in our Online Store Health & Usability Index (OSHU Index), we saw brands like Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club and Saatva excel during the holiday season, with consistently faster load times and fewer issues both leading up to and during the holidays. However, we saw other retailers, like One King’s Lane, that experienced significant downtime during Cyber Monday, really struggle. The difference relies on your ability to react.
Monitoring your online store for bugs and the ability to react quickly will determine the winners and losers for 2018. Testing is paramount (especially if you had issues last year), which means diving into your funnels, your site, and being prepared to tackle anything that needs fixing, fast. However, without a monitoring solution in place, you might not notice significant issues on your site causing lost revenue every minute. Do your due diligence and walk through each stage of the customer journey to make sure your holiday haul will be a happy one. Let us know what you think of these tips in the comments below, and enjoy the holidays!
For more insights on last-minute holiday strategies, check out this post from our partners at Brightpearl on omnichannel & backoffice prep!
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.
Author Bio: Justine Cross is the Content Marketing Executive at Brightpearl – a cloud-based back office solution for retailers and wholesalers. Brightpearl allows you to provide a truly omnichannel experience for your customers, whilst unifying all of your sales channels, inventory, accounting, CRM, suppliers, fulfillment, warehouse management, reporting and POS in one single automated system.
Hasan Elkomey Takes Helm of Redstage’s Partner Channel
Redstage is pleased to announce the latest addition to our team and new SVP of Strategic Partnerships, Hasan Elkomey. As the former VP of Digital Transformation and Strategy at Damco, Hasan will drive Redstage’s partnership initiatives, leveraging his 15 years of insight to drive growth. Hasan’s experience working with complex organizations will help maximize value for clients as well as industry partners. Furthermore, the new SVP aims to accelerate company revenue by enhancing organizational efficiency and shepherding in the next wave of customer experiences.
Apart from Redstage, Hasan serves on Rutgers University’s board for the Center of Innovation — Design Thinking as the program’s Chairman. Over the years, Hasan has become known as an industry thought leader for his work fostering relationships with some of the world’s most recognized brands. He regularly speaks at digital industry events around the United States.
Read the full press release on PRlog.com.
We’re excited to announce a new partnership with Akeneo, a leading provider of product information management (PIM) software.
Akeneo is a fast-growing software company that offers an open source PIM (Product Information Management) solution that dramatically simplifies catalog management processes. Akeneo PIM makes it is easy for B2B and B2C retailers and brands in any market to collect data from any source, enrich and control the quality of product information, and distribute it to multiple channels such as e-commerce, mobile, print, and points of sale. As Redstage’s latest industry partner, the two companies plan to strategically align initiatives to maximize value for online merchants.
While many eCommerce companies start out managing their product information with spreadsheets, they soon find out this method is unsustainable, but only when it’s too late. When trying to scale, companies find it difficult to properly manage an ocean of spreadsheets across sites, brands and more. This inevitably leads to a perpetuating, toxic cycle of improper product information being shown to customers, leading to a boatload of issues.
Unlike spreadsheets, the Akeneo PIM is custom built for managing product info across websites, eCommerce platforms, print catalogs, points of sale, mobile apps and more. As a result, the companies that switch from spreadsheets to the Akeneo PIM report a 50% increase in productivity, 30% increase in data quality, four times as many conversions, a faster time to market and lastly, lower return rates.
A Strategic Partnership
As a technology-forward eCommerce company, the Redstage team is on a constant search for the latest and best tech to simplify and streamline our clients’ processes. We look forward to working with the Akeneo team and sharing the incredible advantages of their platform with our clients.
Learn more at Akeneo.com or read their latest white paper on optimizing product value through PIM.
Partner Profile: Shoppimōn
Redstage Worldwide partner Shoppimon
provides top online retailers with the ability to know about performance, technical, and content issues before their shoppers ever encounter them. By visiting eCommerce sites the same way real customers do, Shoppimon behaves like a 24/7 mystery shopper, identifying any problems that impact the shopping experience and a customer’s ability to complete a purchase. Shoppimon currently monitors over 2,000 online stores, and publishes the monthly Online Health & Usability Index
bench-marking major eCommerce health and performance trends.
Creating the Ideal Customer Journey:
The ideal customer journey is fast, frictionless, and interruption-free. The best online retailers in the world have cut average site load times to tenths of a second, and have optimized the layout of each page to provide an intuitive shopping experience. Ideally, a website should also never suffer from major technical or content issues that interrupt a shopper. Unfortunately, this ideal is not possible today.
3 Things That Make or Break a Store’s UX
Every eCommerce manager should know what’s happening throughout their site, and be prepared to handle serious issues at a moment’s notice. It’s also important to be aware that no store is immune to these problems. Top retailers are prone to face these types of issues at rates similar to SMBs, with the average online retailer losing 13% of their annual revenues to them.
#1 Entry Points
Landing pages and other forms of content that push large quantities of traffic to your site, but are not functioning properly or don’t render visually as they should can make or break a marketing campaign and the sales targets you have for the month. So ensuring there are no snags in the functionality of these gateways to your site is crucial.
We speak to many retailers who check their online stores including the checkout process thoroughly in a development environment, but once it’s live, they stop testing. Due to how many moving parts there are in a checkout process, particularly custom built checkout workflows, it’s critical to continuously check that there is nothing getting the way of a customer who has already decided to buy. Shoppers must be able to effortlessly see what they’re buying, the associated costs, easily enter coupon codes, select payment methods and complete a purchase. Do not rely on customers to report problems here, because you stand to lose significant business before a determined shopper actually reaches out. We know that 4% of all eCommerce business is lost due to technical issues during checkout, but with proper attention you can identify problems before customers hit them, dramatically reducing that number.
In a recent post, Shahar Evron, Shoppimon CTO, discussed how to handle error messages with grace. He’s found that error messages are often left as an afterthought, rather than planned for during a site’s development. Something that is true of even the largest sites. Moreover, development teams regularly decide their content, leading to awkward, highly technical messages that scare customers away. Beyond having an immediate impact on sales, when messages are missing, this can also lead to error messages being exposed on a page. And this poses serious security risks. So make sure neither your site or your sales are at risk by planning for errors to occur in advance. Create simple messages that leave your shoppers with a smile on their face, and the opportunity to either continue down the conversion funnel or engage with you directly.
Site Monitoring: Top Challenges
It is surprisingly common that these things are forgotten about, or put aside, all together. Error messages are a great example where they’re often left as an afterthought. Whereas, for checkout many people know there’s a problem, but either do not, or are not able, to test reliably.
So many eCommerce managers are forced to try and identify issues manually, or wait for customers to complain. And of course by that time, significant sales have already been lost, since the vast majority of customers will simply abandon a purchase.
It’s worth noting that manual testing is highly problematic. Not only is it time consuming, but you will inevitably miss many intermittent issues. Additionally, it is very difficult to manually check multiple variations of a given workflow. For example, testing checkout with one product, vs. 3, or checkout with normal pricing vs. discounted pricing etc.
For scenarios like these, functional (automated) testing, such as Selenium scripting is ideal, but it is not used by many site operators, particularly on a production environment as it can be very complex to setup, maintain and use on an ongoing basis.
The biggest challenge with entry points and traffic gateways is that even online stores which dedicate substantial resources to monitoring their sites on an ongoing basis often overlook off-site sources traffic, such as landing pages. Many eCommerce managers assume that if its not part of the site, then it doesn’t need testing.
The Best Chance for Optimizing Your Overall CX
Awareness is #1: No matter how rigorously an eCommerce site is tested before it goes live, once it is in production it becomes a living breathing entity. Your website will change and be impacted by other integrated softwares, 3rd party services, and your customres. Issues will occur, and code will break. And it’s all par for course in managing and optimizing an online store.
Testing & Monitoring: Because issues happen, you need to keep finger constly on the pulse. Even if your development team has done an incredible job putting together a beautiful cutting-edge site, things can and will go wrong over time.
Therefore, automating testing of your store is an absolute must. Aim to use robust solutions that require less maintenance, and will provide you with clear insight into how customers experience issues, how those issues impact your business, and then help your development team quickly identify and fix their root cause.
And don’t forget to pay special attention to the campaigns and landing pages that bring traffic to your site in the first place.