No matter what U.S. state your business is located in, this holiday season is guaranteed to be unlike any other. Americans have endured nearly a full year of constant economic assault from the government in the name of fighting an invisible enemy. One would have to wonder, is the invisible enemy a virus or the legal mandates executed in response to it?

Putting politics aside, no one can disagree that the retail industry is about to take another hit this holiday season, but wise retailers have already taken extensive measures to switch their businesses to ecommerce in order to keep their revenue flowing.

According to AARP, some of the biggest names in Big Box retail filed for bankruptcy due to the lockdown response to COVID-19. Major retailers like Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Chuck E. Cheese, GNC, J.C. Penney, and others were not able to keep their physical doors open.

Companies that are still afloat have been able to survive because they use ecommerce. In fact, the greatest profiter of the worldwide economic shutdown has been ecommerce giant Amazon. While small retail businesses were choked into bankruptcy, Amazon has been sitting pretty and enjoying a massive increase in revenue. Yes, their profits doubled, making the mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos even richer.

Whether you've been able to keep your physical store open throughout the government-imposed lockdown, we strongly recommend you develop a secure, functional ecommerce website and start promoting your products, services, seasonal sales, and estimated delivery times now.

To assist in your holiday marketing once your ecommerce site has gone live, here is your FTx checklist for success.

CREATE STRATEGIC HOLIDAY MARKETING PROMOTIONS

Though it's late in November, it's never too late to optimize your promotional campaign strategy for the height of the holiday season, which will peak next month. Assuming you've taken initiative to generate digital holiday sales season images and graphics, the smartest course of action is to create a schedule of social media posts and newsletters to deploy. A digital marketing effort will help increase consumer enthusiasm for your brand and the specific promotional sales you're offering. Your promotions can also expand beyond the products themselves. Consider alerting online shoppers to buy gift cards and have the items they purchase gift-wrapped by dedicating periodic social media posts to those special offers. And remember, one of the biggest incentives to inspire shopping is the bonus of free shipping. Figure out for yourself the spending threshold to trigger free shipping for your customers. Whether it's free shipping after $50 is spent or $100, your online shoppers will appreciate the savings. Present your customers with these kinds of holiday season perks via your email newsletter and social media posts, and watch your ecommerce revenue increase.

Another highly effective promotional strategy to include as part of your holiday season marketing efforts is to launch a customer loyalty rewards program that includes bonus points for signing up, among other incentives. Loyalty programs are known to foster brand recognition and strengthen customer relationships with your store. If you'd like insight on how to execute a successful customer loyalty rewards program, then visit FTx Loyalty

USER SHOPPING EXPERIENCE IS KEY

Your digital holiday marketing efforts will draw consumers to your ecommerce site, but that doesn't guarantee they'll follow through and complete the purchasing process. If your website provides an exceptional online experience, however, the risk of shopping cart abandonment will greatly decrease. Surveys have shown that today's consumer is more interested in brand ethos and personalized deals than anything else. A shopper will favor a pet supply store that supports animal rescue over one that does not have a philanthropic mission in place, for example. Consumers care about where their dollars ultimately end up and when retailers can speak to them in personalized terms, they feel an even stronger sense of connection.

Beyond the heart-to-heart aspects of how your brand interacts with your customers via digital promotional marketing, your ecommerce website must run smoothly, use intuitive navigation, offer personalized suggestions, and also have a solid infrastructure without glitches. A great first step you can take to investigate if your ecommerce website needs any changes in anticipation of the holiday sales season is to find volunteers to evaluate the online shopping experience and give you feedback. As part of the evaluation, be sure to examine the following areas:

  • • Test the website's infrastructure--you can't afford a crash if there's a surge of online traffic, so conduct a round of load-testing to test the strength of your server. Your IT provider can help.
  • • Check the speed of your site--if it takes your ecommerce site longer than 3 seconds to load a page, then you're going to lose shoppers. Optimize the speed and functionality of your website, and remember, too many plugins and apps will slow down the overall speed.
  • • Test your third-party integrations--your ecommerce site uses third-party integrations and they'll need to be up-to-date and tested to ensure they can handle an increased load. Consult with your IT specialist about the benefits of placing a "code freeze" within your system for the duration of the holiday season.
  • • Enable cart abandonment notifications--as a last line of defense against complete shopping cart abandonment, put a notification in place to remind the customer that there are products in the shopping cart they've left behind. If the notification also includes a discount or sales opportunity, there's a good chance you can retain the customer.

    AUTOMATE SELLING AND SHIPPING, DELIVER ON TIME

    When it comes to holiday season shopping, delivery dates matter like nothing else. Consumers choose one online retailer over another based on the guaranteed delivery date. Delivering a customer's Christmas gift order the day after Christmas is only going to lead to bad reviews and impact negatively on your brand. In order to avoid this, you need to be realistic about the shipping options, shipping timelines, and expected delivery dates so that your shoppers can make an informed decision and take responsibility if their orders arrive later than they would've liked. For this reason, it's a smart idea to use "delivery windows" rather than specific dates, and be conservative in your approximations. Rather than projecting that a USPS delivery will arrive on "December 22nd" for example, instead use terminology like "USPS delivery will arrive between December 21st and December 24th". And remember, the closer to Christmas the delivery date, the more conservative you'll want to be. In other words, if there's a chance the order will arrive on the 24th, it would be better to approximate delivery "no later than" the 26th. This is the best way to manage customer expectations, and prevent animosity and complaints.

    You won't be in a position to properly fulfill customer orders and deliver them within the approximated windows if you haven't prepared your fulfillment, shipping, and distribution channels in advance. The time is now to review your inventory and reinforce the products you foresee will be "best sellers". Contact your wholesale vendors and distribution centers to ensure the pipeline is open. Look at last year's order records to gain a sense of the volumes you could be dealing with this year. Next, make sure your order fulfillment system is automated. Chances are, if your ecommerce business is smaller, you might not have the in-house resources to manage a sudden surge in holiday orders. If this is the case, consider partnering with an order fulfillment company that can handle getting orders shipped on time.

    PREPARE FOR THE UNPREDICTABLE

    Holiday shopping season statistics have shown that as the major holidays draw near, revenue increases. In years past, the night before Christmas Eve, for example, had the highest consumer turn-out and purchase rate for brick-and-mortar retailers. Even if people are shopping online from home this year, your ecommerce site will likely still experience a "peak" in revenue. But unlike increased foot traffic inside a retail store, a surge of online shoppers could cause a website to crash. The last thing you want to have to deal with is your ecommerce site going down when sales are spiking.

    Having a backup and recovery IT system in place is your best bet when it comes to avoiding a loss of revenue if disaster strikes. First, make sure that your ecommerce site has a mirrored auto-backup system where your business's data is saved in a separate location outside of your core IT system. You can set the backup to occur automatically and at periodic intervals that will best support future recovery. Typically, a cloud-based solution will be adequate, but make sure that this backup system stands independent of your disaster recovery system.

    This topic is so important, we've dedicated an entire article to the subject, Data Backup and Recovery, and if you'd like to learn about Network Failure and POS, we encourage you to take a moment now to read that additional article. Put simply, you're going to need a network failover solution and an MSP in place. FTx Solutions can get your bases covered. Our solutions include everything from building ecommerce websites to digitally marketing your holiday promotional campaigns. If you're looking to take your business to the next level, then Contact Us today.