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The holiday season is ahead of us, which in e-commerce lingo stands for “get ready for chaos.”
But the tide has shifted from traditional shopping.
According to the National Retail Federation, people are slowly leaving the long store lines and are more likely to do their purchasing online.
You’re probably trying to figure out how to plan for Black Friday more effectively this year while still remaining on two feet for Cyber Monday that’s right around the corner.
Seasonal spikes offer immense opportunities to increase revenue for online businesses – just look at the numbers. In the U.S. last year (2016) the total e-commerce revenue for Black Friday was $3.34 billion. This exceeded financial expectations by around $300 million.
The same sales report stated an increase in Cyber Monday revenue, which equaled $3.45 billion and ads drove 39% of those sales.
Forecasts by NetElixir predict a 10% increase in e-commerce sales for the 2017 holiday season. Deloitte predicts that e-commerce seasonal sales from November to January will rise to $114 billion.
With an effective marketing strategy and preparation, you can avoid pitfalls and capitalize on the seasonal surge.
Here’s how to make the most of the high tides of your e-commerce seasonal spikes and take advantage of web traffic made up of shoppers that are smarter than ever before.
By following established trends in your industry, you can predict fluctuations in the variations of the demand of products. This is known as standard seasonality. For instance, let’s say that you sell skiing equipment and winter is just around the corner. You can easily predict the rise of the demand of your products. Or you sell bathing suits, which are high in demand at the beginning of summer.
But what if the winter freeze comes earlier this fall? This is an unexpected change in the variation of demand and it’s known as non-standard seasonality.
For example, In Vancouver BC, it was recently predicted that La Niña will hit again this year. Online brands that sell skiing equipment and winter clothes need to prepare for this if they want to take advantage of this seasonal spike and stay ahead of their competition.
While the weather can be both predictable and unpredictable, you need to be aware of non-standard seasonal spikes and be prepared at all times to take advantage of these.
It’s important to analyze your organic traffic comprehensively in order to find digital trends and spikes. The best way to start is by sitting down at looking at your Google Analytics data from the past three years.
The advantage of creating graphs based on data from the last three years is that you’ll avoid seeing many small irregularities from marketing campaigns on certain products. Basically, the more spread out your data is, the clearer you can see spikes related to seasonality. That’s why it’s advisable to compare data from a few years, not months.
This graph from Econsultancy shows a benchmark of their past 3 years of traffic in Google Analytics, which offers a great example of how you should spread out your data in order to find seasonal spikes.
In this case, their traffic spikes are due to their well-performing content. For an ecommerce site, this would be in correlation with a certain product in demand, and seasonal spikes would have higher peaks.
Once you find a seasonal spike, you can expand it and view the data more precisely — by setting the highest peak to an “hourly” level. This allows you to detect micro-trends that can help improve your marketing decisions.
But we’re only scratching the surface here. In order to dig deeper, go to Google Webmaster Tools (recently rebranded as Google Search Console) in the Search Queries section. Here you can find out which keywords your site is ranking for so you can better understand your seasonality. You can also use SEMrush for this.
Once you discover your strongest keywords, you can take it to the next level and analyze the monthly search volume in Google Keyword Planner. You also have this option in SEMrush as well.
The options that Google Keyword Planner shows you when searching a specific keyword are: competition, global monthly search, local monthly search and the approximate CPC (cost per click).
The global monthly search column shows you the average search volume globally over the last 12 months. You can notice a dramatic shift in numbers when you apply the local monthly search option, which you can adjust accordingly to a specific geographical location of interest.
The competition field doesn’t mean how competitive the keyword itself is, rather how competitive its bid is among advertisers. The CPC field shows the cost per click for an advertiser.
After you’ve discovered the terms associated with your seasonal spikes, you can dig even deeper with Google Trends. Here you can see which geographical locations and dates are connected with your search terms.
For instance, below you can see that the demand for the term heating repair starts earlier in Denver than in Dallas.
So what do you do with your findings? You can launch PPC ads with your researched terms that correlate with your seasonal spikes to help maximize your brand exposure.
Another effective strategy that you should implement is to showcase your products in demand on your website so that your customers can see them just in time for the trend.
The keyword research also pays off if you incorporate it into your content strategy. Try to up your blog post game by adding in naturally flowing keywords and producing high-quality content that will be of benefit to your readers. This will help make your content more searchable in search engines.
You have tons of potential customers on social media, so if you’re trying to advertise there, don’t limit yourself to just one demographic. Try asking yourself who’s interested in your product and take advantage of any seasonal events targeted to them.
For instance, if you sell beard care products, you may want to target women on Facebook for November or Valentine’s Day who are looking to buy gifts for men with beards.
Imagine you’ve done your e-commerce seasonal spikes research, found your ranking keywords, set amazing marketing campaigns rolling and produced informative content to promote your products – but all of a sudden, your server goes down during your traffic spike.
All of your hard work and effort (not to mention money) falls to pieces if your website goes offline during the holidays.
The losses your brand can face are horrific. Just look at what happened to Amazon when their site went down for around 40 minutes. They lost $4.8 million in sales – that’s $120,000 a minute!
Let’s say that your PPC budget is around $1-$2 per click for the season. If your website goes down, you would lose thousands of dollars. Also, it would be hard to compensate peak sales revenue from that one hour that you lost – which is equal to a few hours more during non-seasonal periods.
Containerization is a great way to make sure your servers don’t get overwhelmed by the traffic spikes. You can host microservices in each container and scale them horizontally by creating new container images.
If you do decide to set up containers, make sure you do this in advance as it is a time-consuming process which needs to be planned ahead of time.
Another useful strategy to reduce server load is by HTTP caching, which is a process that retrieves copies to your browser of local resources that can be used to manage the high influx in traffic. This way, instead of downloading information from your server, the browser can load existing copies of cached pages.
Try to invest in hosting packages that can handle higher amounts of traffic if your current hosting plan doesn’t cover it.
Page load time is also vital, and according to Radware, customers leave a website after a 3 second page load delay. You can use tools like WebPageTest to test your website’s performance.
Take into account that the page load test you’re running now is before massive traffic starts flooding in, so it’s important to make sure that your pages load faster than 3 seconds. And of all of the pages on your site, you need to make sure your checkout pages load the fastest.
A report by Kissmetrics finds that every 1 second page load delay decreases conversions by 7%. This same report also states that if an e-commerce business which makes $100,000 daily in sales encounters a 1 second page load delay, they potentially lose $2.5 million in sales for that year.
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It’s no secret that customers browse for seasonal sales straight from their smartphones, and according to Mobify, this trend is set to continue and increase 70% more by the end of 2018.
Even though mobile browsing does occur, the checkout process is often continued through a desktop. In order to increase your mobile revenue, you need to fine tune your e-commerce website to make it mobile ready.
So, which steps should you take?
It’s great to start off by improving your mobile navigation experience, speed and offering easier ways to make a purchase.
Here’s a great graph by Econsultancy that shows how you can increase your mobile purchase rate depending on demographic.
You can use BrowserStack to test out your website’s mobile performance and check if everything loads properly. You can also try implementing Apple Pay, Paypal, Shopify Pay, Android Pay and digital wallets to reduce the purchase process to one single click.
t’s also important to optimize your website’s navigation and make sure that your visitors are having a great browsing experience. Even small changes can make a huge difference. Print Globe’s conversions increased by 18.5% after they improved their website navigation.
An increase in traffic during the seasonal holidays means more work. To help identify the need for seasonal workers, look into your metrics from last year. Review last year’s live chat messages – and their associated rating reports – to better predict the volume of work that your brand awaits.
Questions you can ask yourself include:
According to Harvard Business Review, 23% of customers who experienced great customer service told 10+ people about it, while 48% of people who experienced awful customer service told 10+ people.
Takeaway? Good words spread fast, but bad ones even faster.
If you see an increase in traffic volume, and you conclude that it’s simply too much work for your current team, you may want to look into seasonal hiring.
Amazon seasonally hires temporary workers to better handle their holiday traffic spikes, and last year they hired 20% more seasonal workers.
In order to be sure that your staff can handle the holiday rush, you can implement a special holiday schedule to help them better handle their work. Some seasonal scheduling options include:
If you truly need extra help and feel that your current team can’t cover the work, then you can try to hire seasonal staff. If you do, it’s important to train them effectively, set reasonable expectations and make sure the work is spread out equally.
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Customers have high expectations for e-commerce businesses during the holidays. If you offer different delivery options, you’ll easily make them more satisfied.
Offer one-day delivery, free delivery for a certain purchase, gift wrapping options – anything that will assure them that their order will arrive in time and presented beautifully.
During the holidays, people feel a need to buy and often feel rushed by the minimal purchase time. This feeling causes them to feel a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency can be so strong that paying a little extra on these options often doesn’t represent an issue for buyers.
This price sensitivity graph from Kissmetrics shows that shoppers aren’t as price sensitive during holiday shopping seasons, shown at the beginning of the bell curve on the graph. Kissmetrics even suggest that due to this price insensitivity, retailers can add in extra charges – restocking fees, holiday convenience charges or other taxes – since customers will be looking to buy what they want regardless of price.
Please take into consideration that this can backfire, so set your prices with caution – and remember that it may be your competitors who don’t add extra charges who can stand out from the competition here.
Let your customers know that you’re expecting them by offering awesome holiday deals. Reach out to them through email, social media or your blog (or all of them). Especially by highlighting products in demand, you can take advantage of their sense of urgency to buy.
Here’s a great email by Toms that they use to re-engage with their customers before the holidays. They’re also letting them know that they’re going to donate free shoes with every purchase to a child that needs them. This triggers an emotional response that adds another reason to shop there.
Another great way to reach out and engage with your audience is by using seasonal hashtags on Twitter or Instagram. You can also try to humanize your brand while providing seasonal references by publishing relaxed everyday pictures, whether from the office or in the warehouse stocking up.
Setting up a dashboard to track performance right before the traffic peak hits is a great way to monitor everything as well as to evaluate the performance of past years.
Geckoboard is a tool that businesses use to monitor their metrics and they’ve also explained 8 metrics that e-commerce businesses should monitor over the holidays:
The seasonal holidays that await you will bring you profit, even if you don’t try much. You can do what you’ve always done, and not worry much, or you can try these strategies to increase your revenue.
Try to make the most of your seasonal spike, and maximize your monetization by reviewing past data, touching base with your team and creating better marketing strategies. And if you predict that your team won’t be able to handle all the work, you can hire seasonal workers.
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