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Drivers of Positive Online Retailer Recommendations
As the hazy days of summer fade away and fall looms on the horizon, e-commerce retailers are in the midst of preparing for the busiest time of the year. Holiday volume for many retailers can account for a significant amount of sales, potentially making or breaking an entire year. E-commerce-only retailers can expect significant volume increases, but also run the risk of losing customers for life if they have even one bad experience with you.
How can you not only avoid customer loss, but actively work to increase customer loyalty and drive up e-commerce profitability during the 2013 holiday season?
Avoid out of stocks with detailed product planning
- The last thing you want is to be out of stock on any hot products before the holiday rush. Analyze holiday sales from previous years to understand bestsellers as well as what is trending in terms of new product lines or offerings on competitor sites.
- Work with suppliers early to make sure you have enough stock to support increased volumes and factor in things like shipment delays as you do your product planning.
- Having software that supports realtime/near realtime inventory visibility around what is on hand and alerts for low inventory thresholds will also be key during volume spikes. Make sure that the end-to-end process (either internally or with your 3PL) of inventory receiving, all the way through sell-through, has accuracy/quality checks so all your products are customer-ready.
Use free shipping to drive customer behavior
- This should come as no surprise, but customers love free shipping and in most cases expect some sort of free shipping offer, especially during holiday season.
- Be very clear about free shipping qualifications on your website so that customers know upfront what it takes to qualify. Is it a minimum order quantity, or are there specific promotions on certain products, or days when free shipping will be offered on all orders?
- Many customers will actually add more items to their basket in order to qualify for free shipping, so it’s paramount to be clear about your offers while they are on your site.
- According to the 2013 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, 68% of consumers have recommended a retailer based on a free shipping offer — a slight increase from their 2012 findings.
- If you have a loyalty program, understand what kind of special offers you could offer premium customers such as upgraded shipping at no cost.
Scale and prepare your warehouse operations for the rush
- Make sure your warehouse operations are in order and properly staffed & trained for volume spikes.
- Order accuracy plays a critical role in consumer satisfaction, and errors can potentially be a fatal blow to your business. According to a study from Voxware, 29% of consumers will abandon shopping with an online retailer altogether after just one incorrect order; this goes up to 59% if there are 2 or 3 incorrect deliveries.
- News of customer dissatisfaction could spread like wildfire through Facebook, Twitter and other channels, greatly impacting your brand — have a gameplan in place to ensure customer satisfaction in the event of errors.
- Make sure that there are multiple quality control checks in your order fulfillment process to decrease the chances of incorrect orders.
Be sure to factor in returns
- While most retailers don’t like to think about returns, it’s a very influential area for consumers: especially in the case of e-commerce-only shops where they can’t see or feel a product before purchase. The holiday season is when your return policies and procedures will play a critical role in overall customer experience.
- According to the UPS study, free returns have led 34% of consumers to recommend a retailer in a positive light, and easy returns and exchanges are equally important.
- Consider what your returns process looks like for the holiday season. Do you have a clear and obvious policy posted on your website? Who pays for return shipping?
- Having transparency upfront will give your customers confidence that if there is any issue, your returns process will be smooth and seamless.
- Make sure that the returns process inside your warehouse or with your outsourced fulfillment provider is buttoned up as well, and that there are consistent procedures in place for how they handle returns on the back end.
Get prepared early and provide clear information on your site that is consistent with your end-to-end processes in order to ensure a successful holiday season!
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