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Guide | August 24, 2021

How Are eCommerce Retailers Preparing for the 2021 Holiday Rush?

Who doesn’t love the holiday season? Family gatherings, more delicious dinners than you can shake a turkey leg at, and the chance for a bit of retail therapy.


Frontline retail workers probably have less fond feelings about the holidays though, because the upcoming months are their busiest time of the year. With Halloween, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and more all fast approaching in the US, retailers are gearing up for the holiday rush. This goes doubly true for eCommerce retailers, as a survey by Quantum Metric found 81% of respondents did more than half of their 2020 holiday shopping online, and they plan to purchase even more online this year.


Whether your business is US-based or not, or even retail-based or not, there are a few tips and tricks for preparing for peak seasons to be learned from the forward-thinking strategies eCommerce retailers in the US have been putting in place. 


Digital Commerce 360 has put together a report on just how retailers are gearing up for the rush, and with eCommerce sales in the US growing more than 45% from 2019 to 2020 despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, you can bet it’s going to be an even bigger rush this year, so let’s dive in and see what can be learned.

 

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Omnichannel Explosion


Switched-on eCommerce retailers have long been aware of the benefits of an omnichannel approach, and consumers have started to catch on, according to Digital Commerce 360’s Katie Evans.


Likely inspired by the pandemic, more and more consumers are taking advantage of the conveniences of omnichannel commerce with options like buying a product online then picking it up in-store, or curbside pickup. As well as showing the benefits of omnichannel, the savvy consumers who use these options tend to spend more than others, making their actions a double win for businesses. 


This enhanced demand for omnichannel experiences means eCommerce retailers have been working hard to add even more omnichannel offerings to their stores ahead of the peak season.


Evans cites liquor retailer Sazerac as one company that has seen the omnichannel light and is ramping up its offerings ahead of the 2021 holiday season. The company’s online sales surged last year during the pandemic, partially thanks to the addition of omnichannel eCommerce features like curbside pickup, which accounted for more than 20% of sales at two locations. 


This success has emboldened Sazerac, which distributes Fireball Whiskey among other liquors, to add two new omnichannel features to customers this year: buy-in store, ship to a location, and buy online, pick-up in store. As the Sazerac distilleries are also tourist destinations, customers had long wanted the option to get their purchases shipped home instead of lugging them around with them. They plan to use Adobe Commerce Cloud to make this process smoother by allowing customers to browse and purchase using kiosks or with the help of an employee using a mobile device.


These decisions from Sazerac are a good distillation of some of the points from the SmartOSC omnichannel checklist for eCommerce firms, and I don’t just say distillation because I have whiskey on the brain. The company is clearly working to provide customers a seamless shopping experience, with fulfillment synchronization crucial to that. 


Without the technological power of Adobe, Sazerac might have had to use a crude version of an omnichannel experience to offer “buy-in store, ship to a location” to customers by simply having an employee take their order and manually ship. Instead, using the aforementioned kiosks and smart devices, customers can choose their own products and shipping options, while the devices offer them upselling options.


Key Takeaways


It’s crucial to prepare new features ahead of peak seasons. This is when demand will be highest and also often when your customers are busiest in their own lives (preparing meals, shopping for gifts, looking after children who are off school, etc), so when they’ll most appreciate the conveniences of an omnichannel approach. It’s also worth noting that with coronavirus restrictions massively varying from place to place, giving your customers more flexibility when it comes to purchasing is hugely beneficial.


Site Performance

 

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You don't have to be a coding wizard to boost website performance

 

Perhaps the only thing worse than having your eCommerce store suffer an outage is suffering an outage during a peak season like the holidays. In another part of the Digital Commerce 360 report, Stephanie Crets cites estimates that a minute of downtime on Amazon costs the company and retailers more than $220,000 in lost revenue. When he’s not in space, that’s probably a number that keeps even Jeff Bezos up at night.


While the numbers won’t be so dramatic for retailers operating at a much smaller scale than Amazon, the truth is that whenever any part of your site is down or experiencing problems, you’re losing money. In addition, a faster website leads to more sales, as Crets cites research from cloud platform and web performance company Yotta found retailers with average page load times of 2.5 seconds had more than double the conversion rate of those with 6.5 second load times.


While fewer retailers are focusing on updating their technology systems to boost site performance than ahead of last year’s holiday season, Crets outlines a great example of how one company repealed the rewards of boosting site performance last year.


Custom Neon, a manufacturer and retailer of custom LED neon lights and signs, took a 30% hit to business in the early days of the pandemic due to its reliance on events for sales, so shifted focus to new customers segments. The company also added videos, interactive tools and a “save Your Design” feature to its website, all good moves for most eCommerce businesses, but they took their toll on the website’s performance.


Custom Neon attacked the problem with several solutions, including moving the website to be hosted on the Managed Magento cloud. This gave the benefit of Magento’s auto-scaling, which automatically boosts bandwidth when site usage rises. The company also optimized the images on the website by reducing file size, dimensions, file type, and compressing where possible. Those moves contributed to a 40% increase in time spent on the Custom Neon website compared to pre-pandemic.


Key Takeaways


There’s never a bad time to improve website performance, as the conversion rate statistics show, but it’s especially important ahead of a peak season. The Custom Neon example shows there’s more than one way to skin a website, with one option to move your hosting to a more efficient provider like Managed Magento. Or if you’re not quite ready for that, something as simple as image optimization can be a big benefit.


What’s Next?


Holiday and peak seasons have a nasty habit of creeping up on us all, so it’s prudent to act early so you don’t get left in the lurch. SmartOSC’s platform partners are flexible enough to prepare any site for a peak period, whatever your needs. 


Get in touch here to learn how your site can be peak-proofed with SmartOSC.


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