eMarketer estimates US retail ecommerce holiday sales will rise 16.8% this year compared to last, reaching $46.7 billion. That is a growth rate nearly five times as fast as the overall retail industry–and a wave of spending that no brand can afford to miss.
Yet missed or fumbled online sales opportunities will happen–not because of consumer frugality, although certainly that will be a factor. No, brands will lose out on sales because right now, somewhere in their organization, there is a hole in their technology, their back-end processes, their customer service net, or their inventory management system that will lead to a customer abandoning a shopping cart, or worse abandoning the sale and then gripping about your poor processes online.
Furthermore, this lost opportunity may not just be a missed sale, but also could represent an aborted long-term customer relationship in the making. It could also skew online marketing strategies and ROI calculations, as many of these campaigns have been in the making for six months or more. Who knows? Maybe the campaign could have been the hit of the season, but for a, say, cumbersome online payment process, or poorly designed website.
A week before Black Friday and Cyber Monday is no time to begin a major overhaul to anything. However, a simple tweak to a form or email document or landing page could have a significant impact on a campaign and sales season.
Expedia learned that lesson when it identified, finally, the reason why so many customers who clicked the "buy now" button on its previous website did not complete the transaction. That reason was an optional field on the form under 'Name', for 'Company'," Expedia's VP of global analytics and optimization Joe Megibow told the audience at Premier Business Leadership Series conference in Las Vegas last year. (via Silicon.com).
Customers found it confusing and put their bank name in the 'Company' field, he explained. They went on to enter the address of their bank, rather than their home address, in the address field. The transaction was rejected because the address was not the one of the credit cardholder. After Expedia changed the layout, sales jumped overnight, Megibow said, resulting in a $12 million a year profit increase. So put a dry run of your website's payment process on the last minute checklist. But let’s start at the very beginning.
Gather All Phone Numbers
Most systems, applications and computing services are able to scale to handle the surge in volume expected for the Thanksgiving weekend–certainly that is how most providers position their products and services. But mishaps and gross underestimates of traffic and inventory and demand do happen–even to top retailers.
Recent case in point: In September 2011, Target launched its much-anticipated Missoni clothing and home goods line, expecting a six-week run of increased traffic and shoppers, fueled by a marketing campaign designed to last throughout that time period.
Not only did its retail outlets sell out of the Italian luxury design house items within hours, but its website crashed and did not get back online until the next day. In short, crashes do happen, even today. If it happens to you next weekend, you want to face the problem with all pertinent phone numbers at your fingertips. And not just the 800-numbers vendors provide. Speak to your sales rep, your account rep, even the president of the company if need be. Get a number that will answered immediately by an experienced tech rep.
This might be harder than you realize. After all, even Google didn’t offer 24/7 phone service support for its Google Business Apps until this week. Get the numbers anyway.
This number-gathering process also includes, unfortunately for them, employees that may not consider themselves part of the customer-facing process, but whose functions are still integral to sales. If you system is showing you are out of an item that was featured prominently in a marketing campaign, don’t wait until the following Monday to figure out why that is so. Have a designated person from inventory management on call.
Key vendor numbers to collect:
- The online domain name registry, where your site is registered.
- Your host or hosting solution provider.
- Your e-commerce and CRM provider, if it is a cloud-based solution.
- Your shopping cart provider.
- Your merchant account and payment gateway provider.
- Your email marketing provider.
Key employee numbers to collect:
- Top tech staff, especially anyone who is responsible for self-service applications on the site.
- Your marketing coordinator. If questions are proliferating about a campaign, they need to be answered.
- An accounting/inventory management representative.
- Your social media coordinator, assuming he or she is not already monitoring conversations and questions that are taking place online about your brand.
Take Care of Your Service Reps
Your customer service reps will be on the front lines this weekend. Do not let them go into battle unarmed. Make sure they have every necessary script or relevant work flow available to them via their desktop. Think of any contingency, even remote, and provide them with guidance to how it should be addressed.
And Your Self-service Operations
Increasingly companies have been pouring resources into the self-service channel for customer support. If that describes your company, go over everything with fresh eyes. Recruit, if possible, someone unacquainted with your site to see if it truly is intuitive. This includes vetting any "how to" videos you might have on your site.
Multivariate or A|B testing is the formalized version of this process. For a guide, visit here.
Try to Offer Customers Proactive Help
Monitor channels and forums where customers will be talking about your products, exchanging tips or observations, or just looking for help. Don’t hesitate to jump in if questions mount. Amazon fell down on this recently when question after question was asked on one of its forums, for the Kindle Fire, about whether the device could store movies or just stream them.
Man Your Email Touch Points
You will be getting new customers this weekend. Be prepared to welcome them via email. The right welcome can turn a one-off buyer or gift recipient into a long-term customer. Typical touch points include a welcome email, a registration email, a "getting to know you" email, an offer of a discount if a purchase is made within a certain amount of days, and so on. To find a more complete list of email touch points, visit here.
Check Your Mobile Site Processes
The 2011 holiday season is shaping up to be the year of m-commerce. More shoppers than ever before are expected to buy via their devices this year.
Make sure your company can be located on such sites as Google Maps, FourSquare and Gowalla–sites where consumers on the move may be accessing information for local retailers. Don't limit your efforts to these well known names–remember local sites that cover reviews in your industry and target those as well.
Check site on a mobile emulator to make sure it renders on all devices. Some to try include the Android SDK and the Opera Mini Emulator.
Also, this is a good year to make sure your web site is also optimized for mobile touchscreens–a process that calls for finger-friendly layouts and lightweight pages that are fast to load over cellular networks.
Mobile touch web sites can run under any mobile browser built on open source Webkit components, Taptu noted in report called "The State of Mobile Touch Web."
"With support for HTML 5 features already being rolled out in these browsers, it's getting easier and easier to create rich touch screen user experiences with the browser without having to create platform-specific apps," it said.
Finally, consider that some customers making a purchase on mobile might want to pick it up in-store. Make sure your processes can handle that last mile of the transaction.