October is upon us, and while we’re still over a month out from Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM), things are already looking a whole lot different in 2020 — most notably, in the eCommerce space. Many retailers are already making plans to help mitigate the expected crowds with reduced hours and capacity (TechRadar, 2020). That means shorter (or no) lines, but all that foot traffic has got to go somewhere...and it’s headed online.
Not only this, but with Amazon Prime day kicking of October 13, many of us are just days away from the start of what’s likely to be a record-long shopping and sales season. Wherever you are in your BFCM preparations, we’re here to help.
We’ve wrangled the industry’s best and brightest in our ongoing webinar series Holidays, Unwrapped, where we’re talking all things BFCM including predictions, tips, and tricks to help you make this shopping season your most successful one yet.
BFCM: From Operations to ‘Special Ops’
There’s no doubt that 2020 has thrown us some major curve balls, and all this change has kicked off a massive episode of digital Darwinism for businesses and brands. By now, you’ve likely adapted and found a bit of a groove, but BFCM is about to bring another big shake up. This year, we’re trading in lines around the block for a massive amount of digital traffic — and that means your operations have to be airtight to handle the influx. We might have to stay 6 ft. apart through the new year, but we’re going to help you get 6 steps ahead.
Here are 6 tips & tricks from our second session to take your operations from “good enough” to “special ops”:
1. 20/20 Vision — look back to get ahead
Our panelists were unanimous on this one: planning is everything. While this year looks a lot different from the rest, if you’ve been around the BFCM block a time or two, you’ve got enough experience under your belt to make some pretty solid predictions about what you can control so you can help mitigate the risks you can’t. Most of our speakers cited that they’ve been hunkering down for the last several months in preparation for this holiday season purely for the fact that is going to be highly unpredictable and vary from brand to brand. Start by looking at data from previous years so you can hone in on your sales and product mix to find a sweet spot.
2. A new kind of online shopper
In this period of economic upheaval and eCommerce proliferation, we’re being introduced to an entirely new demographic of customer: the first-time online shopper. With retail fronts scaling down, and online shopping scaling up, folks who would have normally done their holiday shopping in stores are now clicking “add to cart” instead of rolling them around the aisles. What’s that mean for you? Well, a whole lot actually. They say ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ and that’s more pertinent than ever when you’re considering your operations this holiday season. Is your digital customer experience easy? Or loaded with friction points and frustration? Consider what online shopping might feel like for someone who’s never done it before as you prep for BFCM. Knock it out of the park, and you’ve likely just earned a customer for life. This year, there’s more at stake than sales numbers. Think ahead and prepare so you can own the customer relationship.
3. Great expectations: a novel on the customer experience
We covered this one a bit in our first session on Holiday Planning 101, and it came up again here, too — for good reason. BFCM is just generally a hectic time for both brands and shoppers, but one way to mitigate issues is to set expectations early on in the shopping experience. This is especially true when it comes to shipping delays. Letting customers know up front that things will take longer than usual has quickly become an industry best practice. There’s no such thing as over communicating during this time. Issues with supply chain? Make sure your customers are aware things might be slower than usual. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver. Expectations setting goes beyond the purchase process, however. Post-purchase education is also key to ensuring your customers have a great experience and know what to expect from the products they buy. Make sure you’re aware of pain points in their journey and nuances about your products that might detract from the value they get, or worse, lead to returns which only add to the overall cost of the interaction. Dialing in your post purchase communications is critical as is having robust customer support.
4. Holy ship: why the best offense is still defense
We spent a good portion of time talking about order fulfillment and shipping, because let’s face it, that’s where a good portion of friction comes from for both the business and the customer during the holidays. You’ll want to look closely at the landscape of your distribution centers and maximize your overall footprint to mitigate delays. Are you shipping internationally? Take extra caution to double down on your planning and preparations here to help avoid hiccups in customs that will add cost and delay shipping overall.
Additionally, you need to get really clear on your inventory management. Shipping delays are inevitable during the holiday season, but your inventory should be spot on. Having a successful BFCM is going to be dependent on your ability to juke foreseen risks, and one area when you have the most control is your product. Identify your best sellers, mid tier, and low volume products and purchase accordingly — it’s always better to have too many high volume items than not enough.
5. Metrics that matter
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what gets measured gets managed. Data is your friend. Use it to help you optimize your supply chain, identify inventory trends, customer behaviors and more. We asked our panelists what metrics matter most to getting your operations locked in this BFCM and here’s what they had to say:
- Operating cost, per SKU, per channel
- Time to customer
- Time to fulfillment
- Return Rate
- Exchange Rate
- CSAT - Customer satisfaction
Getting a jump-start now and looking at years past is a great way to start identifying trends so you can ensure that you’re making the most of your BFCM.
6. Returns & exchanges: a hidden profit center
This one’s a biggie, so we’ve saved it for last. After the mad rush of BFCM comes what one of our panelists lovingly referred to as “ returns season”. Why? More than any other time of the year, BFCM is a time of shopping...for other people. It’s probably been awhile since you’ve seen anyone, and if we’re being honest, your clothing sizes might be a little, um, different this year. So, that sweater you’re going to get from Aunt Sally? Probably going to get returned. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gifts get returned all of the time, as a matter of fact, it’s estimated that there’s an 80% increase in returns in December and January alone. And if you’re not properly accounting for this, you’re leaving money on the table, and likely letting customers walk out the door — for good.
Having an exceptionally good customer experience in this area can be a make or break moment for your brand. Our experts stated this across the board: as long as it’s not going to break the bank for your bottom line, make it easy for your customer. Doing so is predicted to increase their spending 6 times over their lifetime with your brand. That’s a small sacrifice for a huge opportunity to earn a loyal customer who will do wonders in Word of Mouth Marketing for you and your business. In sum: don’t be a Scrooge, a great returns experience is going to get you big returns on your investment. And that’s just good business.