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Yes, it's a bit late for any substantial changes to be made to websites before Christmas, but there is still time to make a few tweaks.
With this in mind, I've asked a number of ecommerce and UX experts for their views on the best strategy for the Christmas season.
Topics include last minute changes that could aid conversions, the importance of mobile, and how retailers can sell right up to Christmas.
What did you learn from last Christmas?
Stephen Pavlovich, Kyle Hearnshaw, Gemma MacNaught and Dave Gowans, Conversion Factory
People shop late! Nearly 12.75m British men still hadn't started their present buying by 17 December 2012, with one in ten saying they would leave it until Christmas Eve.
Customer objections are seasonal too. It’s essential to be aware of customer objections, and this is especially important at Christmas, when customers aren’t buying for themselves.
Wish.co.uk sells driving experiences but most people don’t want to race Lamborghinis in the middle of winter.
Last year, the site saw enquiries about dates and availability increase rapidly in November and December, so these concerns are overcome more prominently than before.
Amazon estimated last year that it would be delivering 3m Xmas presents… in one night. So planning your Xmas strategy should have started in January if you want to come close to competing with the Santa Claus of ecommerce.
Stephen Croome, Founder at firstconversion:
Start far earlier than you think to acquire the right talk to customers about Xmas.
You should use the Xmas period to turn a one off buyer into a long term customer. Pull as much data as you can that will help you later in the year and try earn the right to talk to people about your product throughout the year.
I hate the concept of Xmas as a once-a-year buying period. You should be thinking of this as part of your yearly plan, and Xmas just gives that plan a bit of extra impetus.
It's too late for major site changes etc, but what would you advise ecommerce sites to do right now?
James Gurd, Owner at Digital Juggler:
Retailers should appreciate that the customer mindset is different at Christmas, expectations change subtly and relying on standard processes may not be enough to remain competitive. One example is returns. Christmas is hectic for many people, with events, parties, hangovers etc.
If a gift is unwanted, it can often take some time before the recipient or sender is able to take it back for an exchange or refund. Many retailers still offer little more than the statutory cooling off period. It’s common for customer services to get return requests after this period has expired.
An inflexible policy would at best issue a credit note, at worst refuse to process the return and refund. A flexible policy that puts the customers first reacts to the changes in consumer behaviour and extends the returns period to allow gift purchases to be returned outside of the usual window.
Yes, there is a cost associated with this (expect a spike in refunds) but the cost of not doing this is the potential loss of future orders because people think your customer service isn’t good enough.
Pay particular attention to the weather forecast because gift purchasing has narrow margins for delay/error. If the forecast is looking bleak, let customers know that they should get their orders in earlier to ensure there aren't nasty surprises with delivery problems.
This messaging can be included on the website, in newsletters, on social updates and in campaigns (e.g. Paid search CTA changes to "Snow coming – order by X to guarantee delivery".
This can be geo-targeted as well. If snow is only falling in Scotland, there's no need to alert people in other areas. So don't treat everyone with the same broad brush, think about local implications and tailor the service/messaging accordingly.
(See more Xmas ecommerce tips here)
Stephen, Kyle and Dave:
- Build a compelling reason to revisit your site. A leading music store used an 'advent calendar' format last year to encourage Christmas visits. By having a 'deal a day', they could encourage people to return over and over again.
- Extend your returns policy and make it obvious. People will worry about returning gifts, so make sure you offer a returns policy that covers until at least mid-January. Promote this sitewide, and especially in the basket to remove any concerns.
Sign up to your competitors email lists. This is an easy way to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing - plus it means you can automatically create a swipe file to give you ideas next Christmas. Start by subscribing to your competitors’ mailing lists (ideally use a new email address), then set that email to autoforward to an Evernote account.
This will automatically save every email they send into Evernote giving you easy access to what they're promoting, as well as an archive of ideas for next Christmas.
Add Christmas promotions gradually. Avoid plastering your entire site with Christmas themed products straight away. Introduce a Christmas section in your navigation or a panel on your homepage to a Christmas section and then gradually increase the prominence of Christmas as December approaches.
This early on there a still a lot of people who aren't shopping for Christmas presents who could be put off by snowflakes and reindeer everywhere. Amazon have a small panel on the right hand side.
Incentivise repeat customers in the build-up to Christmas. Start offering promotions on sales, such as: "For every purchase in November we will give you a £10 gift card to spend online in December". This is a great way to get people coming back for Christmas.
Send these in the confirmation emails and then follow up with emails in December. Make the emails sound like they have £10 in their account, rather than getting £10 off their next order. People are more motivated by losing than saving, so the shift in focus can increase the conversion rate.
You can then repeat this process during December for purchases in January 2014.
- Check your measurement data, check your analytics goals.
- Don't be surprised by infrastructure issues like returns or comms in December.
Implement universal analytics. In lieu of keyword data, you can try get accurate customer and conversion data this Xmas.
Here's a useful Universal analytics overview by Craig Bradford:
Andrew Lloyd Gordon:
Obvious telephone numbers and email addresses. People get stressed about Xmas. Stressed shoppers online are even less likely to struggle with your site and more likely to click away.
Encourage them, therefore, like no other time in the year, to call or email you if they need help!.
Ramp up your Call Centre teams, bring in (well trained) temps if you need to, share inbound emails with colleagues who don't normally answer them if you have to.
But whatever you do, have that stressed parent's/customer's call answered, email replied to and resolved ASAP. Otherwise, they'll be off to Amazon.co.uk before you can say, 'bounce rate'!l.
Check your 'About Us' page is up to date. If you're not a well known ecommerce player - and even if you are - take a good look at your About Us and Contact Us pages. These are often some of the most visited pages on a website.
When people don't know who you are they may not hand over their credit card details unless they feel confident that your organisation is real and legit.
Thus, provide as much reassurance as you can by providing real world addresses, photos and profiles of staff, Google Maps, pictures of buildings and warehouse staff, a little bit of corporate history and even a webcam and virtual tours of the office!
The more you convince customers that you're real and won't disappear the moment they click 'Place Order', the more likely they are to Add to Basket!
Check site for typos and spelling mistakes. Something that will deter people from buying from you is some of the simplest to improve. It should be best practice anyway but have someone go through the site with a fine tooth comb for spelling errors, typos,poor grammar and so on.
The problem is, of course, is that you and your team are too close to the site to 'see it' anymore. Which is why it would be worth having a professional proof reader/editor sense check the site for the sort of silly errors that can lose you an online sale.
Test site for speed. We all know we should but we don't all make the effort that we need to achieve it. Yet, time after time, website download speed is a crucial factor in ecommerce conversions.
Check out your website download speed - for different devices - and work with the technical guys to speed up your site by every last nanosecond you can. At the very least, check that all images across the site are as optimised for the web as possible. Most sites do this by default but it's surprising how some forget the basics!
There are lots of predictions that mobile will be even bigger this year, how should retailers adapt?
Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh:
As you say, it’s likely to be mobile-tastic this Christmas. I predict that we’ll have 33% of traffic coming from mobile devices, 22% from tablets and 45% from desktops by mid-December.
Now’s not the time to make big changes to your sites, but there is still opportunity to do some MVT for copy optimisation. There are probably still things that could be done on mobile site speed which are quick wins.
Stephen, Kyle and Dave:
It's too late to build a mobile site if you don't already have one, but there is still time to ensure that the checkout is as easy to use as possible. Do usability tests on mobile with Usertesting.com, then make quick fixes. If you have time, consider integrating PayPal to allow for easier checkout on mobile.
If you don’t have a mobile site, you can test to see what its impact would be. They almost always increase the conversion rate, but sometimes it can be hard to find the budget.
If you don’t have a mobile site already, an easy test is to create a mobile version of just your most popular landing page, and nothing else.
Then create a split-test in a tool like Optimizely: A/B test the control against the mobile version, and limit it to mobile visitors only. Then track both intent and sales: ie how many users click through to the next step and how many ultimately convert.
This way, you can see what the increase in mobile sales would be, helping you build a business case for the mobile site.
Everyone should have a mobile strategy. If a business is only thinking about mobile because its Xmas, that business is already in a world of pain.
Are you expecting that people to buy closer to Christmas than ever?
One thing worth noting is that I would expect different devices to peak at different times, so teams may wish to look at how they can best support this, for example look at their mobile bid-modifiers in AdWords.
Here's a calendar of how I expect things to fall.
Stephen, Kyle and Dave:
This period is crucial to get an advantage over your competitors. First, make sure you have the basics covered: make your last delivery dates obvious and consider using a countdown to give people a sense of urgency.
Then see how you can go the extra mile, to gain the advantage over your competition. Can you add a later 'last delivery date' than anyone else?
Can you offer 24/7 customer service or livechat, to answer any lastminute questions?
What about offer same-day delivery for vouchers, so people who leave it too late can still have something to give on Christmas Day?
Email marketing is a perfect way to emphasise these advantages.
How should ecommerce sites plan for 'post-Xmas' activity?
Stephen, Kyle and Dave:
Start promoting your sale as early as possible. John Lewis did this last year and managed to capture a large part of the market, as people started searching for sales as early as possible.
Once the last posting date has passed, start your sale and make sure you're set up for Christmas Day.
People will have gift cards and new devices (phones, consoles) to buy for, so make sure you're ready to take advantage of this.