COVID-19 resources

How to Create an Online Holiday Shopping Experience

Stephanie Vozza, Writer

Many retailers transform their storefronts for the holiday shopping season. Magical-wonderland settings help customers get in the mood for gift-giving, but COVID-19 could affect businesses’ ability to open.

To adapt, business owners need to rethink how they can develop unique, omnichannel holiday shopping experiences for their customers as they shop online.

While the customer experience is an essential consideration year-round (Gartner defines the term as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed their expectations, leading to greater customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.”), during the holidays, a great customer experience is crucial.

If you can create a shopping experience that exceeds customers’ expectations, you’ll become a memorable part of their season. And it will pay off — 84% of companies that prioritize customer experience report an increase in revenue, according to HubSpot.

Here are seven steps that will help you improve your site’s online experience in time for the holidays.

Discover new ways to connect with shoppers online.

Prepare for the future of holiday selling

1. Update your design

The first step is to customize your design for the holidays. Take advantage of templates that make this quick and easy. Choose a template that complements your brand, so loyal customers will still recognize the business they know and trust. During the holiday season, shoppers may be browsing several store websites, so you want to grab their attention immediately. You’ve got 15 seconds, which is the average amount of time someone spends on a website before they click elsewhere, according to CrazyEgg.

Use bold, easy-to-read fonts and eye-catching images. To further engage visitors, consider multimedia elements, such as video or interactive features. Another consideration is your use of color.

Red is a holiday color, but it’s also useful in sales. Red creates energy and urgency, and it can make your heart beat faster, according to Kissmetrics research. That’s why it’s often used on a sale sign or call to action on your website. If it works with your logo and branding, consider using it on your homepage and banners.

2. Personalize your customer experience

Customers want to feel valued, and one way you can do that is with personalization. Nearly three-quarters of customers are frustrated by website content that’s not personalized. Using personalization pays off, with an average increase in sales of 19%, according to research from Janrain.

When you personalize an experience for your customers, you increase brand affinity. An easy way to do this is through your email messaging, using the information you gather during sign-ups to address your customer by name.

You can customize promotions and discounts using purchase history data, but email marketing is just the start. Your website can drive sales by using custom content gleaned from customer information, browsing history, and past purchases. A consumer trends report from Kibo found that personalized homepage promotions influence 85% of consumers to buy, while personalized shopping cart recommendations influenced 92% of shoppers online.

3. Rethink your online catalog

In addition to your regular product categories, consider adding gift sections to your online catalog to help shoppers search for the perfect present. These are also opportunities to take advantage of online holiday shopping trends. For example, you can have them broken down by recipient or price range.

If a shopper needs to purchase a gift within a specific budget, having a page devoted to items you offer that fall within a range can be helpful. And all of us have at least one hard-to-shop-for person on our list. Creating pages that suggest products for people who have specific hobbies or preferences or are within certain demographics can make it easy to find the perfect gift.

4. Add details to product pages

Be sure to give customers as much product information as possible. If they’re unsure about an item, they’ll likely click away and find something else instead of trying to get answers. Ensure each product has a thorough description that includes dimensions, weight, material, and color options. If possible, add photos that provide a 360-degree view of the item.

5. Highlight gift cards

If you aren’t already offering gift cards on your website, you’re missing out on an essential stream of revenue. Gift cards have been the most popular items on wish lists for more than a dozen years, requested by 59% of those surveyed, according to the National Retail Federation. And shoppers who purchase gift cards buy at least three each holiday season, according to GiftCards.com.

Gift cards are perfect for last-minute shoppers, and they can solve the problem of shopping for that hard-to-please person on your list.

6. Provide clear shipping information

Speedy and reliable shipping is extra-important during the holiday shopping season. This is especially true this year when more shoppers might have to send gifts to loved ones, rather than deliver them in person.

Create a holiday shipping schedule that is posted in a prominent place on your website. For example, set purchase dates that guarantee delivery if sent by standard shipping, two-day shipping, and overnight shipping. Today’s customers expect to receive their purchases fast.

But fast does not mean a more expensive delivery option will do. A recent UPS survey found that holiday shoppers want to find a balance between shipping costs and speed, with cost being the primary concern. In fact, 51% of surveyed shoppers said they would consider a cheaper but slower shipping alternative, with another 38% would want incentives for making that choice.

7. Offer great customer service

People make mistakes with online orders, and packages can get lost. Customers will want a way to reach you with their questions. Make sure they have a way to contact you by phone, online chat, or email. Then offer prompt attention. According to a HubSpot Research survey, 90% of consumers want immediate responses from customer support, and 72% define immediate as within 30 minutes.

By following these seven steps, you can help set up positive online holiday shopping experiences for customers. When you help make a person’s holiday a little brighter, they’ll remember you. A happy customer is more likely to become a loyal customer, and a loyal customer can become an ambassador for your brand, bringing you business during the holidays and beyond.

Stephanie Vozza is an experienced writer who specializes in small business and retail. She has been a regular columnist for FastCompany.com for five years, and her byline has appeared in Inc., Entrepreneur, and Parade.