With Christmas shopping accounting for approximately 60% of annual online sales, and with an expected 20% increase versus last year, the holiday rush is bound to be tidal. At the same time, there’s a global pandemic underway, so (put the reverse) Stock-outs and supply issues are expected to create demand peaks). As an online marketplace, being able to provide excellent customer experience is clearly a key competitive advantage. Anticipating customer demands, having sufficient inventory and choosing the right logistics partner is where to start to stay ahead of the game.
Unprecedented online marketplace activity expected during 2021 holiday season
Although holiday shopping has started early because of the fear of shortages, the bulk of the activity will concentrate on the few weeks before Christmas, with December sales generally accounting for more than 20% of annual sales.
As the fifth wave of Covid-19 spreads, we can expect a surge of online buyers as people are less willing to spend time in crowded stores. This situation is a great opportunity for online marketplaces to grow even further. However, this comes with the usual set of pitfalls associated with peak season, augmented by the logistics problems caused by the pandemic, such as supply issues and delayed deliveries.
Because customers are aware of those potential issues, last-minute online Christmas shoppers usually tend to concentrate on a few marketplaces that can guarantee stock availability and reliable on time delivery. And that’s the flip side of e-commerce's sustained growth: the big players are getting the lion’s share by setting increasingly high standards, leading to higher customer expectations.
Reliable information on product availability, free and guaranteed delivery within 24 or 48 hours, with order tracking and a free and easy return procedure have become the new norm. Sellers who can't match this service level or who make promises they can't keep are immediately dismissed, especially during the holiday season when customers are more demanding and less forgiving.
If you want to give your online marketplace the best chance of leveraging this holiday season, you will therefore need to focus on providing a flawless customer experience.
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Gear up your online marketplace for Christmas: Focus on great customer experience
A successful holiday season is a great opportunity to secure sales for the coming year. Why? Customer loyalty. If customers have a good shopping experience on your marketplace, they will certainly come back for more. Product availability and assortment, fulfilment and delivery are of course the major keys to a good customer experience. Find below some key requirements to keep in mind:
The right mix of products readily available
Fill up your warehouses with the best sellers that people will want to buy for Christmas. The Christmas shopping season lasts approximately 3 months but if someone shopping in October will accept to wait a few days for a delivery, the last-minute shoppers will certainly look for next day deliveries.
Be the one-stop-shop for Christmas shopping
Convenience is key for online shoppers. If they wanted to roam the shelves, they would probably have gone to a department store. Offering a large choice of products and right assortment so your customers don’t have to go anywhere else is clearly a competitive advantage.
Make sure your website is user friendly and ready to ramp-up
Customer experience starts with a good online user experience. Make sure your website can withstand a surge of visitors (test son age loading time, simulations of high volume of connections are possible before the peak season), especially on your checkout and payment systems. The slightest bug will send your customers straight to the competition.
Offer suggestions for Christmas gifts
Guiding your visitors to the products that are waiting for them in your warehouses can be an efficient idea. Provide suggestions for Christmas gifts in editorial articles or set up a search engine for gift ideas, this is very popular with undecided shoppers.
Maintain customer service quality whatever the number of requests
The best way to relieve your customer service is to provide clear information directly on your website. For example: estimated delivery date on the product page, real-time stock availability, return process and deadlines, etc.
This goes without saying… Make sure your supply chain and shipping processes are working perfectly by partnering with a reliable and flexible logistics partner.
Efficient and simple return process
A difficult return process can discourage customers and can wreak havoc in your warehouses. So be prepared, Christmas gifts are not always suitable, in average approximately 20% of the products bought online are returned , and this % increases several days after Christmas period.
As you may have inferred from the above, logistics are the backbone of a great customer experience. So now we have listed the basics of a satisfactory customer experience, we need to consider what makes all this possible: a sound logistics.
Gear up your logistics for the holiday surge
Fulfillment and delivery are key for a successful holiday season on your online marketplace. Even if you website or your customer service is quality, if you can't deliver on your promises, you're wasting your time and money. Here is how to ensure that your (supply chain) logistics runs smoothly during the Christmas season:
- Accurately forecast : from a year to another your assortment and sales volume will probably vary, so the wiser piece of advice is to avoid using previous years’s date to forecast and to use “collaborative planning” = plan with your suppliers and other partners in the supply chain what they think may happen, and think together about how you can execute these plans
- Make sure you receive your inventory on time (inbound supply) liaising with strong supply channels partners.
- Locate your fulfilment centers close to your customers and major transport routes or hubs . At least 30% of your customers expect to receive their orders in 24 hours in normal times, the proportion is much higher during the Holidays.
- Work with a goal of 100% inventory and pick accuracy. Solid and robust operations, all together with scalable process, should help to achieve this goal.
- Following the click to possession rate during this period will help you to improve both inbound and outbound processes in the future.
- Work with the right shipping partner that can handle volume fluctuation, unpredictable demand and market volatility, especially in time of pandemic.
- Measure the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your return process.
To know more about choosing the best logistics partner in a longer term perspective, download our white paper:
Ticking all the boxes for Christmas during a pandemic may sound like wishful thinking, but it's not. Working with a reliable logistics partner who understands the complexity of your challenges, such as Geodis, offering strong fulfilment operations and transportation capabilities, flexibility and a focus on customer satisfaction can help you achieve your fulfillment and delivery goals.
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Want to know more ? Read also The Online Marketplace: Staying Ahead of the Game