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Holiday prep: effective techniques to execute for a successful Q4

(Source: Supplied.)

E-commerce is still in a moment of transition, as the global focus begins shifting once again and consumer expectations for online shopping experiences continue to evolve. 

Add in the upcoming festive season, and there’s one clear, top-of-mind priority all brands and retailers likely share: how to prepare effectively to win sales in the coming months. 

A successful and profitable fourth quarter depends heavily on how well you strategise and rise to the challenge in addressing the following issues during your preparations for this year’s peak season:

  • Capturing sales from early purchasers.
  • Selling in an environment of increasing economic pressures.
  • Expanding to cross-border opportunities. 
  • Meeting those Q4 goals – and how you react when you don’t.

The early bird gets the gift

Shoppers have had to make frequent adjustments to their traditional buying habits due to supply-chain challenges and shipping delays. This year, indications are strong that consumers are eager to begin gift searching and buying long before the holidays in an effort to get their lists checked off early – which means creating a prep list of your own. 

To prepare for these active, early shoppers, focus on completing these actions by early October:

  • Solidify your Q4 catalogue assortment
  • Audit your data across all active marketplaces
  • Optimise content to tell a brand and product story 
  • Review active listings and resolve errors 
  • Activate any new marketplaces to begin handling inbound shipments 

Start gathering and optimising the priority assortment that you hope to sell during the upcoming peak season now. Review last year’s top and low performers and identify your existing and ideal inventory levels through Q4. 

If you’re experiencing your own constraints that might impact the timeliness of your preparations, identify key Q4 inventory replenishment dates (if using marketplace fulfilment services) or try variations and bundles as a second option to keep customers satisfied. 

As prices rise, shoppers expect more 

With inflation at a record high, consumers are beginning to feel the pressure on their wallets. But, as of press time, evidence indicates that consumers are continuing to spend and are planning to spend this holiday season, despite rising costs. In a survey conducted by ChannelAdvisor of more than 5000 consumers across five countries, participants were asked if, in light of inflation and rising costs, they planned to spend more, about the same or less than last year during the upcoming holiday season. More than half (59 per cent) responded they’d spend about the same, and a quarter (25 per cent) indicated they would spend more. But that doesn’t mean their spending will be indiscriminate. In fact, it’s quite the reverse – shoppers are more selective about where and what they buy than ever. To rise above the competition and attract these consumers, it’s critical to present them with:

  • Excellent customer service.
  • Positive reviews and ratings.
  • Helpful descriptions and data.
  • Faster shipping options.

In fact, in the same consumer survey, two of the top three reasons respondents said they abandoned a cart purchase (aside from the product being out of stock) was because the price was not competitive or because the product had poor reviews. Do not overlook these critical areas to build consumer confidence during this festive season.

New audiences bring new opportunities

In Q4, consumers buy for a variety of reasons: gifts for friends and loved ones, decor for homes and offices, supplies for special gatherings, fun personal indulgences, donation items for the less fortunate and other purposes. The holiday season incorporates a wide variety of holidays and occasions throughout the world as well.

Thanksgiving – the final Thursday in November – has traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season in the US. Boxing Day, observed on December 26, remains a massive shopping day across the UK and many Commonwealth nations, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Opening avenues to sell your products to a wider range of interested shoppers, especially in other geographic locations, can be a profitable enterprise – and may not be as difficult as you think. 

Marketplaces such as Fruugo, Amazon, eBay, Zalando and more offer built-in audiences and services that can make cross-border transactions easier, such as automatic currency updates. 

If you’re thinking of expanding to sell across borders, it’s imperative to act now to list your products and establish a logistics plan for effective and timely fulfilment. 

Missing a goal does not mean the game is over

Even though you might see indications that your sales are not meeting your projections for the final quarter of the year, it’s important to remember – and prepare for – immediate post-holiday shopping trends. After all, the majority of sales occur throughout the rest of the year, and the days and weeks following the fourth quarter are filled with activity that includes gift card purchases and returns made by consumers who are likely still browsing and may be actively searching for replacement items. For those who sell internationally, especially in Italy, Spain and Latin American countries, Epiphany (observed on January 6) involves the bestowment of gifts on children and loved ones. 

Don’t “go dark” after the final day of the year. Instead: 

  • Extend your seasonality with a more global approach to your catalogue assortment and promotions. 
  • Continue to provide excellent customer service, particularly in Q1 when holiday returns are high.
  • Evaluate your top and lowest performers of the season to make better decisions for next year.

If you need help evaluating your holiday performance, the experienced professionals at ChannelAdvisor Managed Services for Marketplaces can offer expert guidance to help you execute and iterate your plans at scale.