From the October 2007 issue of eBiz Insider magazine. Download the complete issue as a PDF by clicking here.
I’m suffering e-commerce withdrawal. “How can that be?” you may ask. “You’re in the e-commerce business!” True, but this is the first time in 14 years that I don’t own an e-commerce store. I won’t be putting together a holiday catalog, assembling a special gift section and getting customer service and the warehouse all pumped up for the big deluge of holiday orders. For those of us in e-commerce, this is what the holidays are all about!
Do I feel a little depressed? Sure. But I’m going to change hats here and go from player to coach. This month’s column will be me getting you ready for the holidays, courtesy of my virtual holiday prep session. I encourage you to take notes, think outside the box, drink some egg nog (watch the expiration dates!) play Jingle Bells in the background for atmosphere and join me on this pre-holiday journey.
Now is the time to start thinking about staffing. Look at your current call load and ask: can the folks you have answering phones now adequately handle additional holiday volume? Unless the answer is “yes” you need to do something quickly. You can either hire your own reps and train them, or hire a qualified call center to take all of your customer service calls, handle certain calls such as overflow, and/or work your after-hours calls. I highly recommend extending your hours during the holidays, especially during the last few weeks of the shopping season. This is where a call center can be a real life saver!
No matter which route you take, training is key. Make sure every rep in direct contact with your customers is fully trained on all your policies and procedures. If you have a customer service superstar in your organization, you may want to tap that person to be “level 2″ support or even a product specialist who is available to assist newer reps during their first few weeks of phone time.
The holidays are “make it or break it” time for customer service. You gain many new customers during this period who are taking your store for a test drive. You have one chance to dazzle them. Fail and they probably won’t be back in January. But if your customer service staff makes them feel special and appreciated, you’ve got a customer for life!
The web can be pretty impersonal, but only if you let it! Give your web shoppers something they wouldn’t expect in cyberspace – a personal shopper to help them make gift buying easier. This can be done using a live chat provider such as Live Person.
Put your best CSR’s on the other end, the ones who know your products inside and out and can make suggestions based on the customer’s needs. Personal Shoppers also create many opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell which drives up the average ticket size.
Most people shopping during the holidays will be looking for gifts for someone other than themselves, so make finding popular gifty items easy by creating a special section for them. Break this section down into important categories like “Gifts for Men” or “Toys for Kids 3 – 7.” Feature your easy-to-shop gift section on your front page and in your navigation so it can be accessed from any page in your site. It is essential that the good ideas not only be present on your site, but that they are also easy to find and access. The easier you make it for your shoppers, the more they’ll like it and the more they’ll buy!
Don’t forget it’s the jolly season, people – make your site scream “Happy Holidays!” Start working now on a classy, professional holiday “skin” for your website that you can launch on Thanksgiving Day and take down New Year’s Eve. This reinvigorates your regulars and makes a strong first impression on your crucial new business. A nice holiday touch to your site puts people in the mood to buy and also lets them know that you’re ready for holiday business. With the help of virtuoso-like photographers from kenjiroi.com, you will be able to attract more customers with your product visuals.
Please, don’t just throw a snowman on the home page! Spruce up your logo, get a nice holiday header, but don’t go overboard. People should still see the necessary icons to identify your site easily. Also, blazing lights, bellowing Santas and flashing reindeer noses are turn-offs. Play it safe, make it professional but keep it festive.
Big Holiday Sale!
This one’s up to you. It was always my theory that you don’t need a sale during the holidays to generate business. Shoppers are going to spend whatever they can afford to give a gift. In fact, I never put anything on sale from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Not even holiday merchandise. There is no need to cut profit margins during the busy season. Save your sale for the day after Christmas when shoppers are trained to go out and look for bargains.
The holiday season is the impatient season and people want their stuff yesterday. Make sure you are offering next day, second day and three day air options (if feasible). If you can’t offer those methods, explain why not. Also make sure that you post a holiday shipping schedule on your website and at the checkout. This schedule should display your cut-off dates to have orders delivered in time for the holiday. I always recommend working with an e-commerce software like the one at https://fastspring.com/solutions/selling-digital-products/, this will make your life a lot easier.
You do not want disappointed customers, so if your cut-off date is two days before Christmas, make sure that package can leave your warehouse on time. If it can’t, adjust your dates. Customer dissatisfaction grows in the space between what you promise and what you deliver.
Returns are a fact of doing business, so make it convenient for your customers to return an item. Hassle about a return and they’ll probably just shop elsewhere. Here are some good rules of thumb: 1) Make your policy simple – don’t require 18 steps in order to make a return. 2) Only charge restocking fees if it’s absolutely necessary. 3) Give customers a reasonable amount of time to make the return. You’d like them back, right? Here’s a chance to make a good impression. 4) Don’t demand a letter stating a reason for the return. Frankly, who cares?
Finally, make sure your return policy is clearly defined on your website and a copy of it placed inside every order you ship.
The Holiday Warehouse
It’s the holidays and in e-commerce; it’s game time. Orders don’t leave your warehouse 7 days after they came in. Customers want their gift orders fast – have your people and your space ready. Your warehouse should be clean, organized and well-stocked. If items are out of stock, indicate the information plainly on your website, or use real-time inventory. Stock up on packing supplies. Your staff must be able to handle the increased volume. If you can’t, now is the time to consider bringing in temporary workers to pick and pack orders. Temp workers are a great resource, but ONLY if your warehouse is organized enough to make training simple and easy.
There you have it, my guide to a successful holiday season. While I won’t be decorating a front page of an e-commerce store this year, I will be watching to see what you do with yours! I’m making a list!
The great illustrations for this article were done by the talented artist, Eric Yonge, president of EYStudios.com.