The holiday season is an excellent time for families to get together and show appreciation for one another through gift-giving. That season was disrupted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the rollout of the vaccine, many families are planning on finding safe ways to convene again. Commerce companies, both online and brick-and-mortar, expect this season to be much busier than the previous.
The Sitecore Holiday Trends Report found that 59% of customers plan to be more involved in celebrating the holidays this year, and 36% of buyers will spend more compared to 2020. This holiday season will undoubtedly be unique — to stay on top of all of the noteworthy trends, we have gathered seven for you to keep in mind as you prepare for the season.
1. More People Are Shopping Online
Over the past year, eCommerce has soared, and that trend has continued this year. Online stores need to be ready for the rush this season, with projections reaching staggering amounts. eMarketer has predicted an 11.3% increase in growth this year to an astounding total of $207 billion. What you need to understand is that this isn’t across any one channel. You will have to look for more ways to reach existing and new customers. Consider selling beyond your store, such as in other marketplaces and even directly from social media ads.
One approach that can help attract more customers is omnichannel marketing. Creating a complete marketing experience, including social media ads, email marketing, and different retargeting strategies across nurturing cycles, can revolutionize your leads. Don’t just take a blanket, basic approach. Think about how you can make your omnichannel experience cohesive and personalized. Consider how you can target new segments to bring back prospects who left empty carts or have interacted with your ads in the past. Getting more in-depth is crucial for pulling more customers, especially in the age of eCommerce.
2. Anticipate Supply Chain Bottlenecks
Port delays, factory closings, and material shortages are only a few of the many factors causing unprecedented supply chain slowdowns. These issues affect how easily commerce companies can restock supplies and are causing problems with customer shipping experiences. To help, consider ordering more inventory sooner rather than later. Using historical data, do your best to project needs and stock up beyond that to prevent being left with an empty warehouse during peak buying times. Likewise, make sure to inform customers that they may want to order earlier than usual this year just in case something such as a shipping mishap would delay their gift. It is becoming common knowledge that shipping and supply issues are becoming rampant, so projecting longer shipping times isn’t unreasonable. Make sure to get in front of the problem and communicate these delays to your customers and prospects. And remember to take your own advice and order earlier than you need to for the season!
3. People are Shopping Earlier — Right Now
Like mentioned before, the shipping and supply chain woes are being felt by consumers even now. Since this issue has become common knowledge, people have started to prepare for the holidays early. As you read this, realize that your customers are doing their holiday shopping already. These concerns mean that some customers will be willing to trade average coupon deals found around this season for greater certainty of on-time deliveries.
To accommodate these worries, start optimizing your pages to address delivery date expectations and present gift wrapping options. Starting to market now for the holidays will remind your buyers that it probably is best to buy now rather than later. Create page elements and content that highlight how products can be used as gifts to instill these ideas further.
This year, you’ll want to push this to your shoppers, too. To protect your capabilities and ensure you meet your promises, eCommerce companies should set proper customer expectations about orders, fulfillment speeds, and delivery capabilities.
4. Values Drive Sales
One trend that is slowly gaining the limelight is how much expressing your values can increase your sales. In fact, 83% of Millennials say that it is essential for them to buy from companies that share their values, and they also are willing to pay more for those products. To help communicate these values to your customers, find ways to express your company values through your sales and holiday materials, as well as in visible, general places on your website.
As you start planning other omnichannel marketing materials, add information on the causes you support as well. A great place to start tapping into this is through your email marketing and holiday newsletters. When creating this messaging, being genuine is crucial. If your values are easy to see through or surface level, it can lead to a terrible look for your company, so be cautious.
5. Returns Are Growing Too — Be Ready
As sales grow, unfortunately, so do returns. Regardless of how fantastic your offerings are, it is inevitable that someone will make an accidental purchase or have issues with their order. As reactions speed up, companies need a plan to handle returns and manage inventory, and in most cases, you are legally required to accept at least some product returns. To prevent issues in this process:
- Prepare for them ahead of time.
- Set aside physical space in your store or warehouse to hold these items.
- Prepare staff for the inevitability or returns, and train them thoroughly on your company’s policy for them.
By letting them know with plenty of warning, they won’t get caught in an awkward and frustrating position when it occurs more often. In early January, consider adding extra people to the schedule specifically for handling customer issues and returns. You can ensure your floor has enough hands to control normal customer flow by allocating specific workers for this task.
6. Reviews = Sales
Customers can easily and quickly find your competitors in online sales and compare your offerings to other stores. More online shopping puts tremendous pressure on your store’s reputation. One of the best ways you can gain an edge is by working towards higher reviews. Online ratings rose 87% in December 2020 over December 2019, and remember that even small changes in your ratings can bring in significant sales changes. One of the best things you can do to prepare for the holiday season is to start working immediately to get reviews from your existing customers. Reach out to them through marketing campaigns, and prompt them to rate their experiences. Once you start getting positive reviews, highlight those customers and reviews across your website and marketing materials. One way to add visibility to your top reviews is to find plugins that allow you to add social media comments or reviews onto the site.
To help your buyers feel more comfortable with their buying decision, let them sort reviews on your items pages to find what they want. Some customers prefer to see images of the items from genuine buyers before purchasing an item to ensure that what is listed is what they will be getting. You may want to create a filter for viewers to see how the item fits others in their size range when it comes to clothes. There may be specific questions about an item, so making your reviews searchable can help buyers find answers that can help them decide if the product is right for them.
7. Tracking Tech Is Essential
Like all of us, your buyers are constantly refreshing tracking details to see where their orders are. To improve your customer experience from beginning to end, find ways to track orders and help them do the same. This solution could be automating SMS alerts, creating integration with the Shop app’s tracking tools, sending out email updates, notifying people when orders are processed and shipped, and other quality of life additions. These options can help customers feel more secure when buying from you, and the better experience can create repeat buyers.
Once you pick out your tracking tech, it is vital to train your team on it and how they can support people who might misunderstand it. Review with your team what the different alerts and status messages mean and what they will look like for customers. Take a look at your FAQ as well and expand it to define these terms. Once you have a written guide to help buyers through these issues, you can send it out via email or chatbot to help customers fix their own problems before needing to contact your customer support team. If it does get to your support, it also gives them a great reference tool to point the buyer towards.
It’s Never Too Early to Start
Implementing these ideas now can help be a way to win the holiday season while also helping your customers. During this end of the year, in particular, ordering items early and being prepared can prevent an awkward spot during the holidays where you may be out of stock and unable to get more in time for the rush.
Luckily, with a bit of extra planning, you can not only overcome whatever stocking issues you encounter but can pull more customers in too! Through an improved customer experience from start to finish, preparation for whatever the supply chain throws at you, and an overhauled messaging and marketing campaign, you can ensure that this season will be one of your most fabulous.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.