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How to increase e-commerce sales during the peak holiday shopping season

Woman shops online for the holidays

It’s that time of year again. As e-tailers prepare their promotions, shoppers are heading online - ready to spend for the peak holiday season.

But with the dollars flowing, what steps can e-commerce businesses take to increase sales during busy retail periods?  Here are 10 ways to move your holiday sales from good to great. 

1. Start peak planning early

It’s shaping up to be another big online shopping season. E-commerce sales for the 2019–20 holiday are expected to grow 14–18% year-over-year, with sales projected to reach almost $150 billion, according to analysis by Deloitte.

"Plan as early as possible,” advises Dave Roegge, UPS Director of U.S. Segment Marketing. With six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, fulfillment will get compressed. 

“We're recommending that customers work even harder to manage their volume and consider launching even earlier promotions before Thanksgiving to increase sales prior to the holiday season." 

2. Strengthen your e-commerce website

Are you investing enough in your e-commerce site?  For online shopping, the message couldn’t be clearer: consumers require transparency.

According to the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 95% of buyers expect to see all shipping fees and taxes totaled before they’ll complete a purchase. To help grow e-commerce sales, make easy-to understand, straightforward pricing and policies a priority. 

“Shoppers will abandon their carts if they have things like unexpected delivery costs, out-of-stock items, or even an inability to use their preferred method of payment," says Roegge. 

Shoppers are also unforgiving when it comes to poorly performing websites—e-commerce sites need to be mobile-ready and load quickly across devices. Almost two thirds of consumers say retail technologies and innovations have enhanced their shopping experience on mobile devices, according to e-commerce research from the National Retail Federation.  

In addition: 

  • Make sure your site can deal with the heavy traffic associated with the end-of-year shopping season. Work with your technical team ahead of time on peak planning initiatives. 
  • Is your website optimized for the right keywords? Your search engine optimization won’t take care of itself. Partner with SEO experts who can get you ranking for search terms that convert.  

Don’t try to figure everything out alone. Get expert help developing an online store that is mobile optimized and customizable. Shoppers will appreciate it.

3. Go omni-channel

As an e-tailer, there are so many places to sell your goods these days. Use these different channels wisely. 

Online marketplaces are one area you’ll want to focus on to expand your customer reach. According to this year’s survey, almost all online shoppers (96%) in the U.S. have purchased from an online marketplace.     

But don’t set up on these e-commerce platforms blindly. Research the different options thoroughly. What are the main differences between Amazon and Alibaba or eBay and Etsy? Do you understand the commission structures and related fees associated with each platform?  

Devise an e-commerce SEO strategy to drive organic search traffic to your site, and make your products as prominent as possible. Almost half (48%) of consumers buy items impulsively when shopping on online marketplaces, according to the survey.

Finally, don’t forget brick and mortar. Offer customers the ability to pick up e-commerce sales in person, if you have a physical store. In-store pickup provides consumers with choice, convenience, and a quick way to fulfill orders—as well as an opportunity to buy additional items in the store. If your business doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar presence, you can still provide consumers with easy, accessible pickup points – using the UPS Access Point™ network.

4. Don’t overlook email

It’s easy to underestimate the power of email marketing for ecommerce, but do so at your own peril. According to data from Shopify, email accounted for almost one-quarter (24%) of holiday retail sales in 2018. 

It’s important to have a robust email marketing strategy in place to capitalize on peak season. “Make sure your messages are simple and you get right to the point with a clear call-to-action," says Roegge.  

Experiment with contests and giveaways as part of your email blasts. By using a marketing automation platform that has the necessary features, you can get your holiday campaigns rocking. 

5. Be innovative

The e-tailers that capitalize most on peak season are those prepared to innovate.  

That might be running an innovative social media or digital advertising campaign, launching a new product, or offering faster shipping. “Trying something new will show existing customers you’re willing to evolve as well as helping to attract a new audience,” says Roegge.    

6. Ace your customer service 

Customer service is key throughout the year, but never more so than during busy shopping times. Getting customer service wrong can hurt your business. 

According to the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, more than a third (34%) of customers posted a negative review and about the same percentage (33%) made an official complaint following bad customer service. Approximately one-quarter (26%) canceled their order.

What shoppers say about you online matters. Nine out of 10 survey respondents research items before making an online purchase.   And almost one third (32%) of shoppers use reviews to help them make a decision before purchasing from a new e-tailer. The way that existing customers rate your customer service strongly impacts future customers, who haven’t even purchased yet.

7. Offer free shipping—but not at any cost 

Consumers absolutely care about speed of delivery and cost. More than four in 10 online shoppers abandon the cart if delivery costs are higher than expected, and almost a quarter of consumers will ditch their cart if delivery speeds are too slow, the survey found. 

However, it’s not free shipping at any cost. From increasing their total cart value to joining a loyalty program, shoppers will work hard to qualify for free shipping.  And the majority of consumers (94%) would be willing to slow down receipt of shipments for non-time sensitive items for cheaper delivery or incentives.   

On the other hand, almost six in ten (59%) shoppers surveyed indicated they were willing to pay for expedited shipping. Fundamentally, delivery speed is situational and dependent on the circumstances of the transaction.     

8. Returns matter  

The more an e-commerce merchant sells, the greater the volume of returns. The ‘buy many, keep one’ mentality is real, and anyone selling online should cater to the reality of returns.

According to the survey, 69% of customers are less likely to purchase again from a retailer if they have to pay for returns. 54% seek out a retailer’s return policy before making an online purchase, while 96% of shoppers surveyed say they will buy again if returns are easy.  

"The thought of making a return is an important component in the buying process, and it’s a deciding factor for a lot of customers when making a first purchase from an unknown seller," Dave Roegge remarks.  

So what’s an e-tailer to do? Start by focusing on those elements that survey respondents listed as most contributing to a positive returns experience: 

  • Free return shipping 
  • Hassle-free, no-questions-asked policy  
  • Automatic refund to a debit or credit card  

Find out more about how UPS Returns® solutions like UPS Returns® Exchange, UPS Returns® Plus, and UPS Returns® Manager can help streamline the overall returns experience for you and your customers.  

9. Lock down your logistics and shipping strategy

With six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, it’s even more important for companies to collaborate closely with their shipping and logistics partners.  

Wherever possible, establish—or reaffirm—strategic collaborations well in advance of peak. Share information with your shipping partners about promotional strategies you’re planning and get ahead of the curve when it comes to holiday shipping. 

Be intelligent in your approach. Analyze data from previous peak seasons to garner operational insights. What was your busiest shopping day of the year when you dial the calendar back 12 or 24 months? It’s amazing what the data can reveal, if you remember to look.  

Expect the unexpected and build flexibility into your business practices. "Things are going to come up, such as unexpected orders or issues on the fulfillment side, and you have to make sure you're working with the right partners who can proactively address those issues," says Roegge. 

Explore programs such as UPS My Choice® for business to gain greater control over your inbound shipments and plan staffing accordingly. Simplify the e-commerce experience and take warehousing worries off your plate with UPS eFulfillment service. Claw back an extra shipping day and stay ahead of your deliveries during this holiday period with UPS Saturday Ground delivery.

10. Loyalty counts 

More than ever, online shoppers expect to be rewarded for their purchases. This is a win-win for e-tailers—the more you develop repeat customers, the more your business will grow.

From free shipping on shopping cart values that meet a certain threshold, to capturing email addresses in exchange for promotions, you can encourage the consumer behavior you want with loyalty benefits. It could be worth your while—people in loyalty programs typically spend more than those not signed up.

Whatever you do, partner with experts in loyalty program management to devise compelling rewards programs. By engaging customers through rewards programs, you can help drive retention and increase online sales during peak and throughout the year.  

Powering through peak

There are many ways to increase sales during peak, but growth won’t happen by itself. Find out more about how UPS can deliver the expert help you need to drive up demand and manage orders as the busy season gets underway.  

Find Out More

  • Discover the Latest Trends in E-Commerce

    Keep up with online shopping trends by exploring the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ Survey.

    Download the study
  • Manage Inbound and Outbound Shipments Like a Pro

    View and manage inbound and outbound shipments with interactive dashboards, delivery alerts and estimated delivery windows, with UPS My Choice® for business. 

    Sign up for UPS My Choice for business
  • Streamline Order Fulfillment

    Manage listings across multiple e-commerce sites, and get orders processed and shipped out at UPS eFullfillment warehouses. 

    Learn more about UPS eFulfillment
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