This holiday season has been busier than ever. Cyber Monday beat Adobe predictions that consumers will spend $3.36 billion. Amazon.com launched its Black Friday Deals Store on Nov. 1, a full 24 days before actual Black Friday. Consumers seem to have already redefined “holiday shopping season,” with Narvar tracking pages showing 30 percent higher clickthrough rates back to retail sites during high-volume October than during the rest of the year.
These numbers may leave some brands scrambling to optimize their online presence and performance. Huge online holiday sales are great for brands’ bottom lines, but only if they can emerge from the long dark shadow cast by the marketplace giant Amazon.com.
Fortunately, retailers can stand out from their competitors by leveraging key opportunities around customer experience and satisfaction. Here are three strategies retailers can start implementing today to win customers’ hearts, loyalty and dollars this holiday season and beyond.
1. Say “happy holidays” with early shipping and delivery alerts. The expectation for fast, on-time delivery is never higher (or more anxiety-inducing) than during the holiday rush. When a snowstorm or fulfillment problem threatens to crush customer expectations, retailers must act fast. Customers — especially women and millennials — want immediate, real-time, accurate tracking updates about their purchases. When brands provide proactive early alerts, they prove they understand that their customers’ purchases and time is precious. Timely and transparent post-purchase communications, especially when something goes wrong, help secure customer satisfaction, conversion and retention.
2. Make last-mile delivery convenient and flexible. Brands can help harried holiday shoppers by offering a variety of flexible last-mile delivery options. Stressed-out consumers appreciate choices like curbside delivery and pickup at a pre-designated location. In-store delivery/pick up lets consumers “click and collect” while avoiding additional shipping charges. Wal-Mart, for example, optimizes its omnichannel presence with free in-store pickup within four hours of consumers placing an online order. Since UPS and FedEx are raising shipping rates in 2017, brands might even consider encouraging in-store pickup, in addition to evaluating fulfillment configurations post-holiday to optimize for next year’s new shipping rates. As customer expectations rise for super-fast delivery, retailers should consider if last-mile fulfillment options like Uber Rush and Postmates offer value to customers’ experiences.
3. Offer quick and easy returns. Up to 40 percent of holiday purchases get returned, with one study estimating brands sacrificed nearly $643 billion to the process in 2015. Yet less than two-thirds of U.S. consumers are happy with their returns experience. Retailers must offer a clear, simple, streamlined returns process to keep customers happy — and keep their business in the black. This is especially important considering up to 95 percent of customers are more likely to do repeat business if returns are easy, and will provide ongoing value for a brand. That should motivate retailers to invest in technology to track purchases and returns as well as identify frequent or recurring pain points so they fix problems fast. When brands pinpoint what works (or doesn’t) for their customers, they’re better positioned to offer proactive, personalized, targeted support and service – and keep returns to an absolute minimum.
Ready or Not, 2017 is Right Around the Corner
Extrapolating on 2016 forecasts, consumers in 2017 will have even higher expectations for anytime, anywhere shopping, plus fast and flexible delivery options and streamlined product returns. Retailers that aren’t already executing against these expectations should start preparing now for these anticipated trends in 2017 — and beyond. Real-time, accurate tracking and alerts, delivery choices tailored to meet customers’ real needs, and a painless returns process — these aspects of the consumer experience are critical for building customer satisfaction and retention. Unlike elves and reindeer, these issues matter year-round.
Amit Sharma is the founder and CEO of Narvar, which provides companies with software that improves the post-purchase experience.