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Your Guide to Navigating an Ecommerce-Focused Holiday Season

By: Adam Walsh
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It’s a digital world these days. This trend that had been steadily progressing suddenly catapulted forward as more people than ever live, work and learn — sometimes exclusively — from home. Today, as the holiday season is quickly approaching, brands are faced with an important question: could you survive an online-only holiday shopping season?

To find answers, we put this question before our panel of experts for the latest installment in our Uncertainty into Opportunity series. Our virtual event was sponsored by Akeneo and speakers included:

  • Ali Hanyaloglu, Head of Global Product Marketing, Akeneo
  • Angus Cormie, Ecommerce Director, Lenovo
  • Adam Walsh, Senior Director, Customer Success Management, Digital River
  • Mike French, Vice President, Partnerships and Alliances, Digital River

Here are some of the top insights our expert panel shared to help your business prepare for and succeed in an online shopping–heavy holiday season (and future).

You can also watch an on-demand version of the event here.

Online sales have dramatically increased

The numbers tell the story:

  • 75% year-over-year growth in online sales on U.S. Memorial Day 2020, with sales reaching $3.5 billion
  • 20% jump in online spending on Cyber Monday 2019, making it the heaviest online spending day in history
  • 7% increase in online spending during April and May 2020 compared to what was spent online during last year’s holiday season

“Ecommerce is the new normal,” said Walsh. “More and more customers are not as comfortable buying in-store, so many are turning to shopping online.”

In addition, living and working from home has spurred many people to look at ways to update their workspaces, creating a rush of non-organic growth.

It’s predicted that the current COVID-19 related market will have long-lasting effects, setting a new normal for customer expectations. At the same time, the experts predicted the sales figures we see will not dramatically decrease once the pandemic subsides. The online shopping habits of many consumers seem here to stay.

Supporting new online shoppers is vital

While the sheer number of online shoppers has increased dramatically, not all shoppers are happy to be part of the trend — or even comfortable for that matter.

“We’re seeing a huge lift in new online shoppers,” Cormie said. “Many of them are buying new products to work and learn from home, and expect these products to get in their hands fast.”

Our panelists agreed that shoppers’ expectations and needs have intensified because of the pandemic. People want to get things quickly to alleviate the new burdens this change of life has caused, and companies that fail to deliver with the necessary speed and expected experiences risk hurting their brand reputation and losing new customers.

Instead of focusing on deals pages and offers highlighting just the latest and greatest products, the experts agreed that brands should focus on promoting items that solve immediate needs and shipping those items as quickly as possible.

Recreating the product experience online

What can you do for customers who miss holding a product in their hand before they buy it? Product information is key, but, as Hanyaloglu pointed out, it must be clear and concise. In addition, not surprisingly, it must also be up-to-date and complete. The panelists agreed they’ve all seen product pages where the product description section still contains boilerplate text like “insert description here”. These unfilled areas can affect conversions and cost your company sales.

In addition to making sure their product information is superior in this digital environment, some brands are using virtual shoppers or extended video demos to better showcase products in a remote shopping environment. Both can have a positive effect on online-only shoppers and increase conversions.

Handling increased holiday volume at scale

A holiday season with the potential for online volume unlike any other can put tremendous strain on a company’s logistics, customer service, inventory and product information teams. So how do you attack such an effort at scale?

Hanyaloglu said one of the best things companies can do is migrate their data to a product information management (PIM) system, replacing any dated Excel spreadsheets and printed brochures many companies still employ. A PIM system creates a single source of truth for all products in your catalog, allowing you to check the accuracy of each entry. It also makes it easier for teams to build and sell new products and verify information through automation.

“Having a modern PIM system as your central hub of product data allows you to leverage all product information through your ecommerce site and support a successful multichannel marketing strategy – and even your print brochures,” Hanyaloglu said.

Creating a seamless experience

How do you create a seamless experience during the holidays? The answer is to plan a successful ecommerce marketing strategy.

“You want the online shopping experience to mirror what your brand represents,” Cormie said. “This requires a huge amount of planning and preparation, especially for the holiday season.”

Effectively planning such an experience requires your team to think not only of your brand and the message you are trying to convey, but of what will be expected of your:

  • IT team: Data and page load time are vital to winning business. In addition, you must consider how your products look on your web properties compared to other channels.
  • Logistics: Many companies face challenges related to increased volume. Others are already dealing with disruptions caused by the pandemic. Planning for contingencies in your supply chain can protect against these issues.
  • Inventory: For many companies who sell physical goods, there is only so much inventory to go around, which makes for some tough conversations regarding where inventory will reside when holiday promotions start. Is all inventory kept in the most strategic warehouse location? How much do you sell to your partners? How much will you keep to sell yourself?

Establishing plans to answer these questions requires stringing together many conversations with many internal (and likely external) stakeholders. And those conversations have to start now.

Having these conversations early with each of your key groups and getting a head start on the planning will help you establish a baseline and truly understand how each facet of your plan will work with the next. In addition, you need to have back-up plans for the season as well, in case things don’t go as imagined at first.

“Be ready to call audibles if a strategy isn’t going as you planned or desired,” Cormie said. “You need to have those audibles ready so plan, plan, plan. Plus, have a bit of fun. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an enormous effort, so make it an event everyone looks forward to and you’ll offset some of the stress.”

Capturing more expert insights

Our panel of experts had a lot more to say about preparing your company for an ecommerce-focused holiday season. So, we recorded a podcast to continue the discussion on this important topic. Listed to the podcast episode below and subscribe to our Commerce Connect Podcast to hear more industry leaders discuss their tips and tools for ecommerce success.

To learn more about how Digital River can help set your growing ecommerce brand up for success, even during the busiest of times, connect with us today.