12 lessons ecommerce businesses learned this holiday season

Ecommerce, retail and marketing pros share their insights into the recent holiday shopping season and discuss how online retailers can apply their experiences to the 2016 holiday shopping season.

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“Create a unique landing page(s) for deals,” says Colin Tracy, CTO, Chelsea’s Boutique. “If a customer can't find the deal right away, it may be a lost sale. Consumers don't want to search, they want the deals laid out in front of them, immediately. If you can move them to a page with the daily or monthly deals, they are more likely to make a purchase.”

[ Related: 12 easy ways to lose your ecommerce customers ]

8. Offer holiday promotions the week before Thanksgiving. “Start sales before Black Friday,” advises Angie Stocklin, cofounder and COO, One Click, an online eyewear company. “Shoppers are continuing to stretch their holiday seasons longer and longer, and gone are the days when you can wait and start holiday promotions on Black Friday. Even as an online only brand, we had more sales on Thanksgiving than ever before, and site visits were up 30 percent year-over-year for the week leading up to Thanksgiving.”

9. Don’t ignore Black Friday. “Black Friday [was] actually busier than Cyber Monday,” says Grayson Ervin, founder, CigarsFor.Me. “There are misconceptions that Cyber Monday is the busiest ecommerce [day] of the year. However, for the second straight year, Black Friday has resulted in about 40 percent more sales for us. We offered very similar savings on both days so that we could see which day our customers preferred purchasing on. Our theory is that many consumers have already spent their shopping budgets before making it to Cyber Monday.” Therefore, “online retailers shouldn't skimp on Black Friday sales in hopes of Cyber Monday being bigger. Try to capture as many sales as possible on Black Friday.”

10. Let customers know about critical shipping dates – and make sure you can deliver. “Setting reasonable and accurate shipping estimates for your customers is paramount,” says Kyle Therriault, vice president, business development, Auto Accessories Garage. “Communicate months in advance with key suppliers [and] vendors to [ascertain] their shipping capabilities. Adjust your shipping estimates for products ahead of time, and monitor their performance directly after the Cyber Monday rush to see if further adjustment is needed leading up to the week before Christmas.”

“Run a ‘last shipping day for Christmas delivery’ campaign,” says Ervin. “The world is always going to be full of last minute shoppers, myself included. People are too busy and they simply lose track of the calendar,” he explains. So “get in front of your customers and remind them when the last day to order for Christmas is. This sense of urgency results in a large amount of sales and the reminder is also appreciated by consumers.”

Also, be sure “to double check this date with your shipping carrier and your fulfillment center to make sure you can fulfill the promise you've made to your customers,” he adds.

11. Provide exceptional online customer service. “One lesson learned by etailers during the holiday season is the importance of responding to customers via social media,” says Bryan Segal, CEO, Engagement Labs, which provides social technology solutions to marketers. “Brand responsiveness is a key factor in providing solid customer service, particularly during the holidays. Answering [tweets, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest queries] in a timely fashion not only establishes a positive brand reputation but develops trust with customers.”

12. Make returning items easy – and free (if possible). “This season, we [saw] consumers demand more from the order return process, says Christine Boucher, director, Customer Contact Center, BrandShop. “Not only are online shoppers looking for hassle-free returns, pre-paid labels and extended return periods, they are now demanding online access to initiate and track returns along with follow-up confirmation emails of return credit,” she explains. So “it's crucial for retailers to deliver on these expectations because this is the final leg of the customer's journey, and therefore leaves a lasting impression that can work for or against the retailer.”

“Retailers know free shipping is critical for competing, but now free returns must be in consideration as well,” says Freedman. “The e-tailing group’s Mystery Shopping revealed that 19 out of 100 retailers allowed shoppers the luxury of free returns while 5 percent made it conditional. Retailers are wise to at least evaluate this model as shoppers find great appeal in risk-free shopping. This may turn a reluctant shopper into a prospect and could result in a long-term relationship.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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