Where has the year gone? With less than 19 weeks until the end of the year, the 2014 holiday season is fast approaching. By all estimates it is expected to be another banner year for eCommerce. The recently released numbers from the The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce estimated U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2014, adjusted for seasonal variation, but not for price changes, was $75.0 billion (+4.9 percent) from the first quarter of 2014. That is a very healthy rise in sales for the channel and indicates strength going into the back half of the year. Absent any major issues, retailers can expect to see similar increases throughout the holidays.
Most major publications look at the overall eCommerce environment and make predictions about general sales increases. Volusion, the eCommerce platform company based in the US, released numbers this week focused on the small and medium size businesses (SMB) the sell via online channels. For the SMB’s, they backed the low end of the 9-12% range predicted by the National Retail Federation. This is a solid foundation for businesses of smaller size and serves well to continue the overall growth of online sales.
So, with the holidays just around the corner I was surprised over the last two weeks to receive calls from multiple companies asking what they need to do in order to be prepared for the holidays – THIS YEAR. I am glad these were phone calls so that people could not see me shaking my head. In my opinion, planning and executing for the holiday season is a year round process (especially for those who rely on 40%+ of the business that comes for some companies in a 40 day period).
Alas, I am always keen to help where I can so I provided as many tips and ideas for companies to get the most possible out of the season regardless of time constraints. For the purpose of this post I will focus on one item from each of the four pillars of eCommerce – marketing, merchandising, operation and analytics.
There are many, many marketing things that have to be planned and done for selling online. This late in the year a focus on social channels can help effect change most efficiently. Start pinning items on Pinterest that are expected to be hot sellers. Consider contests to push through Twitter and Facebook that highlight excitement for the season. Use that as a way to collect e-mail addresses and then mail to provide more direct updates as the end of the year approaches. The side effects are building more links and content for search engine optimization well before it is needed in the actual shopping days.
It is all fine and dandy if you plan to sell some hot products during the holiday season. It is reprehensible if you are not prepared on how these items will be shown to customers on the website and through marketing. It is paramount to make sure customers can quickly and easily find items on your website – be it from the home page or associated with landing pages when people arrive from search, display ads, or other means. Further, as you have accomplished showing the right products to the right people at the right time, make SURE that these best sellers are in stock. Communicate and plan with vendors and/or internal partners to make sure that logistics are ready.
You have your marketing in place. Your products are ready to go. So just sit back, relax and enjoy the season – yeah, right! Starting in September you and your teams should hold weekly meetings incorporating all aspects of the business. Yes, even you SMB companies. Pull in IT, Call Centers, Warehouse and other partners that will help you build a seamless process. One of the biggest things overlooked is if the website can handle the traffic and loads of increased computing. Consider a Retail Readiness review by Tenzing Managed IT Services (or other infrastructure service provider). Planning and adding flexibility now is much better than after servers crash and sales are lost.
It never fails. After the season people start asking lots of questions about how everything performed. It is always easy to “report” what happened. It is 10X better to analyze what is happening and then plan ahead for the next round of fun. In order to do this, teams need to create goals and set reasonable expectations. Through the crescendo of the season it is important to track the trends to the expectations to see where things may be missing. If missing to the negative, the teams have to be ready to optimize. If missing to the positive, communications have to go to the right people to replenish stock or to consider deferring discount plans. Overall, this is not only important for the business, but also for personal development for team players. The better the analysis, the better the preparedness.
This Too Shall Pass
No matter what, the 2014 holiday season will come and go. You will be prepared or you will miss an opportunity. Either way hopefully you are looking ahead to 2015 and creating a better cycle to support and grow your business. The old adage holds true –