How to prepare your e-commerce site for the festive season

Like many fashion retailers, Ginger & Smart is already in preparation mode for Christmas. But this year, as the world continues to grapple with the global pandemic, planning looks a little different.

Over the next few months, the Australian fashion brand will be paying particularly close attention to its online offering, with co-founder Alexandra Smart saying that while the website was a priority before COVID-19, now it’s “the key priority”.

“We’re putting our resources toward building out our digital offering, with the intention to drive more of our business online,” says Smart. “We’re definitely moving to a more digital, tech-based platform.” The brand will be “upping the ante” on its customer service chat facility, and also promoting 1:1 personal styling sessions over Zoom. 

Ginger & Smart has the right idea, say experts, who believe that brands’ digital offerings will be more crucial than ever this holiday season. 

That’s because the global pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online spending. According to the Australia Post 2020 eCommerce Industry Report, 5.2 million of us were shopping online in April this year – that’s up 31 per cent when compared to the average in 2019. 

Before COVID, it was predicted that online shopping would make up 16-18 per cent of total retail spend by 2025. Instead, Australia will nearly hit this rate by the end of this year, with online shopping predicted to make up 15 per cent of all retail spend. 

“The potential for online retailers is amazing,” says Megan Winter, of online strategy advisory Unstoppable eCommerce. “However, on the other side of the coin, large retailers are focussing their attention to e-commerce as well, so it’s really important for online retailers of all sizes to be prepared.”   

“The brand will be “upping the ante” on its customer service chat facility, and also promoting 1:1 personal styling sessions over Zoom."

- Alexandra Smart, Co-founder, Ginger & Smart

Here’s how to optimise your website this holiday season:

1. Don’t underestimate the user experience

Your website is your shop, sales assistant and cash register, so make sure it’s ready, advises Winter. “The biggest mistake people make is sending traffic to a website that isn’t ready for it,” she says, adding that investing in marketing campaigns, including Facebook ads, is pointless if your website is difficult to navigate or unappealing. 

Think about your website in the same way you would a real shop, she says. “When people walk into your bricks-and-mortar store, they can use all their senses to check out your products and decide if they want it,” says Winter. “They can pick it up, try it on, touch it, feel it, smell it and/or taste it.”

To replicate the in-store experience as closely as possible, ensure that your images are top-quality, your product headlines attract attention and that you’ve answered any frequently asked questions – for example, relating to returns, sizing or shipping – as clearly as possible.

“Just like a bricks-and-mortar store, make sure your products are laid out nicely and your website makes it easy for people to find what they are looking for.”

2. Start planning now

Take the time to plan out key promotions and offers straightaway, says Winter. “Get those Christmas props out and have a photoshoot now, so that you’ve got festive images handy.” 

This is also the time to prepare for extra traffic, says e-commerce strategist Nathan Bush, who adds that although the days of websites crashing due to too much traffic are mostly over, there are plug-and-play monitoring systems, such as Pingdom or UptimeRobot, that will notify you of any issues. “Have the alert set up, so it alerts your phone if anything’s in trouble,” he says. After all, even a few hours of being offline could mean lost revenue during the peak shopping season.

3. Simplify your checkout 

Before consumer spending really ramps up, Bush recommends doing “a few test dummy orders yourself” to evaluate the customer experience. Now is your chance to work out any kinks in the system.

Pay close attention to any unnecessary or complicated steps during the checkout process, says Winter. “Remove as many barriers to purchase as possible… Have payment options available, such as Afterpay, which will make it easier for customers to spend money with you.” 

Bush agrees, advising that retailers check all their payment methods are working and promoted onsite. “So, if you’ve got Afterpay, make sure it’s promoted clearly,” he explains. This means ensuring that Afterpay is visible on the product page and checkout. 

Shipping costs are one of the top reasons that people don’t buy from an online store, points out Winter. “This is especially true for items that are small in size or low in price,” she says, explaining that free shipping – or the appearance of free shipping (where costs are factored into the total price) – is best. “Or, have a free shipping threshold where people have the option of qualifying for free shipping if they spend over a certain amount.” 

4. Create a follow-up strategy for new shoppers

At Christmas, retailers can expect more first-time visitors to their website than usual – especially during promotions, says Bush.

This year, with the enormous growth in online shoppers, “the big opportunity is to grow your database,” says Bush who recommends capturing customer details through a newsletter or VIP club. This can mean the start of a relationship that will hopefully generate more revenue over time. 

Winter says that it’s also important for retailers to install a Facebook pixel, which allows them to retarget customers based on the individual actions they’ve taken on your site. “For example, if they have window-shopped but left your site without making a purchase, you can target those people with a different message to someone who only visited your homepage,” she says. 

5. Communicate over delivery times

The pandemic has already caused substantial delays in delivery times, thanks to a reduction in air-freight capacity, a significant increase in parcel volume and social-distancing requirements among postal workers.

“It’s only going to get crazier at Christmas,” warns Bush, who says that retailers should start speaking to delivery partners now to identify shipping cut-off dates. These dates should then be communicated clearly on your website.

6. Keep a close eye on inventory

Don’t forget to monitor your website throughout the holiday season, adds Bush. Make sure you’re promoting items and prioritising products that have a lot of stock availability. “One thing with Christmas is you don’t want your front page filled with really popular items that aren’t available.” 

7. Don’t forget about customer service 

Good customer service is critical at this time of year, so make it easy for shoppers to ask questions, advises Bush. “Don’t hide phone numbers and live chat,” he says. “Make it really easy to access and then make sure your customer service team is happy. They’ll be stressed, but make it as fun as possible for them, because they’re going to carry the weight.” 

More people than ever will be sending presents to each other this year, says Winter, so online retailers must start preparing now to make the most of every opportunity. 

“All signs are indicating that this festive season is going to be massive for online retailers,” she says. “We predict that online sales over the coming festive season will be the highest ever recorded.”

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Written by
Alice Wasley
Alice Wasley is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph.
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