For online retailers, falling leaves and pumpkin spice lattes signify the start of the holiday rush.

According to eMarketer’s 2016 holiday sales summary, US retail e-commerce sales jumped 17.8%, a phenomenal rate that helped push total retail sales up 4.8%. The e-commerce space only expects that number to continue to grow for the upcoming 2017 holiday season.

Shipping software company ShipStation shares some strategies on how companies can prepare for the season and grow their business during the holidays.

Manage and Exceed Expectations

Customers expect the same services from a small business as they do from an online retail giant. A recent study conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that three of four holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase this past holiday season, and many shoppers ultimately backed out of a holiday purchase because of an inconvenient return policy.

NRF discovered some of the main reasons customers backed out was due to lack of free return shipping (57%), only store credit offered instead of full refund (55%), and too small of a return window (42%). It is important to be transparent with your customers and to anticipate holiday demand so you have the right amount of inventory in stock and workers fulfilling orders. Additionally, communicate with customers on how quickly you can fulfill orders and when they can expect to see their purchases. Adding this information to your website and sending order confirmation emails creates transparency with your customers, ultimately gaining their trust and loyalty.

Build Brand Awareness

Branding is more than just a logo; it is establishing your company across physical assets, customer communications, and social media. Branding encompasses websites, customer emails, product details, brand ambassadors, shipment tracking pages, and more. People are known to purchase products based on an emotional connection with a brand. Give your customers a great experience that makes them want to return for another purchase in the future. By building a powerful and engaging brand, you give your company the competitive advantage to boost not only seasonal sales but increase KPIs year round. Essentially, branding is the key to fostering that powerful personal connection to your store.

A great way to build your e-commerce brand is through social media. According to PwC’s 2017 Retail Survey, 39% of people use social networks to get inspiration for purchases. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram can boost brand exposure, grow your following, and promote sales. It is important to engage with your audience through these mediums with likes, comments, and sharing content that humanizes your brand and hones relationships. With consistency, social media will prove to be a viable channel for growing your brand and increasing your bottom line.

Provide an Amazing Customer Experience

Customers want brands to court them ― that translates to targeted promotions, coupons sent via email or snail mail, and substantial discounts in return for their loyalty. According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority. No one wants a bad user experience; therefore, making your website easy to navigate with a simple purchasing process can go a long way. Convenience and savings always wins the customer over. The 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper reports that over the past several years, shipping and delivery has proven to be critical to the overall online shopping experience. In fact, year over year, consumers rank free shipping as the most important option when checking out online. As the holiday rush quickly approaches, entice and motivate your shoppers to order more by offering free shipping, especially if the order is placed prior to your busiest weeks. This way, you ensure they get their orders on time while giving you additional prep time.

Automate Workflow

The day-to-day operations of running your online business can be daunting, especially during the holiday season. It’s important to re-evaluate your workflow to speed up your processes, so you can spend less time on packing and shipping and more time growing your business. Forrester reports that only 63% of marketers prioritize implementing technology investments that will help them improve customer experience.

With these strategies in your toolbox, your holiday season will be off to a successful start.


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