What you can do now to prepare for Black Friday and the holidays [Part 2]

Getting ready for Black Friday and the holidays means looking over every detail of your store and thinking “is this as great as it could be?”.

The answer is most often “maybe” or “no” - there will always be something you can improve, especially for a period as important as Q4.

Not that your customer experience isn’t top notch already, but when you’ve got higher order volumes, large numbers of new customers, gift buyers, and more to consider, you want to know your store is ready.

In the last part of this two-part blog, we looked at how to improve your store’s automation, loyalty program, gifting strategy, and approach to subscriptions. Missed part one or need a reminder? Click here to catch-up before you read the rest of this article!

Today, we’re going to look at 4 more things you can do that will get your store ready to make the most of BFCM and the holidays.

#5 - Returns and exchanges

No store owners like to think about returns, and definitely not when it’s meant to be a period of high sales and orders. However, it doesn’t have to be all negative. In fact, with the right returns strategy, it can become a huge opportunity. Developing a great returns and exchanges program has real impact - 92% of customers say a positive returns experience would make them likely to make a purchase in the future.  

“Before the holiday shopping season goes into full swing, it’s important to pay attention to your existing returns data to understand why customers are returning products,” say our friends at Loop.

“In as much as 70% of cases, for instance, customers returned products because of a “poor fit.” You can likely head off some of these returns by providing sizing recommendations to your customers based on the feedback you’ve received about each product’s fit. If a sweater runs small, recommend that customers purchase a size up, and they’ll be less likely to send it back.” 

As well as using your data to minimize returns in the first place, you still need to have a plan for what happens when a customer does want to process a return. Given the higher volumes seen in December and January, automating the process can be a major lifesaver both for your team and for the customer experience.

This includes offering intuitive self-service dashboards, where customers can initiate and manage the process without having to wait on a response from your support team. You should also look at improving flexibility in the process like adding print-at-home return labels, and incentivizing exchange-first options. 

Returns are often a big concern as Q4 draws to a close, but they don’t have to be. By better understanding why your customers currently return items, and then improving the returns experience, you can reduce lost revenue and boost retention.

#6 - SEO and content 

Discovery is a huge part of Black Friday/Cyber Monday and the holiday season. Every new customer has to have discovered your brand somewhere, after all. For many, this will be through a search engine. And that means now is the time to get ahead with your store’s seasonal SEO and content strategy.

With SEO, it always helps to start with user experience. 

Almost everything you do to improve your store’s SEO is going to revolve around user experience. Many important ranking factors center on what’s going to provide the best experience for search users, and sites that can meet the standards for these will ultimately rank higher.” says Venntov, developers of SEO Manager.

Part of the reason it helps to begin with UX is that it will also have a major impact on customer experience. After all, if you’re optimizing the page experience, it’ll make things easier for customers. They won’t be left waiting on a slow loading page, or trying to navigate through an experience on their smartphone that was clearly built for desktop computers. This in turn demonstrates to Google and other search engines that not only is the content worthwhile, but the page experience is high quality too. 

Venntov’s top four priorities for SEO ahead of Black Friday are:

- Mobile friendliness

- Accessibility 

- Site architecture

- Page speed

As for content, you’ll want to review existing pages as well as add new articles and fresh content to your store. Enrich product pages by adding in demonstration videos, gifting information, shipping information, and product FAQs. Add review widgets to the page so that potential customers can immediately understand the quality of your products. Remember, new customers may not be familiar with your brand or products, especially if they’re buying something as a gift. That makes optimizing your product pages that much more important, and the better you can make that content the more likely it will be to rank in search.

Fresh content includes landing pages and blogs. Black Friday landing pages will help guide customers to your promotions and deals, without requiring them to hunt around your site to find them. You can do the same for gifting, linking them up to any gift guides you plan to publish in the run up to the holidays. These provide not just easy navigation for customers, but pages with seasonal keywords that better suit user search intent meaning search engines may be more likely to boost their ranking. 

#7 - Email and SMS

Competition is stiff over Black Friday and the holidays. That’s why you need to make the most of every opportunity you can to stand out and attract customers. Email and SMS are two channels where you can directly communicate with your most engaged audience, and with the right strategy you’ll come out on top of the inbox this season. 

Start by assessing last year’s performance with email marketing. Look across different types of campaign - transactional, promotional, and automated - and see which performed well and which did not. Examine the content from the subject line, to the format, to images used, incentives included and so on. Analyze within different audience segments to get an even better understanding of what content you should send to different types of subscribers. Identifying the content which was well received will give you a solid foundation to build this year’s strategy on. 

Next, consider how you’ll use SMS as part of your communication strategy for Q4. SMS can be invaluable, as the average open rate for an SMS campaign is 98%, compared to just 20% for email. Transactional messages can often become lost in an email inbox, but are opened almost immediately when sent as an SMS purely due to how they’re displayed. They appear as a push notification, which is much harder to ignore than a new email. Send order updates via SMS, as well as dynamic links to any real-time tracking tools to ensure customers know exactly what’s happening with their order. 

You can also use SMS to send flash deals and promotions over BFCM to your most valuable customers. For example, creating a segment of customers who have high LTV and sending them an exclusive flash deal on Black Friday to encourage another purchase. You can also use SMS to promote gift cards and other gift products like subscriptions that can be gifted past shipping deadlines throughout the holiday season.

Finally, make sure you’re adding personalization into your email and SMS plans91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands who provide recommendations and offers relevant to their interests, and 72% say they only engage with personalized messaging.

Use first-party data to tailor the kind of emails each subscriber will receive which they are most likely to open. For example if a subscriber never opens emails related to new products, but always opens browse abandonment emails, you can make sure they only receive the content most relevant to their engagement. You can also use it in the run-up to BFCM to send customers personalized recommendations for products they may be interested in which will be part of your promotions that weekend.  

#8 - Split testing

When you make a change to your store, how do you know for sure that it will have a positive impact? Or that there may have been something else you could have changed that would have had an even greater impact?

You can’t know just on gut feeling alone, which is why split testing is so invaluable. 

“Split testing is where, for example, you show one group of visitors the homepage with press logos, and one group without. You then monitor and measure against different KPIs and metrics to determine the effect that change has made.” says Kurt Elster, Founder of Ethercycle and the Unofficial Shopify Podcast.

“In short - group A sees one thing, group B sees another. Compare, contrast, analyze, learn, implement. This allows you to make effective, truly data-driven decisions about your store that will lead to more conversions, higher AOV, and more.”

In the weeks before Black Friday, there are a number of different elements you can test that will make a real impact in Q4. Here are a few of Kurt’s top suggestions:

  • - Pricing on collection grids - Does it influence conversion rates when you display pricing on collection pages, rather than just on product pages? It may help set expectations so customers aren’t surprised when they go on the product page.
  • - Readability i.e. line and paragraph length, font size - Are customers more interested in products when you give them a lengthy product description, or shorter, punchy sentences?

  • - Hero images on collection pages - These look great, but do they have any impact on customers? Or could they be harming your conversion rate?

  • - Free shipping - The go-to “must-have”, but is it really that worthwhile? And at what price point do customers most respond to it? Which threshold for free shipping actually increased AOV?

Small changes can often make a big difference, and split testing can unlock a whole new level of opportunity for your store over Black Friday weekend and the holidays. Rather than simply following best practices for these tweaks and changes, you can go by the data that shows what’s best for your individual audience and customers. 

Being ready is the first step to success for Black Friday and the holidays. If you want to learn more about all the topics covered in this blog, we’ve published an ebook alongside the experts mentioned - “Ready. Set. Go”. It’s an in-depth playbook to get brands ready for Black Friday weekend and the holiday season, and is available for FREE here. 

This is part 2 of a two-part blog, if you’d like to read part one you can click here.
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