With the holiday season just around the corner, you likely already know how you’re going to approach the Q4 sales rush. You know which products sell the best and you’ve stocked up. You know how much margin you can afford to sacrifice in order to offer a competitive sales price. You already have a massive list of emails and are putting the final touches on your email campaigns.
But despite all this prep work, there’s still a few key areas that many DTC brands tend to overlook during the holidays. After speaking with our clients, we’ve found that these three areas are often the most overlooked (and important) elements of building a winning Q4 strategy.
#1 / Understanding exactly how your fulfillment process works
Earlier in the year, it’s not as crucial to understand every step of your fulfillment process. Customers purchase a product, they’re presented with an estimated delivery date, and that’s pretty much the end of the story. There's no added shipping pressure due to the season, no hard deadline like Christmas Day. However, as we head into Q4, your knowledge of how your shippers and fulfillment partners work is key to offering an exceptional customer experience.
For example, when an order is sent to fulfillment and is marked as “shipped” what does that actually mean for your specific partners? Some shippers will mark an item as shipped when it’s loaded on the truck. But, that truck may not actually leave the warehouse until it’s full, meaning your end customer may see a delay they were not expecting.
Another consideration is how you will receive data from your shippers. Are they sending you updates in real time (not all shippers do this)? Or do they batch their reports and send them out on a specific schedule (i.e. every hour)? Call your shippers and ask—you’re looking for a detailed understanding of timing/process so you can successfully manage customer expectations.
While you’re on the phone with them, ask about holidays and weekends. The holiday season is full of… well, holidays. How will this affect delivery dates for your customers? Naturally, you won’t be able to force your partners to deliver on their day off, but it’s important information to understand, especially when it comes to setting up communications flows using email or SMS.
#2 / Getting serious about customer service, expectations, and delivery options.
Once you’ve armed yourself with detailed information about your fulfillment process, your next step is to set clear delivery expectations with your customers. Especially with regards to on-time delivery for Christmas. This is a huge factor influencing abandoned carts and your store’s overall conversion rate.
Start by thinking about what a “standard” cut off date would like if you were trying to get a product to a customer by Christmas. With the lowest priority shipping, the possibilities for a delay from your fulfillment partners, and maybe a day or two buffer—how long does that take? Once you’ve figured it out, make it extremely clear to your customers, perhaps by including that information on your product pages.
However, once a product can no longer be delivered on time using your “standard” option (often your “free shipping” option), what alternatives can you offer to customers who desperately need their order to arrive before Christmas? Are you able to provide FedEx, 2-day shipping, overnight? If so, make those options available to customers, along with accurate delivery dates.
In fact, by making it clear that a product can no longer arrive before Christmas, you have an opportunity to potentially increase conversions due to the added urgency. You can do a similar thing using up-to-date inventory information. Make it clear when you only have a limited amount of stock. This adds scarcity while also communicating important information.
However, despite the best fulfillment estimates, inventory management, and crystal clear communication, there’s still going to be orders that fall through the cracks. This is OK—as long as you’re planning for it. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll handle an increased influx of customer questions, concerns, or complaints.
How will people get in touch? What if they have questions while ordering? Are you set up for email, phone, and SMS? Additionally, think about the team you have working your customer service desk. Do they know enough about your products to successfully assist customers? Is there a way to take extra work off their plate by including more information on your website?
#3 / Using your return policy to stay competitive.
Finally, once you’ve figured how you’ll ship, how you’ll manage expectations, and how you’ll communicate with customers throughout… start thinking about what happens after the purchase. More specifically, how can you remain competitive while dealing with returns and exchanges?
Naturally, you’ll want to have a clearly-defined return policy and have it easy to find. You can even use it to help drive conversions if it’s both “hassle free” and prominent on the product page. However, outside of your regular return policy, it’s also important that you think carefully about your “holiday return policy”.
Holiday purchases are not the same as regular sales. During the holidays, people often buy something months before they intend to gift it to the recipient. How can you manage these kinds of purchases and distinguish them from the rest of your sales? A great option is to include a “this is a gift” checkbox that customers can select before they pay.
Consider as well what the return window will look like for your customers. How long after Christmas will their purchase be eligible for a return? Remember to check out what your competitors are doing first, and ensure you’re offering a policy that’s at least good (or better!).
Finally, consider your return process itself. Ensure you’re providing clear, detailed information on how a customer can return something. Do they need to contact you first? What kind of packaging do they need to return the item in? Where will they get the shipping labels? Are they able to return their items for store credit? And if so, how will you manage that credit?
Store credit (or gift cards) can actually be an extremely effective way to retain revenue even while a customer is returning an item. What’s more, you’ll effectively create a new customer by doing this as you’ll be encouraging the gift recipient to shop on your store instead of the original gift buyer. Learn more about the power of gift cards here.
Building a winning Q4 strategy
Putting together a Q4 eCommerce strategy is no easy feat. Not to mention all the delays and unforeseen issues you can expect due to COVID-19 measures throughout your market. To succeed, you’ll need to ensure all your ducks are in a row now, before you start facing increased sales pressure in November/December.
Hopefully, this article helps you think about some of the things that may slip your competitors’ minds. Here at Parkfield, we work hard to ensure our clients are always one step ahead of their market—outsmarting them, not outpsending them. If you’d like help building a Q4 strategy that leaves your competitors in the dust, jump on a free strategy session with our team and we’ll help you get started.