Is Your Business Prepared for Holiday Online Shopping? A Checklist

Holiday online shopping checklist for businesses: Customer making a purchase

This article was contributed by Danielle Savin from Retail Customer Experience.

Editor’s note: Nearly 88% of businesses surveyed for our Future of Retail report said they sold their goods online. It’s worth selling online now more than ever — consumers say they make 43% of their purchases digitally, providing an opportunity for businesses to benefit from being where their customers already are. Get ready for online shopping during the holidays using the advice below, learn more about how to start an online store with Square, and uplevel your holiday eCommerce efforts by creating an omnichannel strategy.

Last year’s holiday challenges for retailers and brands were seamlessly pivoting to digital commerce and managing new shopping trends.

This year the challenge is to apply what we learned in 2020 to align with customers’ changed habits and higher-than-ever expectations for holistic shopping experiences.

Globally in November and December alone, online shopping increased by 50% compared to the same period in 2019, with 2020 holiday shoppers spending more than $1.1 trillion, according to Salesforce data. In the U.S., holiday eCommerce sales are projected to increase by more than 11% in 2021, according to data from eMarketer and Insider Intelligence.

That’s good news for merchants who have invested in digital customer experience, but challenges remain. Here’s a checklist of strategies to implement now so that your business is ready for the 2021 holiday season.

Step 1: Improve pickup and delivery options

Demand and supply chain issues broke the eCommerce logistics system in 2020, and it’s still not completely fixed. Many multichannel and omnichannel retailers that didn’t already offer curbside pickup or buy online, pick up in store added those options in 2020 to give customers an alternative to potentially risky in-store shopping and slower-than-normal home delivery. Now many customers expect that convenience to continue.

Retailers who didn’t get their BOPIS or curbside pickup function perfect in time for last year’s holiday season have the opportunity between now and October to make improvements and put the finishing touches on their store pickup experience.

Step 2: Unify customer and inventory data

A seamless customer experience is critical for holiday sales and loyalty, and it starts with accurate, unified data. More than three-quarters (76%) of customers expect consistent experiences across a company’s departments, so your customer support, order history, inventory, and location data must be accurate and available in every channel.

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Inventory insights are especially important for brands to make sure their direct-to-consumer customer experience equals that of the retailers carrying their products. If a customer orders directly from a brand only to have them cancel the order because of a stocking issue, they’re likely to buy from a retailer that provides a better experience. That means the brand loses direct-to-consumer margins and risks losing loyalty as well.

Step 3: Communicate clearly and quickly with customers

Are your online chat capabilities ready for the holiday season? With all the logistics problems last holiday season, and with 83% of customers’ expecting immediate help when they contact a company, chat availability will be a crucial factor in customer satisfaction this winter. So will the quality of the information those chats provide — another reason to work on data unification now.

Keeping customers updated about the status of their orders will matter too. No one wants to wonder when — or whether — the gifts they purchased will arrive. Review logistics now to understand your carriers’ holiday delivery timelines and to assess your options for customer notifications. Ideally, customers will have a choice of channels for getting order updates, including SMS and email.

Step 4: Keep new product categories that emerged in 2020

Pandemic restrictions may be lifting in areas with rising vaccination rates, but many of the habits and hobbies consumers picked up over the past year and a half are here to stay. That means retailers should hold on to the new categories they featured heavily last year.

For example, pet adoption rates skyrocketed in 2020, which means there’s an ongoing demand for pet supplies. Demand for hobby equipment like baking supplies and gaming gear is also likely to remain strong. So is interest in loungewear, webcams, and other accessories that make working from home enjoyable.

Step 5: Be ready for early holiday shoppers

For years retailers viewed November as the start of the holiday shopping season, but most shoppers started earlier in 2020. That’s likely to be the case this year as well, especially if online retailers have October sales events.

In 2020, 59% of consumers had done more than a quarter of their holiday shopping by early November, according to National Retail Federation data. All of this means that retailers and brands should have their holiday experiences tested and ready to launch by October 1.

Step 6: Prioritize your holiday eCommerce strategies

Merchants who don’t have the resources or the time to implement all of these strategies before the holiday shopping season may want to focus on two core customer experience improvements.

Focus on what you do best

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First, enable SMS to send order-management messages to your customers. This is a relatively inexpensive way to automate fulfillment, shipping, and delivery updates. It also uses the channel that most consumers now prefer to wading through an overflowing email inbox. In a December 2020 survey, 58% of U.S. consumers said that texting is the most effective way for businesses to reach them quickly.

Second, once your SMS program is running, give customers a choice of how they want to receive their order updates — via email, SMS, or mobile app push notifications.

Set the stage for holiday success

Now’s the time to address any issues with data unification, customer experience, logistics, products, and communication.

By building on the changes that your store or brand made last year to adapt to the pandemic, you can meet and maybe even exceed your customers’ expectations of a seamless and engaging experience as we head for another holiday season like none before.

This article was written by Danielle Savin from Retail Customer Experience and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.