The EXCLUSIVE Holidaily: Holiday Help, Tips & Ideas to Wrap 2020 & Start 2021 Right

By Lena Liberman
TOPICSFeatured, Marketing Tips

With little time to go in 2020, retailers and advertisers (okay, pretty much all humans regardless of occupation) are looking for anything and everything they can do to finish a tough year on a high note. While time is short, there are still plenty of ways to move the needle. That said, welcome to The EXCLUSIVE Holidaily, our running series of holiday help, tips, best practices, and ideas that are just in time for the end of Q4 and the rollover into 2021. To round out the year, we’ll be rolling out daily(ish) updates right to this page, so give it a bookmark and check back often for more ideas and advice.

Holidaily #1: What You Can & Should Do Right Now to Optimize Your Website

Since we’re talking eCommerce, we have to start by talking websites. Regardless of the time of the year, your website needs to be optimized and employing best web practices. If that’s not happening, you’re signaling to Google that your site does not deliver a good user experience, which is a major rank killer.

No one has time right now to do major website work. And that’s for the best. With website changes come a whole domino effect that you can’t always predict. Even small-seeming changes can kill your SEO or break links or otherwise tank your site. But there are still wins and healthy habits from which to benefit . . . which brings us to our first Holidaily holiday help and tips.

Make sure that your website is optimized generally and mobile friendly. 2020 has been a tipping point in many areas, and mCommerce (mobile shopping) is no exception. 2021 will mark the first time that mCommerce surpasses 50% of online sales (projected to be 53.9% of 2021’s retail eCommerce). In 2017, that percentage was just 34.5%. To put that a different way, in four years, online shopping via mobile has jumped from just over 1/3 to well over 1/2 of all retail eCommerce. If that doesn’t tell you how important it is that your website be fast, lean, and optimized for mobile, nothing will.

Use these tools to see how your site fares and to improve performance generally and for mobile.

And get in on these quick website wins as time allows. A little love for your site will go a long way.

  • Compress images so they load quickly.
  • Make images interactive so that shoppers can zoom in on features.
  • Make sure that product search and shopping cart are present on all pages.
  • Enable auto-suggest to populate the search bar quickly and steer shoppers to successful searches that match their intentions.
  • Mobile Optimization — SEO Best Practices

Don’t let tech projects distract you from the finish line. Optimize and enhance safely as you can, but keep your eyes on the profitability prize. There’s still a lot of spending to be done this month.

Holidaily #2: Deliver Big When It Comes to Shipping and Fulfillment

While 2020 has been exceedingly kind to eCommerce in terms of sales, it’s been brutal in terms of fulfillment. We’re not talking the usual last-mile woes, rather an entire supply chain crippled by unprecedented strain.

In It’s Going to Be Hell’: How Brands Are Preparing for the Logistical Nightmare of Holiday Shipping, author Danny Parisi writes “The major carriers — UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service — are already delivering so many packages that they’ve been forced to turn away new customers. One report from FedEx said it expects to deliver as many as 7 million packages a day during the holiday season. Data from Salesforce said the total packages expected to ship during the holidays, around 700 million, is 5% more than the delivery ecosystem of the U.S. is capable of handling.”

And that’s been building since March when pandemic lockdown really kicked in and forced consumers out of brick-and-mortar shopping. Nine months later, carriers are still experiencing bottlenecks, delays, and an inordinate amount of packages lost due to the delivery scramble. Even the seemingly unflappable Amazon, renowned for delivery leaps such as free two-day shipping for Prime members and same-day delivery and/or next-day delivery in many locations, experienced severe setbacks in delivery times. In the early part of the pandemic, Prime members experienced order cancellations and delivery delays as long as one month. Today, Prime members seem to have accepted that the standard two-day Prime delivery is rarely achieved, and those members have extended their shopping lead times to pad for delays.

If companies like Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and the USPS can’t meet delivery demand, what can retailers do?

Here’s Some Holiday Help and Tips for Fulfillment

  • Use Courier Services and Creative Marketing: No industry has embraced this idea quite like food service. Whether it’s restaurants or grocery stores, those that have survived in the pandemic have done so by offering extensive, assertive, often creative delivery programs. Case in point: Snoop Dogg’s 1-minute holiday video for Just Eat (and the extended remix featuring Snoop as a muppet), both of which have brought me immense holiday cheer followed by disappointment when I learned that Just Eat is a Netherlands-based company primarily servicing Europe. Would I have left GrubHub or DoorDash to try Just Eat based on their commercials and concept? You bet, so hire drivers, cyclists, and other non-mail-based couriers to deliver orders for you — and tout that offering!
  • Invite Shoppers to You, Meet Them Where They Are: According to Digital Commerce 360’s Top 500, only 6.9% of the top 500 retailers were offering curbside pickup pre-pandemic. By August, 43.7% of that same group offered curbside pickup (more at The Shopper Speaks: A Curbside Holiday Shopping Experience). If you have (or you can make) physical retail space — not even necessarily your own store — like an in-store presence or a warehouse or garage or pop-up, or you don’t but you can partner with retailers that do, curbside is your holiday hustle. BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up in Store) + curbside delivery + friendly mask-wearing employees will be your holiday fulfillment solution for local and regional fulfillment. If you want to meet shoppers where they are and that’s a bit further out, schedule a pick-up party where buyers can book times to pick up merchandise while you safely fulfill orders from a centralized distribution truck or tent.
  • Embrace National Free Shipping Day (December 14, 2020): This one’s going to be tricky given the strain on the system and the delays, but if you can pull it off — that is to say that you are certain that you can fulfill orders on time as promised — delight shoppers with free shipping where you can consolidate and execute on a large scale. If you get it right, you’re a hero. If you get it wrong, you can be sure that customers will not be shopping with you again. Under-promise, over-deliver.
  • Get Holiday Shipping Help: You have many more options than traditional shippers and the suggestions listed above. Get holiday help and tips from innovators such as:
    • Route: Route offers peace-of-mind package tracking that is free for merchants and that consumers really appreciate. 
    • Deliverr: As I mentioned above, marketplace fulfillment has been hit hard by the strain placed on the supply chain. Amongst other solutions, Deliverr provides alternatives for marketplace fulfillment so you won’t be at the mercy of Amazon or Walmart.

Final Word on Holiday Shipping, Delivery, and Fulfillment 

Delivery is a promise that must be kept, even in the new normal. Make it easier on yourself and your shoppers by acknowledging that shipping is difficult this year. After 9 months of pandemic delays, your customers know the situation and they will understand if you help them get what they need on time. Use these simple holiday help and tips to help them and your business:

  • Post clear shipping policies on your website. 
  • If you use a chatbot, include a pop-up saying whether or not an order placed at that time will arrive by December 24. 
  • Keep your checkout page updated in terms of shipping times and options and post shipping updates to product pages and even your homepage. 

Remember that shoppers are looking for clarity and reassurance. They would much rather know that an order will not arrive in time for Christmas than be disappointed ordering something that was expected in time for stocking stuffing but won’t show until December 28. Make realistic fulfillment promises and keep them. When you do so, you’ll be giving your shoppers a holiday gift and a reason to come back to you for future purchases. And if you stumble at all, you know what to do: make it right ASAP. 

Holidaily #3: Check On Your Checkout

Occasionally I have a checkout experience that is so bad — so lengthy, so complicated, or so error riddled — that I either give up and discontinue the purchase, or I complete the purchase (grudgingly) and I vow to never shop with that retailer again. 

Either way, the outcome is not a good one for me or for the merchant. And when I consider the experience, I always wonder the same thing: Why does a business that’s literally in the business of getting paid make it so hard for a customer to pay them?

Keep It Simple: If you want to encourage a behavior, make it as easy as possible for people to do it.

Right now, in-store transactions are all about “no-contact payment.” And while it’s reassuring from a health perspective to know that there’s less contact and more distance, this does not expedite the checkout process. In fact, it tends to slow it down as many shoppers and clerks are unfamiliar with the practices involved or they’re confused by them.

This holiday season, when everyone has 2020 fatigue and many people are struggling financially, make it easier than ever for people to pay for purchases. You don’t need an app for frictionless checkout, BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) will be plenty appreciated as frictionless if executed properly. 

But what are you doing on your website to make the BO part of BOPIS as quick and easy as possible? Here’s some holiday help and a few tips.

Consider the 2020 holiday shopper who is likely short on time and/or money and concerned with other stressful matters. Do this shopper a solid.

  • Offer guest checkout. Yes, it would be great to capture a new customer’s information, but don’t make the buyer go through a lengthy account creation process in order to pay you. Being forced to create an account is the number-one reason for cart abandonment.
  • Accept more credit-card types. We all know that some cards and charges carry more fees for merchants, but think of it this way: You can capture the sale and give AmEx a little more or you can avoid the AmEx fee but lose the sale.
  • Welcome electronic payments and transfers. If you’re not already offering checkout via PayPal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, Square, or Stripe, you can still set these up quickly and in time for Christmas (predicted  to be one of the biggest shopping days of 2020). 

Then go the extra mile and consider these additional payment solutions:

  • Accept peer-to-peer payments like Venmo and Zelle. Just make sure you set yourself up correctly as a business and factor in things like sales tax and shipping and everything you’ll need to do your business’s taxes in time for April 15.
  • Remember that some people still don’t trust credit-card transmission or electronic payments. It may seem outdated, but it’s true. Be sure that you can handle paper checks if someone insists on paying with one in-store or during BOPIS, and make sure that you have change for people who use actual cash.
  • Offer Buy Now, Pay Later plans. Maybe you’re old enough to remember layaway, maybe not. Well, this is that for the modern era. Be open to installment plans or shoppers asking you to hold an item a few days until payday. 

Final Word: Remember the Spirit of the Season

It’s been a really rough year. Don’t make it any rougher on yourself or your customers by complicating the payment process. And always remember: the person on the other end of the transaction is a human being, not only a human being who deserves attention and courtesy, but a retailer’s favorite kind of human being: the kind trying to pay for goods. Be flexible, be kind, be empathetic, and find a way to do the deal.