The holiday season is the optimal selling time for merchants — the season accounts for half of all annual sales and shopping events like Black Friday provide even more engagement opportunities.
The Magento ebook, The Journey of a Gift, discusses how merchants need to consider all stages of a product’s journey to get the most out of the holiday season.
From discovery through to engagement, from checkout to shipping, and from customer service to returns, each stage of the journey of a gift offers an opportunity to create a great experience for online shoppers.
Such is the importance of Christmas to retailers that it presents both opportunity and risk. That is especially true for smaller retailers, who typically get more than 40 per cent of their revenue at this time of the year. For about ten per cent of retailers it represents the overwhelming share of their revenue, according to Adobe Head of APAC Commercial DX Marketing, Nicholas Kontopoulos.
Kontopoulos said there are also particular challenges unique to this time of the year. This is a very high traffic period in-store and online, competition is fierce, distractions abound, cybercrime spikes and the poor consumer is often left feeling overwhelmed.
To get results, Kontopoulos said, “Merchants need to really understand the journey the gift goes through before the wrapping finally comes off beside the tree on Christmas Day.”
Customers’ expectations are set by their digital life beyond the store, he said. “They want their online shopping experience to reflect services like Netflix, which work seamlessly across channels and devices.”
And, he pointed out, Gartner’s research suggests almost two thirds of shoppers say the customer experience is even more important than the price when it comes to making the final purchasing decision.
“That includes everything from the magic of discovery and engagement to potentially the drama of returns. But each stage of the journey provides brands with an opportunity to delight customers with great experiences.”
Aparna Gray, Head of Marketing APAC at dotdigital, said the holiday season is the most profitable time of the year.
During the festive season and its lead-up, shoppers are more likely to make purchases while browsing.
She said “Generally speaking, their buying decision is primarily influenced by price, delivery and inventory instead of brand allegiance. In comparison to other times of the year, the attention span of the holiday shopper is short-lived as they are flooded with offers, discounts and gift guides.”
To be successful, retailers must grab the customer’s attention within the first three or four seconds — otherwise they risk losing the sale, Gray advised.
“It’s also important for merchants to pay close attention to changing customer behaviour at this time of the year. A strong analytical data-driven strategy in place is key to make the most of this opportunity.
“Analysing multiple behavioural factors, such as browsing and purchase history, will enable businesses to gain in-depth insights. Additionally, this will allow them to craft content, improve inventory and create magic with orchestrated product guides.”
The most popular online sales days for Australian consumers include Boxing Day and End of Financial Year (EOFY). Black Friday has recently become an important fixture in the shopping calendar.
Cathy Jamieson, Head of Communications at PayPal, said businesses cannot ignore key calendar moments like Black Friday and the EOFY sales, and it’s important they are ready to manage these peaks with a seamless customer experience.
To be ready for the Christmas holiday period first and foremost, businesses must optimise for online and mobile payment, according to Jamieson.
“However, with the recent announcement in the US that Instagram will be introducing the ability for its users to browse, shop and checkout within the app, it is clear that social commerce is shaping up to be the next frontier for Australian SMBs,” she added.
Consumer insights are key to creating a marketing strategy that increases customer conversion and retention, Gray said.
“However, if companies are not provided with the right tools and skilled people to analyse and extract information, data goes to waste.
“The ones doing great have embraced technological advancements to tap into consumer behavioural data and automate their marketing campaigns to deliver exceptional online experiences.
“With technologies such as AI and machine learning, marketers are able to gather deeper insights about their customers through e-receipts, click-and-collect initiatives and behavioural tracking, and offer an exceptional experience.”
Finding the perfect gift
To help consumers easily find the perfect gift for the holidays, merchants need to use their content wisely.
Gray said during holidays customers are inundated with more emails than usual and hard-sell communications won’t be the ones cutting through the noise.
“Content plays the king when it comes to personalisation. It is a no-brainer to concentrate on personalised emails with catchy subject lines. Additionally, dynamic content based on subscribers’ likes and needs is bound to create a great impression and generate better ROI.”
She said this time of the year is also one of the best opportunities for brands to cement their relationships with existing customers through special loyalty rewards.
“Using behavioural and transactional data to develop personalised seasonal email campaigns can give an extra nudge to a pre-existing brand relationship. Evaluating multiple customer touch points such as brand affinity and discount shopping habits will help retailers to segment customers and approach them with tailor-made offers or discounts.”
The importance of omnichannel
Australians want to shop where, when, and how it suits them.
Jamieson said in a PayPal mCommerce index that 68 per cent of Australian online shoppers are multi-channel shoppers — meaning they shop across a number of platforms including web sites, in-store, marketplaces and social media.
“Multi-channel shoppers often use multiple platforms at one time to make a purchase, such as finding a product in-store before purchasing it online at a cheaper price.
“For both online-only merchants and bricks and mortar stores, it is essential to consider competitive pricing and a seamless omnichannel experience for consumers. Merchants can achieve this through consistent messaging and a seamless path to purchase across the web site, online marketplaces, social media and in-store, consistently targeting consumers with the right message so they can identify and purchase products at any point in their customer journey,” she said.
Gray said while the truth remains that ecommerce has made shopping possible with just a click, there is still a huge portion of shoppers who prefer to buy in-store.
“As a matter of fact, mobile searches have increased physical shopping sales.
“To engage and nurture customers across all touch points, it’s important for merchants to pay more attention to data, create segmented automated programs instead of using a batch and blast communication strategy, get creative with their emails and, last but not least, think mobile first.”
Traditionally, a positive payment experience was defined by being fast, secure, and seamless.
Jamieson said Australians increasingly expect the payment experience to be mobile-optimised, with nearly half saying they are annoyed when a site doesn’t work well on a mobile and almost a third saying they have abandoned a purchase due to lack of mobile optimisation.
“Being mobile-optimised is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have, and businesses also need to ensure they are paying attention to the finer details like ensuring their customers don’t have to squint when using a web site on a mobile — or making sure they offer a secure and trusted payment method, such as PayPal,” she said.
Gray said nowadays everything evolves around positive customer experience, and payments and checkouts are critical touch points between a merchant and a customer.
“Businesses are prioritising payment management as a key component to improve customer experience. There are several factors that come into play for a positive payment experience, such as processing speed, choice of payment platforms, easy mobile payments and, most importantly offering secure and safe payment options,” she said.
The new payment platforms such as Afterpay and Zip have enabled the online retail sector to provide customers with an option to buy and own their favourite products without paying the entire amount outright.
“Gradually, a lot more retailers are jumping on the bandwagon by introducing buy now and pay later options to further the choices for customers to make their purchases.
“Ultimately, customers will expect seamless transactions with a high level of security — whether they pay with credit cards or any other preferable payment platform,” Gray added.
There are numerous barriers to purchase for consumers. Gray said emerging technologies continue to reshape the retail industry, forcing retailers to be more agile and rethink their strategies.
“It’s important for retailers to overcome the common barriers to purchase and ensure they deliver a seamless customer experience,” she said.
Gray said the barriers to purchase include invisibility, bad site search, not adopting an omnichannel engagement strategy, payment, checkout security, shipping, and customer service.
Jamieson added clunky site navigation, long load times and poor mobile-optimisation to the list of barriers to online purchase. She said they can significantly impact sales.
“As consumer dependency on technology accelerates, so too do expectations of mobile experiences.”
With the rise of online shopping and the positives that come with it, so too do the negatives — one of which is fraudulent activity.
Cybercrimes are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Gray said as a result, the onus is on businesses to be extra vigilant in identifying and countering such attacks to secure the customers’ data.
She said there are three key signals that merchants should keep an eye out for: behavioural, technology, and purchase.
“The behavioural and technology signals would determine if the purchase is made by a genuine customer through a validated technology, IP address and referral source.
“The purchase signals would confirm if the IP address is generating more transactions than usual, and also if the billing and the shipping address are the same. Collecting intelligence from the signals and data will help businesses to block fraudulent transactions,” she explained.
About this author
Athina Mallis is the editor of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which Magento is a corporate member. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.