12 Ways to Ensure Your Retail Website Shines this Holiday Shopping Season
Rain or shine, and long before “Thriller” commands the airwaves, the first day of fall cues the holiday season. And with that, predictions abound on holiday spending…where and how consumers will shop, and how retailers are expected to fare.
The lines have long been blurred between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s hard to believe the former was traditionally a shopping-rush day for brick-and-mortar and the latter was created to spur consumers to shop online! In 2018, Cyber Monday sales in the U.S. hit $7.9 billion, setting a new record and outpacing Black Friday’s $6.2 billion, according to CNET’s “Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday: What’s the difference?”
This holiday season, the predictions are favorable for retailers, particularly for those with comprehensive digital strategies. As CNBC reports, a survey from the Harris Poll and OpenX, an ad exchange network, polled 2,000 shoppers in August and found, “Holiday spending is expected to rise 5 percent (with) around 53 percent of all holiday shopping is expected to be done digitally.”
It’s no surprise purchases on mobile devices will continue to rise and further impact shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Here at Retailer Web Services (RWS), we’ve seen significant year-over-year increases in mobile use since 2015 when we began tracking comprehensive Black Friday stats. Holiday shoppers (not unlike the rest of the year) are turning to their mobile devices first, researching promotions, comparing options, reading product reviews and doing so much more.
That’s why your website needs to be the very best digital version of your physical store and your salespeople all in one. Without further ado, and thanks to the digital advisors at RWS, we’ve rounded up 12 ways to ensure your website will shine this holiday season.
1. Mobile first
Our data consistently shows consumers spend the most time visiting our retailers' websites from smartphones on the exact same day every year—Thanksgiving! Make sure you have a carefully crafted mobile experience that recognizes and meets the different needs of mobile web visitors. Your phone number, hours and directions should be front and center at all times, not buried in the footer or on the contact page. No pinching and zooming should be required...ever. Completing a purchase on your store's website from a smartphone should not only be possible, it should be downright pleasant.
2. Show what's on display
Yes, more consumers are completing big ticket purchases online than ever before. But many consumers still take the time to go and see exactly what it is they'll be spending a large chunk of their disposable income on first. Don't keep it a secret! Make sure your website shows consumers exactly which items you physically have on display in your store. If you have more than one location, be specific about where they can see each item. You have probably carefully considered which items you floor; prioritize those items in search results on your site to show them more often and prevalently.
3. Get more from your digital ads
When consumers search for a new mattress “near me,” ads about your free box-spring event should appear in the Google results. But why stop there? When a consumer clicks to see all queen-sized mattresses on your website, they should see that same compelling promotional content right there on your website, too! Get the most out of your digital advertising by extending it from the ad platforms to your very own site: on your home page, product list pages, individual product pages and more. You'll maximize the value of every paid impression and click, and you’ll reach more people than advertising alone can do.
4. Adjust your online pricing strategy
Don’t assume it’s business as usual; plan to review and adjust your website pricing strategy for November. It's not just competitors and consumers that behave differently this time of year; your vendors may have different online pricing policies that only apply during the Black November promotional period. If you don’t have tools that let you set and adjust complex pricing strategies to automatically allow you to remain competitive and in compliance with vendor policies, it’s time to consider switching to more intelligent software that can do this for you. If you find yourself ill prepared to handle the complexities of online pricing during this Black Friday holiday, resolve to solve the problem before next year.
5. Be transparent about availability
As much as you are able, be sure your site displays which items are available immediately and which ones might require special ordering. The added convenience of this information will make it easier for your prospects to shop with you and give you a leg up over your competition that may not do the same. Don't allow an inability to reach total perfection in this endeavor stop you dead in your tracks. You can always direct a consumer to a similar substitute if necessary; that's better than not getting the opportunity to talk to them at all.
6. Display real time pricing
Pricing is becoming more volatile all the time, especially for appliances and electronics. There's no way to keep this up by hand. At a minimum, your site needs to automatically set pricing via formulas. And that’s no longer enough. The most successful retail sites in our industry evaluate what's going on in the marketplace and automatically adjust prices accordingly all the time—that’s 24 hours a day, folks. Make sure your website’s software can make these constant adjustments and display these adjustments gracefully to consumers who may be looking at a product when the price changes.
7. Leverage national promotions
This one bears repeating every holiday season. Your vendor partners are spending huge dollars this November, advertising their national promotions. Leverage their investment by highlighting their promotions on your own website. Make sure to use their official artwork for maximum recognition.
8. But highlight your unique value, too
While you don't want to miss out on what your vendors provide to everyone, make sure you check that box and then sell what's unique to your store as well. Make sure your marketing strategy tells consumers why they should buy from you instead of your competitors. Seek out advertising partners that are experts in digital advertising and your specific industry to help you craft a unique strategy that includes national promotions and your individual value propositions, promotions and events.
9. Prioritize your promotions
If you follow the advice above, you'll probably be advertising A LOT of different promotions this holiday season. But remember, not all these promotions are equally important to your business. Review all your offers and identify which ones will help you win the most; then elevate those in your digital strategy. Put promotion banners first in the rotation on your homepage, promote those posts more often than others, concentrate paid media buys on specific groups of ads, and pay attention to and adjust those brands’ pricing strategies first in case you run out of time.
10. Rely on AI
You know a lot about which promotions will work best for you, but you can't know everything. The most successful retailers are increasingly relying on Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to help them learn and adapt in real time. Seek out website and digital advertising technology that is investing in AI to power smarter execution of ad content. These solutions, such as RWS's AdRocket Organic, can randomly serve a variety of ad content, quickly learn which is converting better, and then predict which content will be most effective to serve next.
11. Use marketing automation to reconnect
Your prospects know every retailer—not just you— will be offering Black Friday promotions; they will compare multiple retailers before deciding from who to buy. If your digital strategy works harder than your competitors to connect with and re-engage prospects during their research, you will win more often. Black Friday is the most important time to use marketing automation tools, such as automated re-marketing and abandoned cart emails, to draw prospects back in and keep your store top of mind.
12. Update your store hours
With holidays come special store hours. Expect prospective customers to check your store’s website and social media pages before taking time out of their busy schedules to visit you. Make sure your holiday hours are up to date on your site and social media pages. The same goes for Google which displays your hours in Google Maps; sign in to Google My Business to update your holiday hours and any other information. You can do this in advance on Google and on WebFronts by setting "atypical hours"; cross this off your to-do list nice and early.
Jennie Gilbert is COO of Retailer Web Services, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based company whose mission is to help independent retailers realize their dreams through the promise of technology. Gilbert is a frequent speaker at durable goods retail conferences and the co-author of RE:THiNK: 11 surprising things you should do now to win retail customers in the digital age (Retailer Web Services, 2015), available on Amazon and at www.retailerwebservices.com.