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Last-minute tips for a successful 2021 holiday shipping season

illustration of a silhouetted santa claus and reindeer flying past the moon, above pyramids

[Updated post from December 15, 2020]

The holiday shopping surge is firmly underway – but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to keep looking for new ways to make your online shopping experience as smooth as possible.

As the holiday season progresses, it often brings to light areas of friction within the ecommerce customer experience that are affecting your conversion rate. But even small adjustments can make a massive difference to how easy your brand is to shop with during the holidays.

In this post, we’ll cover the three areas that your business should be focusing on to increase customer satisfaction during the holiday shopping season.

1. Your ecommerce website

In-store shopping might be making a comeback, but online shopping is still set to be the primary channel for holiday spending this year. A revised forecast by the National Retail Federation stated that ecommerce sales are expected to grow between 18-23% this holiday season, while 57% of consumers surveyed by Shopkick stated that they planned to do the majority of their holiday shopping online.

While this is fantastic news for ecommerce merchants, continued pressure on this channel makes it more important than ever to offer a positive online experience. Your online store is a prospective customer’s first impression of your brand. So, unless you can deliver a seamless shopping journey, they’ll move on to the next vendor.

Site speed

An ecommerce site that’s slow to load or refresh is highly disruptive to the online shopping experience. It’s no different than shopping at a brick and mortar store and discovering a massive queue at the checkout; if it’s clearly going to be a long wait, we might decide that it’s not worth the hassle. 

Online, this can be catastrophic for visitor numbers. The more product pages a visitor views, the more likely it is they’re going to make a purchase. Yet just a one-second delay in page loading results in 11% fewer page views. In sum, consumers have very little tolerance for slow loading speeds. 

Here are several easy ways that you can increase the site speed of your ecommerce site:

  • Compress your product images to below 1MB
  • Audit your JavaScript scripts to ensure that API calls are at a minimum
  • Implement browser/HTTP caching
  • Remove unnecessary plugins

Display real-time inventory levels on your product pages

As consumer spending spikes during the holiday season, items can quite literally fly off the virtual shelves. But thanks to ongoing supply chain challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is becoming a genuine problem.

Mckinsey’s 2021 holiday study found that 62% of consumers surveyed have been unable to buy at least one item due to a lack of availability over the past three months. Of this group, just 13% waited for the item to come back in stock.There are few things more annoying in ecommerce than revisiting a site to purchase an item and seeing an ‘out of stock’ label. So, it’s hardly surprising that 80% of online shoppers want to see local inventory availability; displaying inventory levels allows consumers to gauge whether they need to ‘buy now’ to snap up items they’re interested in.

screenshot of flo and frankie’s hand cream and soap set product page

Lifestyle retailer Flo and Frankie have provided three designations for stock levels online – ‘in stock’, ‘nearly gone’, and ‘out of stock’. The ‘nearly gone’ label is a great tool to drive buyer urgency and persuade customers to commit to a purchase.

Make sure your store is optimized for mobile

With mobile commerce set to grow 18.8% to $97.15 billion during the 2021 holiday season, you definitely don’t want to miss out on such a lucrative source of traffic. But despite smartphone penetration being at an all-time high, consumers still routinely encounter poor mobile shopping experiences. 

With 33% of mobile-first shoppers saying that glitches and errors are more frustrating during the holiday season than other times of the year, you can’t afford to let consumers down.

First off, you need a mobile responsive design that can accommodate different screen sizes, preventing your customer from needing to zoom in on different parts of the page. Make sure that your search function is still accessible in your mobile version; because it’s commonly placed in the top-right corner on desktop, this often disappears on mobile.

Most importantly of all, your checkout needs to be seamless and easy to use. If consumers have experienced an enjoyable browsing session, only to hit the wall when they try to fill out their card details, they’re going to abandon their shopping carts in droves.  

Bobo Design Studio offers customers several express checkout options, as well as clear fields for filling out shipping details and signing up for email communications.

2. Your holiday shipping strategy

Offer free shipping

In 2021, free shipping is no longer a value-added offering; it’s simply what consumers expect. Shopkick’s holiday survey found that 94% of customers say free shipping is what they are looking for most when shopping online this holiday season – making it by far the best CX strategy to sweeten the deal. 

However, free shipping can be a very costly investment for ecommerce brands during the holidays. Peak season surcharges targeting residential delivery and high-volume shippers mean that shipping rates will be even higher than normal, which could seriously affect your profit margins.

Here are a few strategies to make free shipping more cost-effective during the holidays:

  • Set a minimum order threshold for free shipping
  • Offer free shipping only to loyalty members
  • Use free shipping as a flash sale offering

Offer multiple shipping options 

If you were a vendor selling ice cream, you wouldn’t just have one flavor for sale and alienate a lot of potential customers. So, why does it makes sense to offer only one shipping option at your online store?

Where only offering standard shipping was once acceptable in ecommerce, online shoppers now expect brands to cater to their needs – especially during the holiday season.

While early-bird holiday shoppers will be happy with slower shipping speeds so long as it’s free, your brand is going to miss out on last-minute shoppers if you don’t offer any expedited shipping methods.

If you’re worried about the cost of priority shipping, don’t worry. The “Delivering on Demand: Consumer 2021 Insights Survey” found that 65% of consumers are willing to pay more for faster delivery of critical goods.

So, while offering economy shipping is fine, be sure to also include some faster options during the holidays.

Make it clear what your holiday shipping deadlines are 

If customers don’t receive their orders in time for Christmas, this is highly damaging to their relationship with your brand. This is why how your brand communicates holiday shipping deadlines – the final date by which customers must order to guarantee delivery in time for Christmas – can make or break your holiday season. 

While your business has no control over shipping delays caused by parcel carriers, it’s important that you communicate your carrier’s cut-off dates at least a couple of weeks in advance. As well as driving urgency to purchase, this ensures that your brand sets the right expectations and avoids liability in the case of late orders.

Here are a few ways you can spread the word about holiday shipping deadlines:

  • Add a countdown to your holiday email promotions. 
  • Add a pop-up or banner to the home page of your website.
  • Add a new page to your footer that lists the cut-off dates for all your shipping options.

3. Your holiday returns policy

Make your returns policy accessible

Did you know that 67% of shoppers will check a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase? If your return policy isn’t easy to find on your website, this is going to dissuade a lot of consumers from supporting you during the holiday season.

In sum, the more accessible your return policy is, the more likely consumers are to place an order.

This means that you shouldn’t bury your returns policy in the depths of your website. Make sure it’s clearly linked in the footer and is also accessible from other appropriate locations, such as your product pages and at checkout. 

If you’ve made any changes to your return policy for the holiday period, be sure to clearly communicate these changes on your policy page and via channels such as email and social media.

Offer longer return windows

The holiday season is a busy and stressful time of year for consumers. With many shoppers choosing to start holiday purchases much earlier this year to ongoing supply chain challenges, this could cause them (and the gift recipient) to miss the standard 30-day return window. 

Instead, consider offering an extended return policy to customers that have placed orders after a certain date. This increased flexibility will help to reduce consumer anxiety and drive more purchases.

Self-service returns

Giving customers control over their return experience lessens the pressure on your customer care team during the busiest part of the year. 

For example, using an online return portal that enforces your chosen return policy eliminates lengthy return processing, which in turn increases customer satisfaction and the likelihood of them purchasing from you again. It’s worth remembering that a whopping 92% of consumers will buy from a merchant again if the return process is easy!

Present alternatives to refunds

It’s estimated that holiday returns ended up costing retailers $101 billion in 2020. That equals a lot of lost revenue disappearing from your business.

However, there are steps you can take to prevent refunds from being your customer’s first port of call. Studies show that nearly two-thirds of consumers plan on exchanging or finding a replacement for an item they’ve returned. By making the exchange process as easy as possible, you can minimize damage from the post-holiday return rush.

For example, consider investing in a return management system that enables you to show customers single-click alternatives to the products they’re returning. If an alternative isn’t available, try offering them store credit or a gift card. 

By introducing a closed loop that offers customers multiple opportunities to maintain a relationship with your business, you can retain much more holiday season revenue.

Even when the holiday season is full steam ahead, it’s never too late to look for ways to refine your holiday ecommerce experience. Even minor changes such as improved site speed or more flexible return policies can make a huge difference to the quality of your shopping experience. So, don’t hang around – get started now!

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