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.
With every new store display that goes up both in the physical and online stores, we are reminded the holidays are here. Online retailers put in a lot of effort to prepare their store for the holidays because of the potential increase in purchases (especially last-minute). The increase in customer traffic means there are potential increase in challenges; how you effectively deal with these challenges, can either make or break you to cement your online presence. Here are some of the challenges that you may face and how to address them:
#5: Increased website traffic
This is a great part of the holiday season but could have a negative effect on your store. It’s good because increased traffic can convert to increase in sales, however, unpredictable traffic could mean surges which may make your store go offline, something you obviously do NOT want to happen. To avoid this coordinate with your hosting company and your technology partners to ensure your disc space and bandwidth are increased appropriately. There are cloud hosting options and many other solutions to ensure that your store stays up and running during the holiday rush.
#4. Shipping Demand
The last thing your customers’ need to worry about is whether their items will be delivered on time. Not meeting your delivery schedule results in an unhappy customers who could take theirs and other business elsewhere. Evaluate your shipping options to see where it lacks and ensure it meets all potential customer demands. Any and all logistic issues with shipping products also increases your customer service requirements and taxes your staff causing mistakes and furthers the discontent of your customer base.
This doesn’t only effect small or medium sized eCommerce businesses. Just recently, we heard an internal story of a holiday related snafu with regards to Walmart. Their system shipped out a product incorrectly and it took a Redstage staff member 3 lengthy customer service calls to get it sorted out! This type of customer experience is why sites lose customers and what can stifle growth. Make sure your systems are running smoothly and your staff is trained to avoid these types of problems.
#3. Bad User Experience
Customer expectation for the look and ease of use of your online store can be very high. It is important to exceed this expectation to ensure that the user experience (UX) for the customer is memorable but most of all easy to use. Your products should be easy to find via navigation or search and contain enough product information to convince the customer to complete their purchase. Mobile optimization for your store is especially important in this day and age since a large percentage of shoppers use their mobile devices to shop online. Work closely with your web team’s designers and developers to optimize your store’s UX.
#2. Payment Fraud
The increase in online purchases during the holiday season also means you and your customers are more at risk to be victim to payment fraud. It is important to your customers to know that your website is secure since their card and bank information can be easily stolen if a merchant does not take the proper security measures. According to the National Retailer’s Federation, the average retailer loses 0.68 percent of revenue to fraud. This does not include the cost to you for fees, time and overhead and the loss of customer trust. Customer trust can cascade exponentially to ruin your brand and lose you much more than the industry average over time. To effectively manage this risk ensures that your store is in Payment Card Industry Security Standard Council (PCI) compliance, monitor customer daily transactions to look for any red flags in customer spending, use the address verification system and the Credit Card Verification Value (CVV).
Also, make sure that your software platform is up to date – We’re looking at you Magento 1.7 users! The security issues that can arise from out of date software need to be fixed immediately to protect you and your customers from hacking and fraud.
#1. Stock Control
It’s important to have sufficient stock to meet customer demand for the holiday season, it is also just as important to ensure you are not left with a large amount of holiday stock going into the new year. Make sure to monitory inventory ensure you have adequate amounts of stock for potential orders and storage is not an issue. Pull a report on your best-selling items in the last few months to ensure you’ve ordered the appropriate stock levels in time for Christmas. If you’re running any flash sales or pushing deeply discounted loss-leader items, you should have the data to support the inventory levels and not run low or end up with massive overstock.
Overall, these challenges aren’t impossible to overcome. If your company is facing any of these holiday difficulties or in general need any help or support with your store, please get in touch with Redstage anytime. You can reach us at 1-888-335-2747 or email us at email@example.com.
Discover the top trends, insights, and strategies from the 2018 holiday season here!