A checklist for retailers.

Black Friday, Christmas and the Boxing Day may be the peak of peak, but there is also Cyber Monday, Singles day, Green Monday and who knows what else being cooked up by a rival this year! Are you prepared for the peak period?

The last quarter of the year is, without doubt, the busiest and most profitable time for eCommerce but success in this period is not a given. Meticulous planning and careful execution are required to ensure strong peak performance, and NOW is the time to get serious about it.

Retailers that aren’t prepared may find themselves overwhelmed by demand over peak, the most successful ones are planning six months in advance. With precision planning and execution, it’s even possible for smaller retailers to compete with bigger brands for a successful peak. So if you’re preparations aren’t already underway, June is when your peak-focused strategy should be put into effect in earnest.

Dig into the data to drive your strategy.

The strategy for peak must be data-driven. Review and analyse the performance of your store from last years peak. Examine the shopping behaviour of your customers in granular detail and use this to create a rock solid strategy for this year so you can get the right products in front of the right people at the right time.

73% of the UK’s retail audience over the sales period is made up of 18-34 year-olds. (Ingenico) Knowing the statistics means you can target accurately.

By drilling into the data, you can discover what was most effective for your business, what drove the most conversion. It’s essential that you can recreate those successes. The areas for improvement should also emerge from the data so you can determine what needs to change this year and how.

Peak season is not the time to be cavalier; there is no need to take major risks by trying radically different tactics. Build on last year and make the necessary tweaks where they’re needed. Try new things only if you have the data to back up the decisions.

Early Peak season begins in October but the run-up begins in July, there’s a lot to consider so let’s take a look at the areas to focus on:

Marketing for peak – this time it’s personal.

It is possible to cut through the white noise of the retail giants, according to Ingenico, a quarter of online shoppers in key European markets will choose to shop with smaller, niche retailers.

Marketing for seasonal sales is all about personalisation, really knowing your customers and creating tailor-made offers for them. Creative, segmented campaigns that target the different buyer personas at various stages of the peak period will drive higher conversion than discounting across the boards. Price slashing will be so typical that shoppers have the luxury of shopping around online for the best deals.

By being shrewd and agile at this time, smaller merchants can stand out from the crowd by getting as specific as possible with offers that go beyond discounts. Show you really care about your customers and what’s important to them. 

The run-up to the peak is an important time to target the extremely organised; the Early Shopper begins their Christmas shopping in August. Retail giants such as Amazon appear to have the peak sales days sewn up – but we know that there is a slice of the pie for smaller merchants! The good news is that consumers are primed and ready to buy during peak so by creating irresistible offers and making your customers aware early, you can sell to them BEFORE Black Friday.

The Bargain Hunter will have their eyes peeled for deals throughout, ready to pounce when the right price comes along.  Last Minute Shoppers are time-poor, scheduling your marketing right up to the end of the peak with deals they can’t refuse, and delivery offers like next day delivery or click and collect. Make it simple for them! Creating a seamless, convenient shopping experience creates a happy customer that will return!

Promoting gift cards throughout the sales period may seem obvious but shouldn’t be underestimated – not only is it a shortcut for the indecisive shopper, they’re easy to prepare, ship and won’t get returned!

Discounts and distrust.

Only 45% of UK shoppers cited discounts as the most desirable feature during online Black Friday sales (Ingenico). That’s less than half of the sales period shoppers. UK shoppers are increasingly sceptical about Black Friday discounts, 65% of them report that they are distrustful of sales. However, the hype around sales and ‘fear of missing out’ brings even the most sceptical consumer online at this time to browse the bargains but its the added value incentives that drive conversion and customer retention.

So what does that mean when it comes to sales promotions?

This is where niche retailers and smaller retailers can compete against more prominent brands. Over a quarter, 27%, of UK shoppers say they prefer other incentives to price slashing. So what are the alternative offers that appeal to even cynical customers?

  • Loyalty and referral bonuses
  • Extended returns periods
  • Free shipping, Next day delivery and Click & Collect options
  • Discounts attached to an exclusive product range, unique and niche items.
31%  of shoppers who succumb to the hype of Black Friday reductions regret and return their purchases. Returning discount items costs the retailer twice; the smarter and most cost-effective approach is to offer unique value-adds for long term customer loyalty.

Attract to retain.

Substantial discounts and fast shipping means that margins are low during peak; therefore the goal is more about customer acquisition and retention than short term profit. This should ultimately be the goal of peak rather than hitting high volumes.

Black Friday is no longer a 24 hours affair; it can last up to a week. Each year, the discount period lasts longer and gets more aggressive, so your ecommerce store needs to be adaptable to compete.

We know that discounts are not the be all and end all, to compete with the brand behemoths its smart to segment and target customers more effectively throughout the peak period. Create a tiered system of your customers so you can spread the offers out, identify your most valuable customers and offer them the most substantial discounts first rather than a blanket discounting across your store. After that, the second tier and then eventually open up the offers to everyone else. Leveraging your customer data to give them the best shopping experience will drive customer loyalty.

Website and ecommerce systems health check.

Peak period can mean up to 10 times higher volumes than normal trading (Capacitas). 68% of UK shoppers are expected to shop online versus instore for the Black Friday period this year.

These volumes can put abnormal pressure on your eCommerce systems, so you need to be certain that you can meet peak demand. Its imperative that you are prepped to prevent system crashes, site outages, slow load-times failure to do so will cause severe revenue and reputation damage.

  • Indication of the web traffic you’re going to receive
  • Evaluate the limitation of your website and infrastructure
  • Identify the risks,
  • Targeted action to mitigate risks and deliver results
  • Ensure your payment platform can withstand the influx of transactions
  • Be prepared to fulfil international orders
  • 30% of peak sales are International orders

Test your infrastructure to ensure it’s robust; there is no excuse for downtime!
Optimise user experience
Provide a seamless checkout for mobile users as well as other devices.
Expect 30% of UK customers to want to buy via smartphone Ingenico

Boost Customer service availability, by making make use of chatbots to for efficiency.

Order Fulfillment and eCommerce Delivery.

Special offers are all well and good, but if you get the delivery wrong, the customer experience is ruined. Your capacity for order fulfilment needs to be ramped up to meet the delivery demands of peak.

You need to be 100% confident that your delivery management platform, as well as your warehouse operations, partners and carriers are as reliable and efficient as possible. You need to ensure you have the staffing and inventory to support heavy demands. If everything isn’t in place to meet the increase in demand, it can put fulfilment in jeopardy.

Late or failed deliveries to the customer during peak are unacceptable. Reliability is just as important as speed, if not more so. The package needs to arrive when it promised because bad customer experiences negatively affect your reputation, and unhappy customers DO NOT return.

Shoppers prefer their orders arrive when they were told they would rather than be promised Next Day Delivery that doesn’t materialise. It’s important not to offer it if you can’t fulfil it. Many stores switch the Next Day Delivery option off over the course of Black Friday as they can’t possibly deliver that volume. The last mile is an essential part of the Customer Experience.

Click & Collect is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to next day delivery when time is short during peak as customers can pick up their item the following day after ordering. The key to reducing cart abandonment and increasing return customers is to tailor your delivery and return options.

Peak sales mean peak returns.

We know that Returns cost more than orders to process and we know that 31% of Black Friday shoppers admit to regretting and returning a Black Friday purchase. That’s a considerable expense to your business so as a retailer there are a number of things you need to do around returns:

  • Identify the operational costs
  • Increase your capacity to process the influx of eCommerce returns
  • Improve efficiency and make the customer experience less painful
  • Identify the rate of returns for each product category so you can anticipate the number of returns expected in the peak return week
  • Quantify the reasons customers are returning products
  • Reduce the returns rate by preventing avoidable returns, for example, shipping incorrect or faulty products, goods being damaged in transit etc.
Returns can have a massive impact on your bottom line, so putting energy into controlling and reducing occurrences of returns is an essential part of peak prep.
So what is the real measure of a successful peak period? Offering seamless and unforgettable customer experience will drive loyalty and trust in your brand – valuable customer relationships will have the biggest long term value for your brand. Here’s a quick recap!

How to prepare for a successful ecommerce peak sales season – the checklist:

  • Use data to make smart decisions and preparations for your ecommerce store that will ensure success and benefit your customers
  • Start your marketing early and don’t stop until its peak is truly over!
  • Spread your offers across the season and segment your customers
  • Added value incentives are the new price slash, offer trust not discounts to acquire life long customers
  • Test every aspect of your website ecommerce business system to ensure you can handle the volume without outages
  • Ramp up your capacity to fulfil orders and delivery on time
  • Do all you can to reduce the occurrence of returns while being ready for the influx of peak returns week

Don’t forget to connect with your customers after they’ve received their goods. Find out what they loved about their experience so you can deliver even better customer experience next year!

Sources Summit.co.uk, Capacitas,  Ingenico, Multichannelmerchant

Author: Laura Roche, Marketing Coordinator, Scurri. Find out more about how Scurri connects commerce and optimises your online ordering, shipping and delivery to be simple, effective and adaptable to your needs. Check out their blog at www.scurri.com.