Winter is coming. And for brands and retailers, that means Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holidays — a marathon of sales and shopping. The retail industry can expect a welcomed influx in online shoppers over the last few months of the year, but with this holiday shopping surge comes increased risk. If the retail industry had a Super Bowl, this would be it, and brands and retailers must prepare accordingly. To be honest, your preparation should have started back in May or June, but it’s never too late to take some last-minute actions to make sure you’re ready. Here’s our best advice to finalize your e-commerce plan for the holiday season.
1. Proactively collect reviews on seasonal or new items
Collecting and displaying customer reviews on your product pages should be integral to any e-commerce strategy because ratings and reviews are critical for turning browsers into buyers. In fact, consumers who interact with consumer-generated content (CGC), like ratings, reviews, and photos, are 97% more likely to convert with a retailer than customers that do not. But, if you plan on introducing new products or seasonal items to your product catalog this holiday season, it is likely that you may not have any or only a few customer reviews for those specific products.
With little time left to collect reviews, how can you get influential customer reviews onto your site quickly? Try running a product sampling campaign. Sampling campaigns are one of the most effective review collection techniques for brands and retailers. Offer your loyal customers the opportunity to try out these new or seasonal products in exchange for their honest reviews. Not only does this allow you to get feedback about your product and build your review volume, but it also is a great way to reward your best customers.
2. Populate your product pages with customer photos
When evaluating your e-commerce site before the holidays, you may also realize that you do not have enough visual consumer-generated content displayed on your site. Product shots are the minimum requirement on product pages, but you should also display photos and videos of real customers wearing or using your products. These relatable lifestyle shots of your products in the real world bring your products to life and inspire other shoppers. According to our research, 66% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product if the website includes social media posts with pictures and videos from real customers.
While sampling campaigns could also work for customer photos, another option is to launch hashtag campaigns on social media. Choose a relevant hashtag for a product or a line of products and ask your customers to tag their photos on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with it. For example, when launching the Kat Von D makeup line for the first time in the UK, retailer Debenhams used the hashtag #KVDxDebenhams to collect 900+ customer photos from social media. Debenhams then displayed these photos of customers using Kat Von D cosmetics on the makeup product detail pages and as a shoppable gallery. They saw 25,000 visitor interactions with the shoppable gallery within the first two months of the launch.
A hashtag makes it easy to find your customers’ photos, and, with their permission, curate and display these images on corresponding product pages and across your website.
3. Double- and triple-check the health of your product catalog
All retailers should start evaluating their product catalogs months in advance, but as the holidays near, you should continuously monitor and double-check the data on the products you will be selling during the holiday season. Make sure you also arm your tech partners with the information they need to help you succeed. We ask our clients to provide us with updated product feeds leading up to the holiday season, so that we can ensure we have healthy content coverage across all their products. Other partners, like Google or Bing will use your product catalog for Product Listing Ads, so make sure it’s up to date.
4. Anticipate an influx of questions during the holiday shopping season
With a major uptick in shopping activity, retailers should anticipate that a flood of questions will pour in from holiday shoppers. Featuring Q&A on your product pages can help save time and deflect questions from your busy customer service teams who are tirelessly answering questions by chat or phone. For example, if one customer asks a question, you can answer it one time, then subsequent customers with the same question will see the response and won’t need to take an action to contact your support teams. Additionally, ask if your Q&A provider offers the capability to tap the expertise and knowledge of your previous or existing customers. Meaning, when you receive a question about a specific product, it can be routed to a customer who purchased that product before and give the that product owner the opportunity to share their answer with the inquirer. This strategy can be very effective, 60% of questions are answered by our “Ask a Product Owner” feature, and most in less than 24 hours.
5. Invest in display advertising and paid search
It’s never too late to adjust or increase your advertising spend for the holidays. If you have a budget for marketing, the best way to allocate it is on paid search and online advertising. That being said, make sure you’re spending your campaign dollars in a thoughtful, strategic way with the right data partner that can help meet your goals. Analyze shopping activity from last year’s holiday season to learn when consumers are browsing and researching for products in different categories. This can inform when you should place your ad buys across different product families and drive traffic to those product pages. By being thoughtful about your audience segmentation and their shopping behaviors, you can run hyper-targeted ad campaigns to reach in-market shoppers at the most optimal times.
6. Prepare for holiday delivery demands
The last six tips have focused on pre-holiday preparation and increasing sales. But don’t make the mistake of neglecting order fulfillment. After Cyber Monday, the next choke points come as we hit shipping deadlines leading up to the December holidays. Last-minute shoppers will order gifts online as late as a day before Christmas. Whether it’s one-week, two-day, or overnight shipping, they expect to receive their orders when promised. There are a lot of retailers who outsource their deliveries and struggle to meet these deadlines. Make sure your delivery systems can handle the time-sensitive demands or risk facing negative customer feedback.
7. Take advantage of holiday shopping to collect (even more) product reviews
Heightened shopping activity means prime opportunity to solicit more consumer-generated content from shoppers. Make sure you take advantage of this busy shopping season to ask customers to review your products post-purchase. That way, you can collect and display their valuable feedback to help influence future purchases of that product. However, be thoughtful about the timing of your post-interaction review requests. Consumers’ inboxes are inundated with e-newsletters, sales, promotions, and holiday marketing from multiple brands and retailers this time of year, and you don’t want your request to be buried in the noise, overlooked or deleted. Keep in mind that many shoppers are buying gifts for other people, so a request for a review could ruin the surprise. Give your customers a reasonable period of time after purchasing your product to experience the holidays and the product itself before reaching out and asking them to write a review.
The holiday shopping season is an intense, exhausting period for brands and retailers, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take the time to perform last-minute checks on the current state of your inventory, staff, marketing plans, technical systems, and operations. All of these components must work together to help you manage the heightened activity you will experience during this peak shopping season. If you follow these steps, you’ll be in a good place to manage and take advantage of the holiday shopping surge.
A version of this post originally appeared on Internet Retailer.