10 essentials to get your store ready for Christmas

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Everyone's buying from your shop and your service is outstanding. Or is it?... If this isn't the case here are the essentials to get your store ready and improved for Christmas. I don't even want a present back!

Don't let your online store become isolated like a winter lighthouse. Follow the big dogs like John Lewis and Marks & Spencers as they've invested a lot in getting it right. Around this time last year, John Lewis reached its peak of receiving two orders a second online, and its total sales were up 55 per cent on the same day last year (3rd December). Marks & Spencers also had a great Christmas when they broke their personal record on the same day for the number of orders received per minute. 

If you want to increase your sales and go from good to great, follow some of the tips below.

1. Provide instant online chat

Christmas should be a relaxing time - one where many people will choose to browse and purchase from the comfort of their own sofa. Make sure their customer experience is easy, and conversion will follow. Most chat requests are simply for the location of specific products anyway, so the majority of enquiries will simply be customers asking where to find a product, with you pasting in the result. If you're willing to try it, you will definitely reduce buyer anxiety.

However, you need to be around to answer any queries that do come through, which can be tough around the peak Christmas period. But help is at hand: some companies can monitor your chat for you if you don't have the capability to do it in-house. Zebra and The Chat Shop are two we can recommend in the UK. This ensures your visitors can always get an answer to any pre-purchase queries. You can use a service like LiveChat for the actual chat software.

2. Increase sales with free shipping

Many consumers are beginning to expect free shipping as standard, as popular retailers like Amazon and ASOS routinely offer it. If you can, price the actual shipping cost in with your products. 

You could use a threshold for free shipping, such as a special Christmas offer of "Free shipping for orders over £150", this can increase basket amounts as customers try and qualify for free shipping by buying more, including any tentative purchases they have in mind.

If you don't want to offer this, ensure the customer has a clear idea of the shipping prices you will charge before checkout. Hidden costs that only appear at checkout are by far the greatest reason for checkout abandonment.

Since it's free, it doesn't need to be fast shipping. You can add another option for that...

3. Offer next day shipping at a premium

There's always late shoppers that leave things until the last minute. Help them out and make more money at the same time by offering next day shipping, I can guarantee you there will be customers who take advantage of this. 

This is a great way to improve your margins and it's also a good way of differentiating yourself if you stock a product that is available elsewhere - If you can beat them with more appealing shipping you could get the sale. If you decide to offer this, ensure it's prominent on your site with a title like "Next day delivery still available for Christmas." Make sure you are also including these titles in the header on all pages.

4. Offer hassle-free returns

Oh no! They didn't like the present? That's ok because you have a great hassle-free returns policy. It's certainly more hassle for you, but this will reduce friction on checkout and you may not get as many returns as you expect.

The idea here is to reduce buyer anxiety and make the decision to purchase easier ("I can easily send it back"). The number of people that actually do return items will depend on what you sell and the time of year. Customers are probably more likely to return products just after Christmas than any other time of the year, cater for this by adding an "extended returns policy for the Christmas period."

If you sell clothing or shoes, this could be a great way of improving conversions.

Here's how to do it:

  • On the website and within the package itself, mention that any unwanted item can be returned within 28 days of the invoice date, so long as it's unused and in its original condition 
  • Include a pre-paid address label that can be stuck to the original packaging so that it can be posted back to you free of charge for the customer
  • Include a form inside with a table that lists the product and a tickbox for whether a refund or return is required (the ASOS form is shown as an example below)
  • You may want to apply a special condition for sales items and say that free returns are not available on those items

If you do decide to do this, make sure you include it on your checkout sidebar to reassure customers as they pay.

Returns policy example

Form for order

 

5. Encourage customers to share experiences on social media

Speaking of ASOS, their carrier DPD include a 'tweet your experience' link in their order update emails. This technique is good for spreading the word when they do well and for picking up on anything that needs improving. 

Why don't you do this too, perhaps do a Tweet on Boxing Day, ask if they enjoyed their gifts. Be ready to accept criticism though. When doing this it's important to meet a service level. People on social media will expect a response on the same day, particularly when it's bad feedback, which does happen. 

DPD try to decrease the risk of this by including 'opening hours' on their twitter page, on the left.

They key point here is that over Christmas a lot of customers will be purchasing through your shop, think about all the 'touch points' the customer has with your business and consider how they can be improved and how at each stage you can ask for feedback, or for the customer to share their experience with their friends.

6. Make better use of packaging

When do your customers get the most hands-on experience? Probably when the package arrived. After the experience of ordering, other than email updates, the key touch point is when the order is delivered.

You can continue to make an impact here by standing out from the rest. You could also include:

  • A special Christmas brochure (even if it's  just for next year), many people will keep this laying around the house or office and it may be what they turn to when deciding to buy something similar in future.
  • A friendly festive note, if you don't have a high order volume this could be signed by hand to add a personal touch.
  • Making a big deal out of using recycled packaging may work. You can find some great materials for this.
  • Using packaging that can clearly and easily be used for returning the goods can add to the overall experience - see ASOS as an example. This could fit in with hassle free return as described above.
  • Something novel like a calendar, Meerkat toy or even a Santa! - I have seen 2 of these three used in packaging and I still remember the brands they came from.

7. Continue using email marketing

Ramp up your newsletter efforts, perhaps by suggesting different presents each day on the run up to Christmas.

Generally if you have the technical capability, you should send personalised emails for given events, for example:

  • 7 days after an order, send a thank you email with a request to leave a review on your website or to share your purchase on Instagram or Facebook.
  • If a customer hasn't visited your website for two months, send them a friendly email that shows recommendations from your latest products based on what they browsed and bought last time.
  • If you run a limited special offer like a special pre Christmas sale, send it out to your past customers along with some current product recommendations from your store.

We use Nosto to do this, which requires minimal development effort, but there are also other providers out there.

Always keep a mailing list of past customers, in mailchimp or similar. You can then send mailshots offering rewards to existing customers in the shape of early previews of new collections or special offer coupon codes.

8. Use offers to entice buyers

Last year some of the clever ecommerce retailers used pre-Christmas sales as an extra incentive to shop with them. It's a great way to provide another level of competition especially if you have stock that you need to get rid of. When providing special offers around the festive season ensure that you are:

  • Making the special offers worthwhile.
  • Checking competitors prices on similar stock.

When using offers to entice buyers the aim of the game isn't always just for them to buy the product that's on offer. If they like the product enough they may want to buy more from your website.

9. Advertising over Christmas

You probably won't be going all out with a John Lewis style Christmas advert, but if you want people to be aware you exist there are many ways to spread the word:

  • PPC - Pay Per Click: directing traffic to your website by advertising on publisher pages (typically a website owner) when the ad is clicked. 
  • Triggered emails - These are sent in response to a particular customer action or behaviour which prompts an email to be sent. A good example of this is Reiss below

  • Affiliate marketing - This method uses the 'middle man'. Affiliate websites will advertise your services or products for you.
  • Social Advertising - Using social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to advertise can be very effective. Two things to consider here are timings and cost. You need to time adverts correctly and realise the cost of doing so. We have a post here on how Fashion retailers use Pinterest and Google+.

Consider your budget and go with what’s best for your business.

10. Use a wishlist

The Christmas period is a great time to add wish list functionality to your online website. This allows customers to save items for later. As an extra step you can send reminders of what's on their lst or allow them to share their wishlist with friends or family.

The wishlist is a really great way to boost Christmas sales. Don't treat it as a standalone tool, put some effort into ensuring email reminders are set up to push for extra sales.

Conclusion

At WeMakeWebsites we always see a huge increase in revenue over the Christmas period on our clients' websites. With this in mind, get all the aforementioned "essentials" done within the next couple of weeks.

If you want to get a new shop online before Christmas, it may just be possible if you get in touch this week.

Finally, from the team at WMW have a cheery and successful Christmas!

About the author

With expertise in business development and content marketing, grounded in a technical understanding of the web, Rob helps us gain traffic and exposure with innovative and effective tactics. Prior to helping both our clients and ourselves with lead generation, he worked on social media strategy and execution for James Caan's HB Prime Advantage advisory business. He combines entrepreneurial skill with a dynamic approach and a focus on results.

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