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19/12/2018 Luke Goldsworthy

THRIVING IN ONLINE RETAIL IN THE CHRISTMAS SEASON

Jingle bells, logistics hell, consumers giving bad reviews,  oh what fun it is at Christmas time to sing the online retailer blues – HEY!

Okay, it is the silly season so we thought we’d join in with what could be your version of Jingle Bells this year but we like to think it doesn’t have to be like this with solid planning and a little Christmas magic.

Why now?  Because now is the time you can really start to learn and note what is happening so you can improve things for next year.

While the 12 days of Christmas in a religious sense starts from Christmas Day and ends on 6 January, in this final lead up to Christmas day, we thought we would share some of the thing we know about online retail at this time in a traditional 12 points.

1. Woohoo it is the Silly Season with lots of customers wanting to buy your things -YAH CUSTOMERS – this also means that there is a high demand on both your logistics internally to fulfil this influx of orders, and a high demand on shipping agents to get your parcels delivered on time.  So make sure that you always have a way to scale your workforce and shipping at this time. Make sure all your systems are in place and are as foolproof as possible. With large volumes this is the time that mistakes can creep in, so test thoroughly ahead of time.

2. Be clear about expected delivery times on your website and communicate this information on relevant pages like the Product Page, Shopping Cart and within Checkout. This is essential.  Don’t make a customer search for your delivery timeframes at Christmas or be vague about what you mean (I’ve seen a lot of ambiguous statements this year!). It will be the make and break of the sale if they don’t know when they will get it by OR the cause of a lot of arguments if they order anyway and they had ‘expectations’!

3. More parcels are always going to mean that more things can go wrong – so also make sure your policies on refunds, lost packages and exchanges are clear and up-to-date on your website, otherwise it will just add to the morning after the Christmas party headaches. And make sure your customer enquiry number is easy to find.

4. Please help me Santa, my website is down! The only thing that should be going down at this time of year is one too many cocktails at your annual Christmas party and Santa down the chimney to deliver the presents.  Meet with your website hosting company and confirm your servers are large enough to cater for Christmas promotional traffic.  Consider increasing server sizes temporarily during this peak trade period.  Ensure you have proactive and reactive alerts in place (to let you know if your website is about to die / is dead).  Consider services like Pingdom.com and PagerDuty.com or NewRelic and Nagios.  

At The Playhouse Group, we can’t stress this one enough. Too often we see projects that clients want done ‘in time for Christmas’ but the timeline is not even mildly realistic (pro tip: to do it properly, and Christmas promotional traffic starts growing from October so your new website needs to be built and live by September). And while we would love to help, we take pride in doing a proper job.

The best time to come up with new project ideas for Christmas is earlier in the year, then you have time to see your agency, get quotes and pricing and ensure you have plenty of time for the project to be delivered and for your customers to be delighted. Also make sure you team up with your digital agency to ensure everything is up-to-date like security patches, load testing, payment gateways, shipping options etc.

5. Keep note of anything major or minor that happened during the Christmas season and actually invite your staff to a brainstorming session in the New Year to discuss what could be put in place to fix it.  Your staff will be eager to give you suggestions if they think it will cause them fewer headaches next year and if they think that you will actually implement solutions.What’s more, these solutions will probably help you on a day-to-day basis all year long. YAH efficiency!

6. Click and Collect – if you are going to implement Click and Collect in your stores make sure you do it properly.  If a customer puts in an order for a Click and Collect order and they don’t receive regular updates in regards to their order and when they can come and collect then this causes friction and unhappy customers.   People choose Click and Collect for a few reasons:

a) So they can save money on shipping 
b) For the convenience of online shopping so they don’t have to run all over the store themselves if they have a few things they want 

c) to make sure they secure the item at this busy time of year.  

It is generally expected that a Click and Collect orders will be ready to collect when ordered before 12 pm. If your Click and Collect method is not set up with in-store items you need to highlight this at checkout, not bury it in your Click and Collect terms and conditions.

Customers don’t want to wait excessively long times for their item if they thought that they could actually walk into the store and buy it today with a little more effort or if they thought they could source it from someone else. Just be honest about what you are doing here. Yes, with buried Click and Collect policies you might make a few more sales but just be prepared for all the extra manpower you will need to field the calls from unhappy customers. So if you don’t have it in store and it won’t be in for a few days, let your customers know this upfront. Successful retail = happy customers.

7. Communicate.We would like to say enough said but we will go into detail anyway. Make sure your automated email systems have been set up and are fully tested. There is nothing worse than customers not receiving the emails to keep them up-to-date on their orders. Worse still is if you don’t have your systems set up in the first place. And if you have a delay of any kind, have that email ready to go too. Minimising the friction that customers experience about their orders will mean more good reviews! Better yet, ask your customers for feedback at this time so you can learn from it for next year.

8. As retailers, you know that ‘Free Shipping’ is not all that free. In fact, it costs a lot!  But it increasingly influences people’s purchasing decisions online.  Shoppers want the convenience of not having to go to the shops but they don’t want to pay more either.  So consider how you can angle your shipping offers so that they actually work for you.  Consumers will spend more online to qualify for free shipping than they originally intended to spend. The trick here is to know your numbers so you can set your shipping offers at a price point that increases basket sizes but doesn’t break your bank.  Maybe you can set a flat shipping fee countrywide which reduces the cost of shipping for ALL your customers and also allows you to recoup some of the costs of shipping.

9. Customers will hold you accountable to the shipping experience they receive.  As a retailer, you know that when that package leaves your hands there is little you can do to influence it arriving on time and in good condition to the right address.  There is a little bit of a wing and a prayer because the shipping component is a third party business.  So make sure you are using people you trust and test out other options if you are not happy.  There is nothing worse than a customer being excited about the purchase they made with you, only to blame you for the disastrous shipping experience (lost package, damaged goods, delayed timeframes).

10. Stay on top of the packages you have shipped out and have an automated flag in the system if things aren’t reaching their destination on time.  You need to know what is happening because some customers won’t complain if they still get their parcel but they may be unhappy enough not to shop with you again.  It will also allow you to be on the front foot with your customer if you are communicating the delay to them. It will also let you know when you need to start trialling other shipping companies if your chosen provider is constantly letting you down.

11. What was true this year will not be true for next year.  Look at where trends are going to ensure you can attract more shoppers to your site for next Christmas and so you can plan ahead for your online projects. 

And drumroll please for our most important advice:

12. Smile!  It’s nearly Christmas! Consumers are more likely to buy from a happy elf than a grumpy grinch.

The Playhouse Group wishes you a very Merry Christmas for 2018 and an amazing New Year. We also regularly consult on, and assist businesses to optimise their logistics models and have rolled out advanced logistics offerings like Click and Collect for clients like Toys-R-Us. We can also help you get for site ready for the silly season. If you are interested in having an outstanding 2019 get in contact with The Playhouse Group for a free consultation.