Peak season is approaching across the retail world. Even before the first leaves turn in autumn, eCommerce merchants begin thinking about how they can maximize their performance during this most important time of year. The changes and processes implemented now may make all the difference in November and December.
The digital economy has given customers a great deal of choice regarding which companies they buy from. A moment of dissatisfaction with a retailer's offerings – products, website experience, customer service or any other aspect of the transaction – can send that shopper to another company. This is an era when loyalty can evaporate quickly and a repeat buyer is a precious commodity.
The following are a few areas organizations can and should work on now, before the holiday rush begins. By the time volume picks up and Black Friday looms on the horizon, it may be too late to make essential upgrades. Being proactive is an essential part of remaining competitive.
1. Attentive customer service
The importance of customer care is never greater than when transaction volume peaks in the holiday season. As Multichannel Merchant contributor Daniela Forte indicated, whether retailers hire seasonal employees or work with third-party service providers, they should ensure all hands are on deck during the holiday season. The consequences of not scaling up can be severe, as the retailer can end up in what Forte described as a "game of catch-up," with the too-few employees never managing to address all customers' urgent concerns, and potentially falling even further behind.
One of the most important roles customer service professionals will play in peak season doesn't begin until the week after the holidays, as shoppers try to return goods en masse. The Balance pointed out organizations will have to make reverse logistics a major focus area after the holidays, ensuring there are people on duty to handle the high volume of returns any popular merchant faces. A good return experience one year can point to greater loyalty the next year.
2. Strong website infrastructure
When an eCommerce website doesn't scale up effectively, the company can face costly downtime. The money lost during these periods of inactivity can be significant, especially on days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. People want to shop, and if they can't do so at a particular retail website, they may quickly turn to any possible alternatives. Having a strong underlying eCommerce platform may be the difference between profits and disappointment for firms that experience heavy traffic spikes.
CIO contributor Mike Sisco pointed out that downtime is as much a business problem as an IT issue. While the IT department may be the group doing the most to prevent downtime and get ahead of potential problems, the whole company suffers when either internal or external technology doesn't work. The costs go beyond the money the business would have made during the outage – Sisco recommended executives also think about the lost employee productivity, morale impact and client dissatisfaction generated by a break in service.
3. An easy, enjoyable buyer experience
One of the most important tests eCommerce companies can perform ahead of peak retail times is also one of the simplest. Leaders need to put themselves in customers' shoes and think about whether their sites are easy and fun to use. If eCommerce pages are frustrating or complicated to operate, shoppers may simply give up on using them.
One of the potentially overlooked elements involved in convenient experience is omnichannel consumer tracking. Does customer data from brick-and-mortar stores affect the online experience, and vice versa? eMarketer and Accenture research pointed out consumers are wandering between digital and physical retail as they try out products and shop for their next bargain. Companies that operate in both spaces have a great incentive to unify their operations under one roof and actively support these buyers.
Get ready… to get ready
No matter how long it may be until the next holiday season, it's always a good time to prepare for spikes in interest and activity by consumers. Organizations that are proactive and honest in their self-assessments will have an advantage over competitors that either don't inspect their capabilities or let known issues sit instead of fixing them. With so much choice in retail today, online, offline and blended, shoppers are always close to switching their loyalties.