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Hands On

Is Your Online Store “Holiday Ready?”

While the holiday season is the most profitable time of the year for retailers, you won’t catch any of the action if you don’t prepare. We give you the 5 musts in order for you to stay on top of your game this year.

Adebisi Adewusi
November 11 2017

We’re nearing that time of the year when customers spend billions of dollars shopping online. Time to make some money!

Last year, the holiday season ended on a happy note, with retailers earning  $91.7 billion in online revenue flow. This holiday season, Deloitte predicts that e-commerce sales could peak at $114 billion.

While the holiday season is the most profitable time of the year for retailers, you won’t catch any of the action if you don’t prepare.

Data from the National Retail Federation, states that more than half of holiday shoppers start researching potential purchases in October or even earlier.

Businesses, it’s time to get moving.

To ensure you get a piece of the action, here are 5 steps that will help you prepare your online store for the 2017 holiday season.

#1 Start Planning Now

If you want to execute a successful holiday marketing campaign, start planning now. First, decide which holidays your store will participate in. Pick your battles based on your customers’ needs so you don’t drive yourself crazy.

For a general idea, below are the major holidays between the end of October and December.

Halloween- October 31

Thanksgiving- November 24

Black Friday- November 25

Cyber Monday- November 28

Christmas- December 25

Once you choose your holidays, the next step is to:

Create a Promotional Calendar

Map out dates and times for graphic and banner updates on your site, deadlines for email copy, a timeline for when you’ll start and stop advertising for each promotion, etc.

Divide your Budget

You’ll want to promote events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other limited time promotions during the holidays through social media and paid ads on various platforms. Allocate your budget accordingly based on your marketing objectives.

Create a Plan for Social

Develop a social media plan to engage customers during the festive season. Base your plan on the social channels your customers use most and what they’re doing on those channels.

Rework your Ad Copy

This season, you holiday-themed words like “Christmas,” and “Black Friday” are a must to catch people’s attention. Include words and phrases like “now,” “one day only” into your ad copy to create a sense of urgency. Remember to update your ad copy as you communicate different deals and promotions.

Test your messages, creative and email strategies weeks in advance and make necessary adjustments to improve results.

A solid promotional plan is key to phenomenal holiday results and will ensure you don’t miss out on the billions of dollars customers will spend this holiday season.

#2 Give Your Store a Health Check

Your website can’t be sluggish or even worse, crash when there is significant money at stake.

To ensure your website is in shape for holiday traffic, consider these steps:

Check Your Loading Speed

Patience is not a virtue in retail. Any slight delay gives your customers permission to navigate to another site.

According to studies by Akamai and Gomez, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again.

If your site is slow, you’re going to lose money.

Research by customer data platform QuBit, estimates that internet retailers could be losing out on £1.73 billion (2.27 billion USD) each year due to slow websites.

To avoid losing customers, check your site speed with tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom. Both tools provide suggestions on how to improve your website.

Increase Web Security: As you prepare for holiday sales, cybercriminals are plotting to steal card information and personal details from your customers.

The holiday season is prime time for hackers due to the high number of online shopping activities.

Target’s massive data breach at the end of 2013 serves as a reference point for how costly a data breach is for businesses. The scam compromised over 40 million credit cards and led to estimated related costs of $150 million.

This year, CeX, one of Britain’s largest retail franchises, was attacked by hackers, exposing information from 2 million customers– including personal details like names and addresses.

In September, credit reporting company Equifax, (one of the largest repositories of sensitive financial data) announced a cybersecurity incident that could potentially impact 143 million Americans.

Are you ready for cyber-attacks?

If you aren’t, use these tips to improve your defenses against data breaches:

  • Install SSL a (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to protect and encrypt customer data.
  • Display a trusted seal to make customers feel safe buying from you. Common site seals include PayPal, Visa-Mastercard and Norton.
  • Get advanced Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection and mitigation. This will help keep your site safe from DDoS; an attack used to deny legitimate users access to an online service.
  • Hire a security expert to help with auditing your website.

Remember to have a breach-response process ready in case a security incident occurs.

Be Mobile Friendly: It is estimated that e-commerce, particularly smartphone commerce, which will rise by 57.8% this year.

Therefore, your website size has to be optimized for mobile users.

To find out if your site is ready for mobile use, take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Don’t like your results?

Below are a few ways to make your website mobile friendly:

  • Use a responsive design that adapts your website to whatever device is accessing it.
  • Make call-to-action buttons and links large enough for finger clicks.
  • Have a clear layout and make navigation easy.
  • Place the shopping cart and checkout buttons in a visible spot.

One more thing.

Test the server capacity load of your store with tools like LoadImpact or Blitz to ensure your website can withstand the surge in traffic this holiday season.

By making your website is mobile friendly, your customer retention rates and profits will increase tremendously.

#3 Have A Return Policy

Your return policy has a significant effect on customer satisfaction and your store’s profitability.

Statistics show that three of four holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase this last holiday season.

If your return policies are too strict or difficult customers may be reluctant to shop with you, but on the other hand, a lenient return policy can cut into your margins.

So how do you keep yourself and your customers happy?

Set a time limit for returns: Depending on your industry and the product, your timeframe can be anywhere from 14 to 90 days

Reimbursement: State whether customers can expect to exchange the item, get credit or receive a full refund for their purchase within the set return time frame

Determine who pays for shipping: Use your judgement to decide who pays for shipping as well as any other additional cost. If you’re offering free shipping (which you should), make sure your holiday shipping deadlines are visible on your website and homepage. If customers have to pay for shipping let them know.

Dont complicate things: Clearly state your return policy on your receipts and website, and make your return policy easy to understand and find

Make the return process hassle free: A frustrating return process can damage your reputation and long-term relationship with a customer. To simplify the return process easy, include prepaid labels in product packages, offer flexible return shipping options and ask little or no questions when accepting returns.

Having a clear and transparent policy will help you build a lasting relationship with your customers, make them feel protected, increase revenue and ensure customer loyalty.

#4 Ramp Up Your Inventory

This holiday season, you can’t be out of stock.

Because every time a product is unavailable, it becomes a lost order and, potentially, a lost customer.

While deciding the ideal order quantity that minimizes inventory costs and matches customer demand during the holiday season can be tricky, it is possible.

To balance your act:

Use analytics from your 2016 holiday sales to find out which items sold out in your store and in what quantity. Also, look up the latest consumer trends and industry data to estimate what products you need to order from your suppliers and how much.

Invest in an inventory software that among other things, updates your stock levels as soon as an item is taken off the shelf, identifies when a product is out of stock and has a re-order feature to set inventory limits and issues purchase orders to suppliers.

Have a safety stock to compensate for unexpected events—like an unpredictable spike in customer demand—that can result in out-of-stock situations.

Outsource operational logistics to ensure your products get to your customers safely, with minimum hassle.

Put your vendors on a schedule. If a vendor can’t expedite deliveries to meet your specific business needs, change them. Timing is important in retail sales.

Managing holiday stock can be problematic. But if done right, you’ll have everything your customers need with little or no overstock.

#5 Offer More Payment Options

How many payment methods do you accept in your online store?

If your answer is one, you’re making it difficult for customers to do business with you.

And customers hate difficult.

According to a PayPal study, 63% of consumers admit to abandoning an online purchase because they’re unable to use their preferred method.

Choosing the right payment method for your online store is a key enabler to online sales conversion. By offering extra payment options, like Bitcoin, PayPal or gift cards, you make shopping easy and simple for customers.

And while you want to be accommodating, it doesn’t make sense to offer every payment option you can lay your hands on.

When deciding which payment options to integrate into your online store, consider your type of online business and customers.

Making it easy for potential customers to do business with you is important if you want to increase your profits this season.

Whatever payment methods you choose make sure it’s secure, convenient and satisfactory for your customers.

Last Words

There’s a lot of money to be made during the holidays. If you want to get some of it, wow your customers by offering them a convenient payment process, hitch-free returns, and every item they want. Cheers to a profitable season!

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Adebisi Adewusi

Adebisi Adewusi is a freelance B2B writer and a Huffington Post Contributor. When she’s not creating compelling content for businesses, you’ll find her capturing moments with her Nikon d600.

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