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E-Commerce Strategies And Tactics For The 2019 Holiday Season

This article is part of CMO.com’s Industry Spotlight 2019 collection. Click here for more.

The holiday season is the most wonderful—and most challenging—time of the year for e-commerce sites. Amid the gift-buying frenzy, the high-traffic season sees intense competition from other merchants, increased instances of cybercrime, and overwhelmed, busy, distracted shoppers.

According to Adobe Digital Insights, consumers spent $125.9 billion online in November and December in 2018—a 15.2% increase over the 2017 holiday season. And on 26 of the 61 shopping days between November 1 and December 31, consumers spent upward of $2 billion per day. It’s expected that the 2019 holiday season will continue this record-breaking online sales trends. Now is the time merchants should be preparing. So what can they do to capitalize on this multibillion-dollar opportunity?

E-commerce specialists offer these practical checklists and tips for different phases of the buyer journey.

Checklist For The Pre-Journey
Before a customer even decides to make a purchase, merchants vie for their attention across myriad channels, from social media, to search, to email. Of course, the experience must be seamless across each channel and form factor to ensure that maximum “wow” factor and better conversion rates.

As shoppers browse their mobile phones on-the-go and surf the web during their lunch breaks, merchants must ensure sites are optimized for discovery, the search experience is friction-free, and customers are engaged across channels in a personal and authentic way.

In this pre-journey race for customer attention, the key to success is personalization. Because Americans are exposed to up to 10,000 ads each day, personalization across discovery, site search, and omnichannel engagement is a must in order to cut through the noise and resonate with buyers.

Consider:

Discovery ...

  • Gather and analyze behavioral and contextual customer data to understand customer intent.
  • Adopt multipronged discovery strategies (e.g., continue shopping recommendations and targeted pop-up stores).
  • Add personalized product recommendations and content to capture attention.

Site search ...

  • Use business relevance to order search results.
  • Personalize site search results to give customers a notion of discovery.
  • Enable voice search (and new alternative) capabilities.

Omnichannel engagement ...

  • Think mobile-first and always start with your data.
  • Avoid batch-and-blast communications. Segment and personalize to stand out from the crowd.
  • Up your email game. Set up welcome and abandon cart programs for quick wins.

Checklist For A Smooth Journey
When customers finds their way to a merchant’s e-commerce site, customer experience takes a leading role. In fact, according to Gartner, 64% of people find the customer experience to be more important than price when it comes to making a purchasing decision.

Ensuring a secure, friction-free checkout experience is fundamental to capturing as many customers as possible during the holiday season. It’s especially important to pay attention to the mobile experience since 62% of all e-commerce visitors come from mobile—though it only accounts for 23% of dollars spent.

Finally, as a special touch for cash-strapped shoppers over the holidays, merchants should consider consumer credit options—especially when average order value is over $99—to alleviate high credit card usage at a time of year when money is tightest and card limits are maxed out.

Consider:

Secure payments  ...

  • Offer multiple payment options—and don’t forget about mobile commerce.
  • Remember to turn on the payment platform’s fraud tool.
  • Test payment processing capacity to ensure your site can handle the increased order volume.

Fraud prevention ...

  • Understand what good customers look like—and let them through.
  • Combine automated and manual reviews and have a process in place to assess higher volumes of orders.
  • Have an ad fraud strategy in place.

Checkout and credit ...

  • Have consumer financing available if average order value is over $99.
  • Enhance the mobile checkout experience and let users choose their payment method.
  • Reduce distractions and have a clean user interface, especially for mobile.

Checklist For Post-Journey Engagement
The optimization of the customer experience doesn’t end once the sale is complete. Post-sales offer ample opportunity to surprise and delight customers.

As the physical link between a merchant’s store and a customer’s home, shipping and delivery play a vital role in the creation of a memorable customer experience. However, a survey from a previous holiday shopping season found that 56% of consumers were disappointed with retailers due to difficulties with shipping. By upping their shipping game, merchants can provide a memorable customer experience that keeps customers coming back again and again.

Customer service and returns and exchanges also offer opportunities to foster customer loyalty, referrals, and incremental business. However, many merchants see these functions as cost centers and overlook the opportunities they represent. For example, a great returns policy can actually help drive more revenue—over three-quarters of shoppers say they're likely to purchase something else while making an exchange or return, and 62% would buy again from a brand offering free returns or exchanges.

Consider:

Shipping ...

  • Showcase shipping information (including “ship before” dates) on the home page and throughout site.
  • Remember that the holiday season is a global event, so be prepared to ship everywhere in the world.
  • Get creative with festive packaging.

Customer service ...

  • Remember that excellent customer service isn’t a single stage—it crosses the entire customer journey.
  • Invest in your self-help and FAQ resources to boost self-service.
  • Use data to help create tailored customer experiences and proactive outreach.

Returns and exchanges ...

  • Provide customers plenty of return and exchange options—for example, customers prefer to return and exchange in-person.
  • Optimize your reverse logistics process.
  • Remove unnecessary friction from the returns experience.

Naughty Or Nice List?
No matter which stage of the journey, it’s the customer experience that’s most important. The holidays bring in the shoppers, but they also bring merchants the opportunity to create a relationship with their customers that can last well beyond the season. Create amazing experiences and get on that nice list.

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