There’s a lot of uncertainty around Christmas this year, but there’s one thing we know for sure - eCommerce is about to explode. With far fewer people shopping in-store, online retailers need to be prepared for a festive season like never before.


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Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a 42.4% increase in non-food related online sales. That’s a huge jump, and as Christmas approaches there’s no doubt there’ll be another massive surge in demand.

To make the most of this unrivalled opportunity, online stores like yours need to get ahead of the game.



The Importance of Planning Ahead


Think back to how busy you were last Christmas. How hard was it juggling store management, marketing, fulfillment, and customer service?

Now imagine all of that in a period of mass uncertainty - where consumers aren’t comfortable on the high street and are instead making all their purchases online.

You also need to consider that customers are preparing for this too. They’ve already experienced product shortages, dispatch delays and poor communication. So they’re choosing where to shop wisely, and starting early to avoid the rush.

With all that in mind, now’s the time to focus on three key areas to make sure that - a) you grab your share of traffic and b) you can deliver on your promises.


1. Prepare Your Website


Analyse past data

Knowing how your website has performed historically is key to making improvements. Look through past data to understand what sold well, what didn’t, how many purchases came directly through the website versus other platforms, and when your busiest days fell.

Also look through past customer reviews to pinpoint anything unsatisfactory about your sites functionality. Use this to make key alterations now, before the Christmas traffic starts rolling in.


Check its capability

You need to be confident that your website can handle high volumes of traffic. If it crashes under heavy demand you’ll be losing out on custom.


Make it mobile friendly

It’s a fair prediction that the majority of Christmas shopping this year will be done via mobile devices, and if your site isn’t optimised for mobile use, customers won’t stick around.

Consumers are increasingly ditching PCs and opting for the convenience of their phones. Keep this in mind, not just for your website’s functionality, but also when asking customers for reviews. SMS review invites have a higher conversion rate than email, and if you have a REVIEWS.io account, these come as standard.



2. Boost Marketing Communications



Use email marketing

Email marketing is a cost effective way to reach a mass audience and notify customers already on your database (and therefore already invested in your company) about promotional offers and new products.

It’s easier to drum up repeat business than acquire new, and taking the time now to segment your list means you can send highly targeted campaigns in the run up to Christmas.


Be active on social media

A strong social presence can massively boost your visibility, so start increasing your activity now. Don’t just post ad hoc - create a well thought out schedule of promotional offers and festive updates that go out daily.



3. Improve customer service



Integrate live chat

The festive season isn’t just the busiest time of year in retail, it also runs to a very strict deadline. This makes it vital that customer queries are answered without delay.

By integrating live chat, you open another channel of communication, one that’s almost instantaneous. It means a better service for the customer, and more sales for you.


Highlight shipping details

Don’t leave this until the last page of the checkout process, as it may result in a high number of abandoned carts.

Let the customer know prior to their purchase when they can expect delivery and how much it will cost. Put practices in place to update them at every stage of the process, like when their order has been dispatched.


Make returns policies clear

Let customers know early on what your returns policy is. Shopping online means they’ve less certainty they’re buying the perfect gift, and if it turns out to be wrong, they want assurance an exchange or refund is easy to come by.

Also consider changing your policy for the festive season, like extending the returns period or offering to cover shipping costs. Anything that gives customers confidence in your service will make them more likely to convert.



Summary


Taking it for granted that a change in consumer behaviour means more profit this Christmas is a mistake. Even with a huge surge in demand, it’s a competitive marketplace, and if you’re not on the ball you’ll miss out.

Make it a priority now to prepare yourself. Get your website in shape, get your brand seen, and create a great customer experience.

It’s not just for a short term gain. Online shopping looks set to be part of our new normal, and if you can impress at the busiest time of the year, you’ll likely win customers for life.