How to Manage Orders & Maintain the Customer Experience During the Holiday Shopping Season
Guest article from Linnworks on the top challenges facing eCommerce sellers this holiday season, as well as tips on how to tackle them.
Linnworks connects, manages and automates commerce operations, powering businesses to sell wherever their customers are and capture every revenue opportunity.
Driven by the pandemic, many eCommerce brands have seen record sales since March. Some experts believe this trend will continue through the holidays.
With increased demand and expected supply chain disruptions, we’re taking a look at the top challenges stores will face along with how to tackle them, including:
Three Holiday Shopping Season Trends
Here are the top 3 trends that eCommerce merchants should build into their Q4 planning:
1. Shift Towards eCommerce Continues
It should come as no surprise that the positive trend toward online shopping has continued throughout the pandemic. In fact, according to this Mckinsey Report, eCommerce adoption moved forward about 10 years in the span of 90 days this spring.
Many consumers are still avoiding physical stores — when possible — in favor of shopping from the safety of their own homes. The pandemic isn’t over yet, but shoppers are establishing habits now that are likely to stick even after it feels safe to gather in large crowds again. In addition to this, some consumers find themselves with extra spending money as they aren’t traveling for the holidays or going out as often. This means more expendable income for shopping online.
eCommerce sales are anticipated to have a record 40% increase in holiday sales this year. Brands that prioritize eCommerce over brick and mortar retail will likely see higher gains.
2. Holiday Shopping Is Starting Earlier
Peak holiday shopping is no longer restricted to the 5-day window between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. The holiday shopping season continues to evolve and is starting earlier each year. In fact, experts are predicting holiday shopping to start as early as Halloween in 2020.
This year’s early start for online shopping can be attributed to several factors.
The first factor is the increase in eCommerce sales year over year. But the shift this year is primarily due to the pandemic’s continued impact on consumer habits. Shoppers are eager to avoid in-person crowds and alleviate fears surrounding product scarcity, delivery delays and high shipping costs for online orders.
Some brands have already started seasonal promotions, putting pressure on competitors to follow suit.
For instance, Amazon adjusted their annual Prime Day from its normal July time frame to October 13 and 14, effectively taking advantage of the early shopping season this year. The result was Amazon’s two largest sales days on record for small and medium businesses in Amazon’s stores worldwide. Sales surpassed a whopping $3.5 billion, an increase of nearly 60% compared to 2019.
3. Convenience & Customer Experience Go Hand in Hand
Now is the perfect time to capture new customers and build brand loyalty. Consumers are forming new shopping preferences based largely on convenience. Last year someone may have run to a local retailer for a last-minute gift. This year, that gift is being searched for online.
Making the initial contact with your brand as seamless and as positive of an experience as possible will go a long way in establishing repeat business and customer loyalty.
For example, this means improving site load speeds for a better overall shopping experience and reducing cart abandonment.
How to Create a Great Customer Experience this Holiday Season
With the anticipated sales growth and demand, brands face unique challenges that should be addressed before the orders start rolling in.
1. Supply Chain Logistics
Going into the peak season, eCommerce brands need to focus on supply chain management as well as last mile operations in order to meet demand and avoid out-of-stock products, shipping delays and other logistical challenges.
One way to prepare is to diversify where your products are manufactured (so you don’t have a single source of failure).
For example, if you rely heavily on China to save costs, diversifying your supply chain by having a factory in Vietnam, Mexico or even domestically can mitigate some of the risks.
Be sure to maintain a good relationship with each supplier and communicate regularly so you can find out about any potential supply chain issues before they disrupt your sales process.
2. Inventory Management
Inventory management is the lifeblood of your business. To get a sense of how much to keep in stock, start by taking a look at your past sales performance. Review the products that are selling well in your category to determine what will be in high demand for your store.
Because poor inventory management and forecasting can literally put you out of business, trying to “DIY it” with spreadsheets is a recipe for problems. Plus, there are a lot of inventory management softwares, such as Linnworks, that make it easy to manage your inventory across all of the platforms you are selling on from in-store to Shopify, Amazon and Walmart, among many others. In addition, you get the added benefit of sophisticated inventory forecasting, allowing you to make smarter, data-driven decisions to fuel your growth in the years to come.
3. Be Flexible
If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected. It’s important to have backup plans ready in case a COVID-19 outbreak or other issue disrupts your supply chain or ability to sell.
For example, if there were positive cases of the virus in your warehouse, how would orders be fulfilled during the 2 weeks of quarantine when the warehouse is being disinfected?
Or, if your shipping carrier has to drop you as a customer due to unprecedented demand during the holiday season, how will you get products to your buyers?
Determine what you would need to do if there were disruptions in any part of the supply chain, from a worker getting sick to a supplier canceling an order. Being proactive can allow you to move quicker and more efficiently in the event of an issue. It also means you can implement precautions to mitigate the risk, such as enforcing social distancing and sanitizing work areas, diversifying your supply chain and managing inventory levels to have enough product on hand in case of disruptions.
4. Manage Customer Experiences in a Transparent Fashion
Throughout the entire experience, it is key to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. If you can communicate accurate product specs, shipping times and expected costs, this will build trust.
In the event there is an issue, don’t try to hide it. Your customers are people and are often more understanding than you think they would be. If you have a supply chain problem and the product will be arriving late, reach out to the customer and let them know.
Another way to ensure transparency and a positive experience is to offer a clear return policy. It may seem counterintuitive to make it easy for customers to return a product, but it’s beneficial to the brand in the long run. Clear return policies boost consumer confidence and perception of the brand, resulting in more sales and repeat business.
Keep in mind holiday purchases are often gifts. The customer will be more likely to buy if they know the recipient can return the product if they want to. Consider attaching instructions for returns with each order to make the process even easier.
There’s no sugar-coating it – this holiday shopping season is unprecedented and will be filled with new challenges. But brands that are proactive, flexible and adaptable will have the highest chance of thriving this quarter.
To see how Linnworks can put commerce control at the center of your organization by connecting and automating your commerce operations, visit Linnworks.com to book a demo.