By Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer, Bloomreach
The call for consumers to begin their shopping early was a consistent refrain during the last holiday season. With limited inventory, retailers made the message clear: “shop early or it may be gone.”
As we approach the coming holiday season, calls to shop early still remain, but now, they’re driven by different concerns. Supply chain challenges may have been front and center last year, but now, retail’s focus has turned to plunging consumer confidence — reinforced by rising interest rates, bear markets, and slow downs in the housing market. In fact, a recent CommX Holiday Outlook report found that 63% of retailers rank shrinking consumer confidence as a top concern this holiday season. Supply chain challenges didn’t even make the list.
Coupled with over-inventorying challenges many retailers are contending with, the push to shop early this year largely boils down to the fear that consumers may not be quite as likely to splurge on gifts for others (and let’s be honest themselves) this holiday season. Yet despite these trends, there is still positive sentiment to be found in e-commerce. The CommX report found that more than 60% of retailers expect this year’s online sales to be the same as or better than last year, and nearly 80% expect online sales to be the same as or better than 2019.
Capitalizing on this e-commerce potential ultimately comes down to preparation. As retailers look to a rapidly approaching holiday season ahead, here are the steps they should be taking now to drive success.
1. Ensure your digital channels are prepared for an influx of early shoppers.
Last year, retailers encouraged customers to shop early to help avoid the impact of supply chain disruption. But how people shop has been shifting earlier for years.
The pandemic accelerated online shopping, but even after stores reopened, many people continued their e-commerce habits. Retailers took advantage of this pattern, reaching consumers sooner with holiday promotions and marketing campaigns launched on digital channels, and that trend certainly continues today. For retailers, stimulating early demand often leads to more overall dollars being spent as consumers get caught up in the spirit and later buy last-minute gifts on top of what they bought for gifts earlier in the year.
While most holiday shopping doesn’t really begin in earnest until November 1, Amazon and other retailers plan to run holiday sales beginning in mid-October. This will put holiday shopping on customers’ minds, stimulating demand across the market (including for smaller businesses competing for market share against larger aggregators).
Start by verifying your website’s infrastructure can handle increased demand. Test third-party integrations to verify they’re current and can also manage increased load. Check all of your website pages and features for load page times and test your site speed. Now’s a good time to refresh your site with some updates or a new feel reflecting your brand. But keep customer experience (CX) and easy navigability in mind. Finally, since many people browse and shop on mobile devices, check your website’s look and performance on tablets and phones, too.
2. Prioritize CX on every step of the buying journey.
With economic challenges on their mind and endless choice at their fingertips, consumers are being incredibly selective right now. This means it’s up to retailers to provide a compelling reason for a customer to shop with them. Much of that comes down to the customer experience — not only on the e-commerce site but across every channel in the buying journey. A few ways retailers can begin to hone in on the omnichannel customer experience include:
- Personalizing experiences. First and zero-party data offer a wealth of information you can leverage to personalize customers’ shopping experience and make it easy for them to find something special. Gather and apply insights from data about past buying behavior to customize campaigns and send relevant promotional content to target customers.
- Optimizing search experiences. The same search data you use for SEO also boosts on-site searches to help customers quickly and easily find products. You control keywords, pages and results when updating your search — and effective SEO generates the highest search quality and increases relevancy. To really help alleviate stressed customers pressed for time, use this automated assist to categorize promotions and bundles based on likely gift recipients.
- Using SMS or email marketing automation for cart abandonment notifications. These notifications offer another way to connect with people and increase their loyalty via discount codes, for example. Marketing teams can use this strategy to promote delivery options and different payment services as well.
3. Revisit your shipping options.
In a world where we operate at hyperspeed, convenience and choice matter. Just look how quickly customers have become accustomed to the variety of options stores offer for picking up — and returning — merchandise and orders.
Focus on omnichannel shipping and fulfillment options within your search and browse offerings. Give customers a choice about how, where and when to make a purchase. Some may elect to complete the entire process online. Others may opt to research at home and make their purchase in-store. Consider all options, including:
- Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS).
- Return merchandise drop-off at a brick-and-mortar store.
- In-app ordering, with purchases brought to the car.
- Pre-paid labels for USPS pick-up and return via mail.
4. Strategize your holiday promotions and campaigns.
Your revenue teams have probably pivoted and adapted your company’s online selling strategy multiple times to increase sales efficiency. Over 70% of retail executives plan to be “more” promotional this season — and more than 20% say they’ll be “much more” promotional. If you don’t want to get left behind, start planning now. While November 1 might herald the “official” start of the holiday shopping season, get a jump on your competition and launch your promotions sooner.
Level up your marketing efforts by integrating a steady stream of promotional and campaign content into your website blogs, video content and social media channels. Put product tags to work. Instagram and Facebook shoppable tags drive visitors to your website and increase conversions.
Know what deals your customers want, and promote those discounts based on your goals. For example, if you want to retain loyal customers, send them an extra exclusive discount or invite them to an early bird special. If you want to attract new customers, target new users or new email or SMS subscribers with enticing offers.
The e-commerce share of the retail market continues to grow, as does the competition. While the economy and consumer confidence continue to fluctuate, retailers can still win this upcoming holiday season.
Preparing now — by optimizing digital channels and creating a flexible, friction-free buying experience — is critical for retailers seeking to attract and convert customers. While the overall holiday season won’t lack challenges, many pockets of e-commerce are still trending strong, and the opportunity is ripe for retailers willing to turn time and focus toward their digital experience.
About the Author
Brian Walker currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach, leading the Company’s go-to-market strategy. Brian is a veteran strategy and marketing leader who focuses on the transformation of digital customer engagement and commerce. He has held a wide variety of roles in the market including leading Global Commerce Strategy at Accenture, Chief Strategy Officer at SAP Hybris, leading commerce technology research at Forrester Research, as well as leadership positions at Amazon, Expedia, and Otto Group prior to that.