How This Year's Holiday Shopping Creates Huge Opportunities for Next Year's Growth
Just as the holiday season often brings a busier period of shopping, traveling and social events for the average person, so too does it come with supersized demands placed on retailers. The season, when consumers shop outside of their comfort zone, more broadly and more intentionally than at perhaps any other point on the calendar, only happens once a year. You have one chance to create the e-commerce experience that brings customers back again and again. If you do it well, you can see incredible success in increasing retention and lifetime value of those repeat customers. With Amazon.com doubling-down on shipping options, flexibility in gift wrapping, and more, it's imperative that brands step up and make this season’s shopping experiences effortless. Of course, meeting holiday customers’ lofty expectations comes with its own set of challenges:
- You're not simply preparing for more conversions, but facing a greater breadth of customers, people you don’t see the rest of the year and who are focused on specific products rather than the brand.
- The ruthlessly competitive holiday digital advertising race means higher customer acquisition costs, and email inboxes overflowing with promotions.
- Dates, deliveries and returns matter even more than usual. Getting the customer exactly what they want when they want it is critical.
- Customers are doing more than their usual amount of shopping in a compressed time frame, and they prioritize ease of interaction and transaction.
- Supply chain and delivery logistics are put to the test, as you fulfill, deliver and serve a much higher volume of customers and orders.
As an e-commerce retailer, you're facing a mix of challenges that requires careful preparation and expert execution, as customers have less time to shop and may care more deeply about what they’re purchasing. Couple this with a rigid timeline and an increase in total conversions that operations systems, processes and people have to accommodate for, and it’s understandable that overtime and extra shifts are the norm.
In the past, solving for this meant staffing up across many parts of the organization, doubling-down on marketing efforts, making good if things didn’t go as planned, and adapting rapidly to handle the challenges. But customers’ expectations are on the rise, and it may be very difficult to deliver on those expectations, and without even knowing it you may reduce your chances of seeing that customer again in 2019. This can hurt growth and profitability, but there are new ways to handle the challenges that come with the busiest shopping season.
You need to be able to communicate clearly, handle requests the moment they arrive, and give customers an experience that's better than the rest of the year, because their needs are higher and they have less time. Do this well and you’ll win new and existing customers over. They'll return next year and help your business grow profitably in the future. Enhance what you offer and deliver more engaging experiences, and you’ll be able to reduce your reliance on other expensive channels of engagement.
The answer to not only giving customers the service that matches their needs but also continuing to engage them after they’ve purchased lies in customer care automation, an emerging category that combines real-time service, engagement and marketing to improve both top-line and bottom-line revenue. Think of it as one-part CRM, one-part predictive marketing automation, one-part product merchandising, and two parts automated live chat, with a brain powered by artificial intelligence and without the restrictions of operating in a single channel. It's none of the above exclusively, but uses elements of each to create effortless and high-impact customer experiences across the timeliest channels used by shoppers today, including SMS text, Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
When implemented it complements existing efforts, offering a powerful new way to meet customer expectations and drive profit, a combination that’s difficult if not impossible to achieve through conventional approaches like staffing up a contact center with seasonal agents or doubling down on sending email marketing promotions to customers. Across categories like fast-fashion, housewares, apparel, consumer electronics and beauty, brands are leveraging this new technology to leap ahead of their competitors and set a new standard of experience that helps brands not only differentiate, but compete with even the largest challengers. Customer care automation offers a simple value proposition: drive more engagement with shoppers by connecting with them to serve their most urgent needs, and use those moments to further engage and serve them. Use the channels they're in every day to close that gap between your brand and your customer. Make what they want to do easy and you will win that customer back, time and time again. Provide customers with the value-added services you offer to differentiate your brand from others in a far more accessible way, and you will cement their loyalty.
The reason brands are recognizing the opportunity and taking action is that customer care automation offers a far more sophisticated ability to manage customer data, service interactions, engagement and upsells than other point solutions provide, giving a brand higher return on investment on energy and budget, both of which are at a premium during the holiday season.
The holidays are a make-or-break annual moment for retailers, and any competitive advantage that one can leverage to deliver what customers with high expectations want can provide an opportunity to create greater success and opportunities for growth. Beyond that, establishing a high bar in customer experience and engagement during the holidays creates what's needed for a customer to consider coming back and shopping again in 2019. Leading brands are establishing themselves as being easier to buy from and engage with by using automated assistance, and will see the benefits across the long-term horizon.
Luke Starbuck is the vice president of marketing at Linc Global, a customer care automation platform.
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Luke built his first ecommerce website in 1997 and has more recently focused on bringing software that improves customer experience and drives revenue to ecommerce retailers for the past 5 years. He has led product, development and customer service teams and brings his experience in print advertising and media to digital and offline marketing and growth. At Linc, his primary goal is to connect retailers with the knowledge and tools that drive stronger customer relationships and transform one time purchasers into lifetime shoppers.