In the ecommerce world, it often feels like one holiday season has scarcely concluded when it’s already time to focus on the next. Such is the nature of such a sales-heavy season; only by anticipating customers’ needs can you adequately prepare to handle the influx of traffic and orders. More people are doing their holiday shopping online each year, too. Adobe reports the 2017 holiday saw $108.2 billion in online sales, representing an increase of nearly 15 percent year over year.
A good rule of thumb is to remember that it’s never too soon for ecommerce merchants to think about the holidays. Here are a few areas on which to concentrate when you’re looking ahead.
Forecasting Your Inventory Needs
The last thing you want is to find yourself unable to meet heightened customer demand come holiday season. When shoppers visit your site only to encounter “Sold Out” or “Out of Stock” notices, it causes frustration. Not only does your store miss out on a sale in the short-term, but also risks damaging customer loyalty—which can take a long-term toll on your reputation and revenue.
While inventory is not necessarily an exact science, ecommerce retailers can draw on data to help them anticipate customer demand by product. Consider these factors when you’re forecasting:
- Data from past sales: How many of Product X do you typically sell during a given timeframe? How many did you sell last holiday season, assuming that data is available?
- Broader industry trends: Ecommerce in general is slated to increase year-over-year, which means that your store may experience higher levels of demand compared to last holiday season.
- Demand by keyword: Search more specifically by keyword and category so you can try to determine which types of products customers are seeking within your niche.
Assessing Your Website’s Readiness
Before shoppers can even peruse your product lineup and add items to their shopping carts, they must be able to navigate your website successfully. What is an ecommerce website without its ability to put customers on the path to making purchases? This functionality becomes even more imperative around the holiday season because most stores experience an influx of traffic and conversions.
Preparing for the holidays in terms of website usability primarily means making sure your website can accommodate more visitors and more transactions—without delayed loading times, glitching or errors. Whether you’re serving a single customer or 10,000 customers at once, it’s important to deliver a smooth user experience at every stage.
According to a study from Nielsen Norman Group, customer expectations in ecommerce are changing in six key areas:
- Convenience: Users seek flexible online shopping experiences across devices.
- Speed: Customers want instant gratification in terms of being able to buy and receive items quickly.
- Assurance: Shoppers want proof that a given website is taking cybersecurity measures to protect their information.
- Accuracy and precision: People want as close to real-time updates as possible about inventory levels, shipping progress, pricing, etc.
- Options: Customers want a personalized shopping experience with plenty of options in terms of products, shipping, customer services and more.
As a seller, it’s your job to meet these expectations through your platform, even during the busy holiday season.
Preparing to Fulfill More Orders, Fast
Last, but certainly not least, your store must prepare to package and ship out a higher order volume during the holidays. As many people buy products as gifts around this time, it’s safe to assume they will not tolerate delayed order fulfillment. Fine-tune whichever method you’re using now so you can accommodate the rush come holiday time. Set customer expectations fairly on your website by providing an accurate window for delivery times.
It’s never too soon for ecommerce merchants to think about the holidays… ready, set, go!