Neither do we. This year, the "holiday season" is starting earlier than ever, with the big retailers scrambling for seasonal workers way back in June and the e-commerce world humming with a brand new buzzword: Black November.
Let's rewind for a second. 2017 was the biggest year for online sales in recorded history. Cyber Monday generated $6.7 Billion in online sales, a $1 Billion jump from 2016. $1 Million worth of orders were processed ever minute on Shopify during Black Friday. Sweating yet? Don't worry - we're here to help! Our guide is here to help both seasoned and rookie e-commerce merchants navigate (and profit from) the holiday season.
Got something to add? Email Julia at email@example.com with a suggestion and we'll put it in the guide!
People are browsing on mobile, but purchasing on
Now more than ever, customers are using multiple devices to make their online purchases. However, mobile accounts for just 38% of revenue, despite accounting for 59% of all browsing sessions. To put it simply: Consumers are browsing on their phones, but actually making the purchase on their desktops.
Why? According to eMarketer customers just generally prefer to use a PC for purchases
Abandoned carts are an ongoing problem.
Last year, over $4.5 Trillion in e-commerce sales was lost to abandoned carts. According to Forbes, potential customers relinquish their carts because:
It’s tough to make a dent in $4 Trillion, but there are steps you can take to mitigate the number of abandoned carts on your site.
Make sure people can find you.
Here are three quick ways to get started. (Remember: Now is the time to start on this, as it can take several months for SEO efforts to pay off.)
Get the full scoop here: 4 Quick Ways to Improve your Organic Search Results for Your E-commerce Store
Your site needs to be fast.
Google research shows that site speed matters more than any other website engagement metric. Not only does it create a better shopping (and purchasing) experience for your customers, speed is also
One of the most common frustrations we’ve heard from e-commerce merchants is that they run out of inventory in the thick of the holidays. Luckily, with careful planning, it’s possible to avoid the heartbreak of empty shelves and empty-handed customers.
Today, South wants fellow entrepreneurs to know that if you plan accordingly, the last two months of the year can account for 50% of your annual revenue - a figure he achieved on his second - and much more lucrative - go around with the holidays. His advice?
Don’t underestimate January.
Just because the party’s over doesn’t mean your store will be quiet. In 2017, UPS estimated that 1.4 million packages would be returned to retailers on January 3, which the company labeled “National Returns Day.”
Need a refresher? Here’s our go-to resource on best practices for handling returns.
If you’re in the fitness, self-improvement, or health industries, your holiday season is far from over. Scores of customers brimming with high hopes for their New Year’s resolutions will be flocking to your site.
Understand the new sales tax laws.
On June 21,
Since the Wayfair ruling, if your e-commerce store passes a state’s economic threshold for total revenue or number of transactions in that state, you’re legally obligated to collect and remit sales tax to that state (even if you don’t have a physical presence in a state). Our friends at TaxJar take a deeper dive into Economic Nexus Laws- important stuff to know before the busiest time of the year for sales.
For Amazon sellers, we recommend getting your sales tax settings in order before Black Friday.
It goes without saying that customer service is one of the most valuable tools in a small business’s arsenal. This is particularly true during the
A smaller e-commerce store with a proven record of stellar customer support can consistently compete with the major retailers. And during the holiday free-for-all, every competitive edge counts.
No matter your industry or customer base, the three basic tenets of good online customer service remain the same:
Online shoppers want quick responses to their questions and concerns. On a normal day, 75% of consumers expect help within 5 minutes [McKinsey]. The timeframe is even less for live chat:
However, the stakes are higher over the holidays, as customers have
Here are some of the best ways for a small e-commerce startup to elevate their customer service without crashing and burning:
Offer live chat.
Not only is live chat the #1 preferred channel for Millennials, it keeps your customers on your site longer (as opposed to redirecting to an FAQ page or contact form).
Provide 24/7 support
If you’ve built a reputation of providing excellent customer service throughout the year, chances are high that you’ll be the first stop when it comes to holiday gifts for mom and dad.
The best way to quell an irate customer is to listen to their concerns, empathize with their frustrations, and navigate a solution. Studies show that a customer who had a bad experience that was turned around by great customer service is more likely to return to that store than a customer who had a good experience.
Live chat, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, email, phone, SMS - the more channels on which you can reach your customers, the better. Plus, you’ll be able to figure out what your primary customer base prefers and build out from there. Here’s more on omnichannel customer service.
We defer to customer experience guru (and 20x J.D. Power award winner) Sue Nokes for this one. With 25+ years of experience successfully transforming Fortune 100 companies
Nokes says yes, it is ok to outsource customer service, but it’s not as simple as just handing over your customers to someone else. She recommends that business owners think about the following before making a decision to outsource:
If you’re considering outsourcing customer service, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
According to National Retail Federaton consumer research, 68 percent of online shoppers expect free shipping even on purchases of less than $50. 47 percent say they typically back out if shipping isn’t free. And 38 percent expect two-day shipping to be free while 24 percent expect free same-day shipping.
“Retailers are literally racing to consumers’ doorsteps to meet rising expectations,” said Mark Matthews, NRF Vice President for Research Development and Industry Analysis.
When it comes to fulfillment for e-commerce companies, retailers have a couple options: Keep it in house or outsource the task to a 3rd party logistics (3PL) outsourcer.
Keeping fulfillment in-house makes sense for many e-commerce business, including those that personalize every item, as well as those that are small enough for self-fulfillment to still be manageable. However, as a business grows, they may need to turn to 3PL.
Frees up your time!
Fulfillment can be labor-intensive. Outsourcing gives entrepreneurs and their teams more time and flexibility to handle whatever Christmas chaos is catapulted their way.
Time = money
Outsourcing can save money if your full-time employees shift focus to growth and sales.
Many companies share their offices with their inventory and packing supplies. While boxes are great for shipping, they make lousy officemates (and leave old food in the fridge).
It’s not always ideal for brand new businesses.
According to our friends at ShipBob, “unless you have a crowdfunding campaign with hundreds of backers lined up or know you will be receiving national attention for your product, you likely won’t need a 3PL right away. Similarly, if you don’t have inventory yet – whether it’s caught up in manufacturing or otherwise delayed – a 3PL won’t be able to help you right away without stock that’s ready to go.”
Thinking about outsourcing fulfillment? Read this.
Online shopping is more accessible than ever; there are more online stores than ever
Don’t let the onslaught of Big Box advertising deter your small business’s holiday ambitions. They may have multi-million dollar marketing budgets, but you’ve got flexibility, creativity, and a consumer base that wants to support small businesses on your side. You also have the following marketing tips from us.
- Josh Thompson, Head of Digital Services, FutureShirts
Content is king, but
As our friends at Smile.io have noted, 64 percent of customers describe ads as annoying or intrusive and over 615 million devices currently have an ad blocker installed. “Clearly customers are tired of traditional forms of marketing, and are looking for other ways to engage with the brands they shop with.”
This holiday season, invest in content-based, trust-building advertising that isn’t really advertising at all. Here are a few ways to do so:
Marketing on social media
Facebook’s “Bringing People Closer Together” algorithm shift is the coal in a small business's stocking. As you may recall (or perhaps you’ve blocked the memory), business pages experienced a drastic decrease in engagement, reach, video watch time, and referral traffic. Businesses of all sizes have been trying to navigate this new terrain and 2018 will be the first holiday season with restricted access to followers.
So, until Facebook launches a “Bringing People’s Money Closer to E-Commerce Sites” campaign, we gotta get creative. 13 Ways To Boost Facebook Content Engagement Post-Algorithm Shift.
You don’t have to offer discounts on your products
Offering an eye-popping discount on Black Friday sounds like a great way to market your product and attract new customers. But Charles Gaudet, CEO of Predictable Profits, has some tried-and-true advice for smaller e-commerce retailers: Don’t do it.
Yes, all the Big Box stores drastically slash prices throughout Q4. But the Big Box stores are operating on a completely different playing field. As Gaudet points out, the reason big retailers discount their products is
It’s much more valuable for smaller retailers to increase the perceived value of their products. How? Here are some suggestions:
- Charles Gaudet, CEO, Predictable Profits
The marketing shouldn’t stop once a potential customer lands on your site. Ross Beyeler from Growth Spark encourages e-commerce merchants to optimize their stores through onsite promotion. This can include:
Many retailers know the feeling all too well. Like when Sweetlegs’s site crashed the day before Black Friday. Or when Target suffered a multi-million dollar data breach. Or when Les Sharma, owner of SnuggleFeet, had all of her products deleted by an inventory management app just a few weeks before Christmas.
Luckily for Sharma, she had her store data backed up. Which leads us to our next point:
Any downtime of your store during Q4 - even just for a day - could result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue. You might have already experienced this yourself, but once a product or page is deleted from your Shopify store, it’s gone forever. (Cue blood rushing to legs.)
So, during November and December, would you rather be crushing sales or manually rebuilding your store from scratch after an accidental deletion? Our friends at Rewind.io want to make sure it's more of the former and none of the latter.
Tightening up your store's fraud standards in the middle of Q4 is a bad idea. The tendency, given the pressure of the season, is to turn conservative, to not blow it. The thinking goes: When in doubt, decline the order. Which is a good way to lose a customer for life.
In fact, Business Insider reported that in 2016 retailers would lose $8.6 billion to false declines, $2 billion more than the $6.5 billion in fraud they’d prevent.
Fraud protection is tricky business, which is why we've enlisted the help of Signifyd's Mike Cassidy to help entrepreneurs navigate the best way to protect their sites without compromising customer experience. Click here for more.
Chargebacks were originally created by credit card companies to help protect their customers and their money. While it is an important safety feature in guarding against fraudulent charges, many merchants argue that some consumers may be taking advantage of the chargeback system.
- Peter Coughlin, Co-owner, EVO Gimbals
Last year’s holiday season was a doozy. Not only did Amazon have its biggest holiday to date, but Cyber Monday 2017 was declared the biggest e-commerce day in history… registering a record $6.59 billion in sales.
There are no signs of online sales slowing down this year. There are already 10 million more Amazon Prime members than in 2017 and many
Better yet, research conducted by The Grommet and presented at IRCE shows that consumers are itching to support small businesses and often feel guilty about where they shop: