Headline article image 10 mistakes retailers make every sales season

10 mistakes retailers make every sales season

On Black Friday last year, American shoppers spent $8.9 billion, followed by $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday.

And that was just the beginning of shopping season, which ramps up as Christmas approaches. 

Every year, sales season offers online merchants and brick-and-mortar stores alike the opportunity to drive up cart size, boost revenue and secure new customers.

But without careful consideration and thoughtful execution, sales can be a missed opportunity. This holiday season in particular, merchants will be dealing with the continuing effects from inflation, interest rate increases and supply chain shortages, with experts predicting that shoppers will soon start tightening their purse strings.

To prime your business for success, get familiar with these 10 sales season missteps – and how to avoid them.

1. Failing to… prepare your website for an influx of traffic 

The season’s major shopping events, especially those occurring online, like Cyber Monday (November 28), can bring a surge of visitors to your e-commerce store. 

For context, in November 2019 the top 100 global shopping sites saw average daily visits increase by 22 percent, including a 137 percent spike on Black Friday.

This is good news, but is your website equipped to handle the extra load? “You need to make sure that your site is easily accessible even when traffic is high,” says Roger Simpson, retail consultant and CEO of The Retail Solution. Find out how many requests per second your content management system (CMS) can handle before the load time is affected. Is your website optimized for multiple devices? And does your checkout work well on both desktop and mobile?

Fixing glitches and increasing your website’s speed can bring about real and tangible results. The Milliseconds Make Millions report found that even a 0.1-second improvement in site speed saw retail customers spend almost 10 percent more at the checkout.

“You need to make sure that your site is easily accessible even when traffic is high."

- Roger Simpson, retail consultant and CEO of The Retail Solution.

2. Failing to… order enough stock

An “out of stock” sign on a product won’t just lose you a sale, it can leave a bad impression on new potential customers who are visiting your store for the first time during the sales. Follow these steps to manage inventory effectively and get in your Christmas orders as early as possible.

- Calculate how much stock you need. Examine your sales reports and consider trends from the past few years.

- Communicate with your suppliers or vendors. Check if there are changes to lead times during the holiday season, and if they’re offering any promotional or discount prices. Also, are they taking time off over Christmas?

- Place orders. The earlier, the better. Consider ordering enough stock to last until mid-January, to see you through the sales season.

- Create contingency plans. Draw up a plan of action in case a product is over or understocked. For the former, will you slash the prices – and when and by how much? For the latter, you’ll need to create a waiting list or reorder swiftly from your suppliers.

3. Failing to… strategically target prospective customers

The holiday season is a prime time to attract new customers and win back old ones, but the cost of advertising on social media is concurrently at a year-round high, as competition drives up the cost per click (CPC). According to one study, the average CPC on Instagram is $0.80 in the first quarter of the year, spiking at more than $2 in late November/early December.

Therefore, your advertising and marketing campaigns will need to be tactical.

- Get in early. Invest in social media advertising at least a few weeks before Black Friday. This will be more economical than waiting until the last minute and it will also generate interest with prospective customers while they’re writing their shopping lists.

- Target lookalike audiences. These are shoppers who have similar purchasing patterns to your existing customers. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook use data to find these prospective high-value customers, and serve them targeted advertising.

- Remarket to last year’s shoppers. Re-engage with past customers who’ve already done business with your brand. Examine 2021 data and reach out to customers who shopped from you during the last Black Friday Cyber Monday (BCFM) period or holiday season; email is the best platform for this, particularly personalized and targeted EDMs.

The holiday season is a prime time to attract new customers and win back old ones.

4. Failing to… hire enough additional staff

Major sales can attract large volumes of eager customers ready to snap up a bargain. Will your current staff be able to handle the influx and provide the same attention to detail?

“Make sure you have enough staff in store to cope when it’s very busy,” says Simpson. While hiring in advance is important every year, it’s especially pertinent for the upcoming Christmas sales season as restaurants and retailers struggle to find seasonal staff due to “very limited overseas students and visitors. Retailers need to try and over-employ if they can,” he continues.

“There will be a lot of competition for the best Christmas seasonals. They need to be fully trained by mid/late November as shoppers tend to shop earlier to avoid stock issues.”

Amid labor shortages, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd to attract the right staff. Consider implementing an employee referral program as well as offering incentives to work for you (such as staff training, flexible schedules and company events).

5. Failing to… utilize the power of SMS campaigns 

SMS marketing (or texting) is a relatively new way to connect with customers, but according to numerous studies, you can use it to promote and publicize your sales with significant cut-through, according to studies.

According to Lexer’s Retail Strategies To Maximize 2022 Holiday Sales report, SMS campaigns have a 97 percent average read rate just 15 minutes after delivery. Attentive, an SMS marketing provider, facilitated more than 18 billion texts between retailers and customers last year, with retailers making an average of $USD55 dollars for every $USD1 spent on SMS marketing.

Note that before sending marketing texts, your customers will need to explicitly opt-in. You can drive signups by providing an incentive, discount or exclusive reward. Once your list grows, SMS will become a valuable communication channel for your brand. Read our full guide to SMS marketing here.

6. Failing to… provide a range of delivery options

During the sales season, competition is fierce – and for some shoppers, free or fast delivery might be the deciding factor when choosing where to make a purchase. 

Simpson suggests that retailers provide a range of delivery options, including store pickup. Free shipping is an enticing option (high shipping costs are widely regarded as the number-one reason for cart abandonment) and can help increase average order value. But if it’s not cost-effective for your business, you could offer it as a one-off promotional tool on peak sales days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday – or offer it to customers who spend a certain amount.

SMS campaigns have a 97 per cent average read rate just 15 minutes after delivery.

7. Failing to… amp up your customer service

As tbh Skincare has learned, more customers equals more questions.

“There have been times [in the early years] where we’ve struggled to keep up with the level of customer service tickets during a sale period, especially across weekends and out of hours,” explains founder Rachael Wilde.

“This is something we’ve worked on over the past 12 months to manage as we really value our customers' experience and feedback. If people are shopping during a sale, they want fast customer-service assistance.”

Now, tbh Skincare offers online customer support 24/7 for the duration of major sales.

Your customer support staff can cover everything from responding to emails to social media messages and pop-up web chats. Today, some businesses are opting to elevate their e-commerce offerings with virtual personalized shopping experiences, where shoppers can connect with the customer service team via text, email or video and receive personalized product recommendations.

8. Failing to… create a landing page

When a potential customer clicks through to your e-commerce store from an email or digital ad, where do they land? Chances are, they’re taken to your homepage, which provides a general overview of your business. But this is a lost opportunity. Studies show that if you have a specific, short-term goal – such as promoting a sale or a particular product or department on sale – a dedicated landing page can help increase your conversion rate.

Why? Because while a homepage is filled with countless messages and images – creating a “paradox of choice” for the shopper, while a landing page has one clear call to action: “20% off for Black Friday,” for example. Some businesses create a landing page in the lead-up to a sale with a countdown clock and urge visitors to sign up to their EDM to stay informed. Once the sales event starts, the landing page can lead shoppers directly to the products they’re interested in.

An effective landing page will have…

- A clear and compelling CTA 

- A clutter-free design

- One main headline

- An engaging image

- Concise copy that emphasizes the value of the sale or deal

- Minimal navigation – strip the page of menus and buttons that allow to the shopper to click away (unless it’s a CTA to Shop The Sale or Shop Gifts, which will link through to your product pages)

- Promotion of Afterpay as a way to buy now, pay later. (Visit Afterpay’s marketing resources centre for tips and examples.)

9. Failing to… nail your pricing strategy

As a business owner, your aim is to sell. And against a backdrop of inflation, financially squeezed shoppers are seeking out value deals this season.

But significantly dropping your prices isn’t always the smartest sales strategy. If you price a product too low and the deal is too popular, you’ll miss out on revenue and put pressure on already struggling supply chains; the consequent delays and unfulfilled orders have the potential to override your sales success.

Think creatively and experiment with tiered discounts – where the more a customer spends, the larger their discount – or bundle sales, where you package complementary products together to drive up sales and reduce surplus inventory.

10. Failing to… think beyond the single sale

During peak sales periods, your business will likely experience an a surge in traffic. So, make some noise while there are additional eyes on your brand 

As part of its 2021 Black Friday sales event, tbh Skincare released a new product: pimple patches. Wilde explains, “Not only were our customers super excited because this was a new product, but [as part of] our Black Friday offer [they were] free with any purchase over $80.

“This was a great value add for our customer, wasn’t a huge discount in terms of margin for us, and it kept basket sizes up across the sale period.” 

Similarly, consider how to transform first-time customers into long-term loyal fans. Ensure you have a strategy to drive retention and repeat purchases, whether that’s via retargeting, for example, or a content series that introduces them to your brand.=

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All references to any registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Afterpay does not endorse or recommend any one particular supplier and the information provided is for educational purposes only.


Written by
Erin Cook
Erin Cook is a freelance writer whose words have been published in marie claire, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, and more.
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