Organizations are headed into the most unusual holiday shopping season in recent memory, and instead of focusing on how to obtain and keep customers, they’re bogged down in day-to-day business processes.
In fact, top concerns among retailers this season are forecasting, obtaining adequate stock, and keeping staff and customers safe, according to a recent survey from Brainyard.
Retailers are left not only peering into the crystal ball of changing consumer behavior, but also keeping an eye on the other end of the supply chain to see how distributors and manufacturers are coping in an ambiguous environment.
While this holiday season will be unpredictable, the one thing we can be sure of is e-commerce will be critical. Therefore, here are some e-commerce best practices to keep in mind to help you rise above the noise:
Build a Flexible Strategy
As they say, the only constant is change. Now it’s up to the retailer to adapt. Some retailers have experienced peak sales over the last several months as consumers had no choice but to switch to online shopping. With all of the changes, businesses have found themselves readjusting forecasts on a monthly or even weekly basis. Closing out the year will be no exception, and will require brands to build as much flexibility into their marketing strategy as possible.
Plan, plan, plan. It will be imperative for businesses to plan for multiple scenarios and understand which parts of their strategy are more flexible than others. The holiday season is already well underway. Don’t be afraid to launch marketing promotions and campaigns earlier than you normally would to better understand what’s working and what needs to be adjusted as the weeks go by.
In addition to marketing, the experience for shoppers online will be a vital part of how consumers interact with every brand this season. We’ve been talking about omnichannel experiences for years, but keep in mind consumers don’t shop "omnichannel" — they just shop, wherever that may be. They continue to look for experiences that are unified, simplistic and tailored to the appropriate channel. In an e-commerce-first environment, make sure you have truly optimized your website for a consistent experience across desktop and mobile, from checkout to delivery.
Balance Demand and Supply
This year will be more fluid than normal, and retailers need to keep a close eye on the demand for supply. Brands need to offer as much transparency as possible with consumers and be upfront in communicating the inventory available and what fulfillment and shipping times are likely to be.
Supply chain disruptions are still an issue. As these changes continue to play out, think long and hard about your inventory, availability and fulfillment models. It’s critical to make sure your website is tied into your source of truth for inventory management, which is where a one-system approach can give your brand a leg up. To improve the customer experience and be more transparent, try allowing the customer to see if the item they're looking at is low in inventory. This information can influence their decision making. Furthermore, if you find yourself unsure of what demand could look like, make sure you're planning for the best- and worst-case scenarios and be prepared to adjust as you go.
Convenience Will Win Shoppers Over
Buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup have gained traction in recent years, but are now in overdrive due to COVID-19. If you haven’t already, consider making these options available to consumers, empowering them with choices so they can shop how they’re most comfortable this season.
The surge in options for customers is another reason to implement inventory and order management systems that are tied to your website. It’s one thing to make the ability available on your site and another to ensure you can actually deliver on the demand operationally. An order management system acts as the glue between your website and inventory, and can help ensure the success and efficiency of BOPIS and curbside pickup.
Get creative this holiday season and make sure you’re offering the options that will appeal to your customers. With so many unknowns, experience and convenience will be key to standing out in a crowded market and winning over customers now and in the future.
Allison Auclair is vice president of commerce product management, Oracle NetSuite, a cloud-based ERP solution.
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