This is a guest blog post by Chris Crane with Excelsior Integrated.
By the end of 2019, global eCommerce sales should reach 3.45 trillion dollars, and a good amount of that will happen during the holiday season. Every eCommerce company needs to change its strategy, plan accordingly for inventory, and ensure smooth sailing through the holiday season.
1. Get People Talking
While many people will put the focus on the holidays throughout December, most don’t realize that people start holiday shopping as early as September. You need to get ahead of that to capture those early-bird shoppers. You don’t need holiday-themed posts, but strengthening your online presence through October and November can have a substantial impact on your holiday sales.
To get people talking about your products or brand:
- Offer deals for promoting or sharing specific posts on Facebook and Instagram
- Build trust through open and transparent communication through social media
- Consider boosting your network through Wish, Amazon, and even eBay.
Another reason to spark a buzz early into the holiday season is to reach that level of want. If someone wants something specific from your store, they’ll spread the word that you’re on their wish list.
2. Evaluate Alternatives for Holiday Inventory
You don’t want to be “that” company who utterly fails its customers by not having enough inventory in stock to meet demand. There have been entire movies made about must-have but impossible to obtain toys during the Christmas season, and we’ve seen it in real life too. In 2016 parents were in a frenzy when Hatchimals ran low on stock worldwide. That’s right. The entire globe was bought out on Hatchimals, with stores selling out within a day of stocking them.
To avoid this, you need to create an inventory management plan that covers all of your bases. You need to clearly determine the process of ordering, storing, and shipping your inventory through the holiday season. Businesses will also need to consider the volume and location of raw materials as well as completed products.
Although inventory planning seems like a tough balancing act, through the holiday seasons or peak season, it’s better to err on the side of excess inventory. You can cut some inventory costs; however, by choosing alternative methods of storage.
Many eCommerce fulfillment options will stock a level of inventory to ensure quick shipping and order processing. During the peak season, this might be a good move for your company. Ultimately, you’ll need to rely on your historical data and projections to map out your production and inventory levels throughout this year’s holiday season.
3. Consider Outsourcing for the Holiday Season
Outsourcing fulfillment is the simple act of finding another company to ship your products for orders. Typically, consumers never know the difference. Fulfillment logistics is a vital part of any value chain, and for small businesses, it can seem impossible to manage alone. Many small companies or up-and-coming companies will experience the crippling effect of trying to achieve growth and fulfillment on their own.
Instead, consider outsourcing or using a 3PL fulfillment option. 3PL fulfillment is the link between brands and customers when those companies don’t have a full supply chain at their disposal. 3PLs come with a variety of different types, but the most common will act as a warehouse and distribution outlet. You’ll essentially stock up the warehouses, and then those warehouses will ship out orders as customers place them. There are numerous 3PL options, so shop around and find the pricing strategy and inventory stocking opportunities that work best for your company.
4. Consider Altering Your Return Policies and Payment Options
An early-bird shopper may choose to go with a different company if they realize that your 30-day return window will expire long before the recipient opens their gift. During the holiday season, consider having an exception that anything sold after a specific date will be available to return until New Year’s or maybe even the week after the New Year.
You should also consider making returns free. About 39% of online shoppers say that a free return policy will influence their purchasing decision. While an additional 37% say it could affect their decision.
5. Accommodate Technology’s Needs
It seems counter-intuitive, right? The technology exists to help us out, but it can also cause long-lasting damage if everything isn’t handled just right. So, before you hit the full throws of the holiday season, make sure that your server won’t crash on Black Friday. Also, go through and ensure that your product pages are optimized so anyone could easily find them online, or through voice-activation.
Your pages should load quickly regardless of the amount of traffic coming onto your site. After 4-seconds of load time, a page will have an abandonment rate of 25%. Do everything you can to create shopping and check-out ease for your customers.
For a full checklist:
- Optimize your product pages
- Decrease your load times
- Consider adding mobile optimization if you haven’t already
- Update your server and do a crash test
Look at technology from all angles and give some thought to Murphy’s Law. Anything that could go wrong, will, and probably on your busiest day of the year. Don’t let technology be your downfall when it should be there to boost your sales and make shopping a pleasant and convenient experience.
Do What’s Best for Your Company
When looking at your holiday business plan, consider all the aspects involved. If you’re a small eCommerce business that takes pride in doing everything independently, then make that a priority. But also communicate that through social media and on your site. If you don’t expect to meet demand, then explain that there are limited volumes of product, you could even cash in by creating exclusivity.
But, if your focus is to make significant sales figures through the holiday season, then you probably need help with inventory management and fulfillment. Getting help in these areas can let you focus on building up your stock, develop your marketing, and fixing any concerns with technology.