With Black Friday and Cyber Weekend looming large, we caught up with our Qubit friends and family (AKA our partner network and industry specialists) to get their last minute tips for the holiday shopping season. While planning has already been going on for months, it's always worth double-checking your list to make sure you're not missing a trick. From UX, to mobile, to delivery, we touch on six ways retailers can ensure they’re paying attention to the trends that matter to make the most of peak 2016 and beyond!

1. Make the most of the holiday rush

The holiday rush offers some great opportunities for retailers to understand more about a greater volume of their customers, as well as test out how best to influence their behaviour. Erin McElwee, Conversion Consultant at Blue Acorn advises her clients to “take advantage of the increase in traffic during the holiday season to test different promotions, such as "50% off" vs. "Buy one Get One Free." These experiences are more likely to reach statistical significance this time of year as consumers are looking for great holiday deals.”

Claire Vignon Keser, Director of Optimization Strategy at WiderFunnel agrees with this strategy, but also advises to “limit your test timeframe to the season itself. Don’t let a test run any longer, or it will skew your results.”. In terms of influence, Claire suggests that peak offers a perfect opportunity to see how sensitive your shoppers are when it comes to urgency, “For example, using stock counts, recent order counts, or offering expedited shipping options and make gift options more prominent.”

2. Don’t get left out in the cold when it comes to experimentation

With Q4 being such a crucial trading period many retailers implement a code freeze to avoid the possibility of errors at such a critical time. While this is understandable, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop learning. Ryan Garner, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Clearhead makes a compelling argument against a total blackout, "We often see businesses shutting down experimentation during the holidays because the traffic behavior is so unique and seasonal during this time. While this is true, we think you should consider experimenting during the holiday season for this very reason. This critical season comes every year, and it's the only chance you have to measure what will work for the next one.” The other option is to make use of agile third party technologies that enable you to make changes on the fly, without the need for developer time. Continuing to serve innovative experiences to accelerate conversions during peaks should be a priority, given the high levels of competition for consumers attention at this time of year.

3. Make your mobile experience merry

Google has proclaimed 2016 the ‘year of the supershopper’ - savvy mobile users, looking for inspiration and information, but most importantly, to buy. Getting them to convert when they’re in the moment with your brand is key, as 76% of mobile shoppers change their mind about which retailer or brand to buy from after searching online (Google, October 2016).

Jeff Herrera, VP of Marketing & Channel Development at Guidance, echoes this sentiment. His one piece of advice is to “optimize for mobile.  In 2015, almost 30% of all ecommerce transactions in the US were made on a mobile device.  This trend is significant and will likely be closer to 35-40% in 2016.  Retailers must ensure that their customers have a frictionless and highly efficient mobile shopping experience.”

4. Don’t forget the little things when it comes to search, sorting and service

During peak times, small inefficiencies in UX become magnified.

“Visitors to your site will show greater urgency and less persistence when purchasing products, which means you have to make sure they can find what they are looking for. It’s that simple,” says Phil Reay, Head of Insight at SessionCam.

“Having an effective search function is key. You’d be surprised how often users type something in a search box and it doesn’t appear in the results. Maximize your sales by making sure the most relevant related products are appearing under a ‘people who buy this also buy…’ section.”

Another thing to consider is having prominent and effective product lists, filters and sorting functionality. Only 16% of major ecommerce websites provide users with a good filtering experience. This is often due to a lack of important filtering options, poor filtering logic and interfaces.

Reay adds: “Do your research and find out what your customers look for when searching for a particular product. Go beyond standard sorting and filtering such as clothes size and color, and offer sort by occasion and product review score too.

“Lastly, make sure that your delivery timescale and cost is realistic and adjust them for peak times. Keep customers informed of when you will be dispatching their item and it’s expected delivery date. Honest and open communication is the cornerstone of customer service.”

5. Deliver on your promises

Don’t slip up at the final hurdle, offer your customers choice when it comes to delivery to ensure they convert. Research from MetaPack shows that consumers are more likely to try new delivery options during peak in order to ensure delivery. Kees de Vos, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at the company advises to, “Make sure the consumer has a choice of delivery options, as it is crucial for conversion. Interestingly, as of last August, consumers are already selecting guaranteed next day delivery in favour of 3-5 day economy delivery options. This trend, in combination with consumers that are willing to pay extra for that ‘guarantee of delivery’ during peak, will no doubt put additional strain on both the retailer and carrier networks. This further increases the importance for retailers to closely monitor which delivery promises they can meet and only offer those that they can in order to meet customer expectations.”

6. Give the gift of kindness (to your customers & yourself!)

Even with all the planning in the world, peak is a highly pressured time and things will, inevitably, go wrong. Colleen Oates, Managing Director at ONEROCKWELL shared three ways to stay sane during the festive season.

“Be flexible, you may run out of your best-selling product, and this impacts your entire holiday calendar count-down. Product may not drop when anticipated and your “complete the look” is a pair of riding boots and a crop top. You may have a massive re-call on a newly released pony hair clutch that is balding. All of these things will happen. Get creative in product pairing, marketing messaging, bundled incentives, and feature investments.

Over deliver - make sure your customer service team treats your customer with kid gloves during the holiday season. Cover messenger costs, include hand-written notes, toss in a gift with purchase, extend a promotional discount. This is digital retail therapy at the most critical point of the year.

Just breathe - ‘Heavily Medicate or Heavily Meditate’ - pick your poison. Have patience. Stressors around the holiday can impact your work performance, your ability to execute and deliver, your creative thinking, and your collaboration with colleagues. Take a Yin Yoga class, hit a few sample sales, come back in better spirits.”

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Cat Millar

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