Canadian Merchants Should Prepare For eCommerce Holiday Rush

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E-Merchants had better be ready. The holiday season, the most important retail rush of the year, is nigh and with internet use on the rise, and e-commerce flourishing, they should expect a greater number of shoppers doing their buying online this year.

To put it in perspective, Statistics Canada had online orders placed by Canadian reaching $18.9 billion in 2012 – that’s up 24 per cent from 2010 – with 56 per cent of Canadian internet users ordering goods and services online. That number was up from 51 per cent in 2010. Seventy-seven per cent of internet users did research on goods and services and 69 per cent of the 25 to 35-year-old internet cohort, making a purchase online. They are, after all, the most likely to do so.

With this increasing e-commerce activity holiday e-commerce preparedness is of the utmost importance for Canadian e-tailers. They need to make sure they’re ready for the oncoming rush lest they be left behind by the competition. Here are a few things they should keep in mind.

Trends

It’s important for e-merchants to be prepared by keeping on top of the relevant online buying trends, particularly when crafting holiday strategies. This year there are two trends they should take into account.

Firstly, mobile, particularly tablets, will be very important again this year. Indeed, mobile internet usage in 2012 increased by 25 per cent, jumping to 58 per cent from 33 per cent in 2010. You can bet your bottom dollar that it’s gone up again this year. People have been buying tablets like hotcakes.

“Last year was the first year that we’ve seen that tablet shopping occurred more than computer shopping,” Jamie Schreter, VP strategy at Demac Media, a Toronto-based e-commerce service and solutions company, tells Dx3 Digest. “People were actually completing their purchase on a tablet more so than on a laptop or PC. Making sure that your mobile readiness is there is extremely important.”

Canadians are still very much in-store shoppers and online browsers.

Onmi-channel is a term retailers need to know. It’s another trend that’s becoming increasingly important, particularly for merchants with both an online and bricks-and-mortar presence. While online shopping is becoming more popular, Canadians are still very much in-store shoppers and online browsers, meaning that while they do surf the net to research potential purchases, they’re still inclined to go to a bricks-and-mortar location for the thrill of walking out of a store with an item they’ve purchased. That said, they want a seamless experience across all retail touchpoints, from online to in-store.

“Having the message go across all of your channels is very important,” says Schreter. “It’s a trend we’re seeing more and more. Over the coming years e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail are going to start merging more and more. As companies are becoming more technologically advanced and allowing themselves to be seamless [across touchpoints] you start trailing behind if you’re not. So, it’s more important just because we’re getting better at it in Canada.”

“I think there’s always going to be a segment of consumers who love the thrill of the hunt, love being surprised and delighted and love going into a store and discovering new items,” adds Matthew Diamond, partner at Toronto-based purchase design agency Hunter Straker. “I think we’re still going to continue to see that shift [towards online buying], but I think that ability, to not lose sight of the importance for manufacturers of having effective merchandising and display strategies, is critical because it’s still about getting consumers’ attention in those environments.”

With greater social media traffic likely at this time of year, effective social communicating can server e-tailers well through the holidays and beyond.

Social Media

Social media is a useful tool, particularly when it comes to CRM (customer relationship management), and that certainly doesn’t change over the holiday season; it’s a time when customer service requests and inquiries tend to grow substantially. It’s also another useful tactic for communicating seasonal promotions, marketing initiatives and other holiday-related news. Ultimately, with greater social media traffic likely at this time of year, effective social communicating can server e-tailers well through the holidays and beyond.

“[The holiday season is not] just the time to get an immediate reaction,” says Schreter. “It’s also the time to build more of a following because this is your highest traffic time. So why not incentivize [customers] to follow you on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for your newsletter. Sales conversions are just one type of conversion you can get during the holiday season.”

Social media platforms also allow for effective “listening” and that can result in valuable customer intel that will inform subsequent strategies.

“Online merchants, who are able to effectively listen through whatever social listening tools are available to them to what their customers are looking for this holiday season, and then use those those insights to come up with a call to action or campaign – let’s call it war on the consumer’s language and voice – will work effectively,” says Diamond.

Analytics and data mining can help inform subsequent strategies for e-tailers. It’s something that’s growing in importance as more shoppers migrate online, allows e-tailers the freedom to mine more data and adjust tactics on the fly with greater efficacy.

“Because you can track everything in e-commerce, make sure you leave yourself wiggle room to adjust,” says Schreter. “If you planned a marketing campaign for your holidays on November 1 and don’t change it until December 1, you’re missing an opportunity. If you’re launching a social media or SEO campaign you can address those daily and you should to get the most ROI you can out of what you’re putting into your holiday efforts.”

The Checklist

Once the strategies are in place, the right objectives and goals are set, the right mindset’s been achieved, it’s important for e-tailers to make sure they have all the essential elements down pat. For example, they need to make sure their marketing and promotional elements are strong and ready to be executed on strategy.

“Those promotional tactics and strategies in an online space will help drive some good momentum for the right retailers to get the right mix of good product offering, good messaging and the right level of clarity,” says Diamond.

“Very often, especially in the world of e-commerce, any kind of promotion that relates to shipping is always a very strong one,” adds Schreter. Of course, the more promotions the better.

“Make sure that your site is prepared from a hardware standpoint [and] from a software standpoint, to handle the traffic.”

Having a handle on order fulfillment and customer service is also crucial. E-merchants not only need to ensure they have enough stock to meet a much higher volume of orders, but also that they can manage a ferocious flurry of customer service-related requests. And then there’s the e-commerce portal

“A very big thing to do when it comes to preparing yourself for the holidays is to make sure that your site is prepared from a hardware standpoint, from a software standpoint, to handle the traffic so that performance isn’t impacted by the high volume during the holidays and that the user experience on the site is very strong,” Schreter.

Schreter recently posted a useful holiday e-commerce checklist to the Demac blog that provides some further insight into what essential elements merchants need stay on top of in order to ensure holiday preparedness. At the end of the day, he says, the most important thing is to recognize that you can’t plan for everything.

“Every promotion that you run, every extra piece of content or product that you put up on your site to accommodate what you expect is going to happen is great, but you have to leave yourself room to figure things out as you go,” says Schreter. “You might get additional customer service calls you weren’t expecting, a promotion may not work […] or an issue with your site might come up, so the idea is to be as prepared as you possibly can be by looking into all of the standard ‘make sure we’re ready’ type of stuff, while at the same time recognizing that you’re going to have to react to what the holidays bring you.”

Holiday Dos and Don’ts

Here’s a list of the most crucial dos and don’t dos for e-tailers to keep in mind during the holidays:

Dos

1. Make sure that your site can handle the traffic that’s coming
2. Make sure that your marketing strategies are in place, that you know exactly what you’re running, when you’re running, how you’re running.
3. Make sure you’re on top of merchandising.

Don’ts

1. Don’t start or try brand new things too late or leave things to the last minute.
2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
3. Don’t focus too much on what everyone else is doing.

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About Jonathan Paul

Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based freelance writer who specializes in the Canadian advertising and marketing beat. He has written for major industry publications including Marketing and Strategy. At the latter he was senior writer for four years, crafting all sorts of stories on the advertising and marketing tactics of big brands including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, UFC Canada and Tim Hortons, all whilst keeping a finger on the pulse of international creativity, technology and trends. An avid scribe, both personally and professionally, he’s also an imagineer, information disseminator, media junkie, videogame enthusiast and, admittedly, a comic book nerd.

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