With back-to-school shopping winding down, retailers are looking at their biggest opportunity of the year: the holidays.

Peak shopping season can account for up to 30% of any retailer’s annual sales from November 29th to the third week of December.

In 2018, consumers spent $850 billion during the holidays--the highest mark in six years. Whether you're the holy grail of online shopping like Amazon, or a startup like Allbirds, the 2019 pre- and post- holiday season will bring retailers myriad of challenges (and opportunities). E-commerce and brick & mortar retailers can frequently miss the mark during the holiday season when it comes to CX. From digital support best practices to surviving the second coming of return season, here are some gifts that keep giving.

Asynchronous Messaging: The Unsung Hero of Digital Support

With 46% of customers willing to shop elsewhere if an app or website fails to load in 3 seconds, providing a mobile customer experience is a critical part of your multichannel strategy.

Online sales have increased by 16.5% YOY, and from November 1-December 31 last year, it accounted for $125 billion in sales. However, with mobile device shopping coming in at 59%, retailers should have already have solid customer support plans in place.

Live chat support that’s available in-app or through your website is a no-brainer when it comes to supporting customers through the purchasing process. Almost anything a customer has a query about can be answered in a matter of seconds – whether a user is multi-tasking or is on-the-go. Asynchronous messaging is often an overlooked channel of choice by retailers. 

Unlike live chat, asynchronous messaging is available through direct messaging features in social apps or SMS. Since customers are not confined to a timed chat window, it enables them to interact at their own pace and convenience. This type of flexibility is ideal during one of the busiest times of the year for both retailers and customers alike. A recent study found that 66% of consumers prefer to message a business. Globally, 47% of consumers preferred text messaging, while 21% used Facebook Messenger and 18% liked Whatsapp. 

With retailers overwhelmed every holiday season with higher volumes of chat, email, and phone support, asynchronous messaging can bring ease and flexibility to both shoppers and retailers.

 

“Out of Stock”Doesn’t Have to Mean Out of Luck

“Out of stock” web pages are a source of frustration for customers and a costly challenge for retailers during the pre- and post- holiday season. In 2018, 2.8% of Black Friday shoppers received an out of stock page while Cyber Monday trailed behind at 2.4%. Although these numbers sound low it has been estimated that this costs retailers $4.84 million in potential sales.

One unique way to solve this issue is to replace the out-of-stock page with a pre-order page. This reassures the customer that they are first in line when it becomes available while also closing the loop on a missed opportunity for revenue. If you can’t guarantee that a product will be back in stock again, use the power of AI to provide similar product recommendations to customers. Product recommendations not only take away the ‘lost’ feeling customers have when they can’t get what they want, but also delivers a conversion rate of 150% and can increase AOV by 50%.

Whether your customers experience product or technical issues, make sure your staff is prepared for out of the ordinary inquiries. The beginning of November is a perfect time to re-train agents and in-store associates on communication and response protocols that will help to minimize negative experiences. 

The Second Coming of Return Season: How to Redeem Yourself

Return season happens twice a year, with its peak month in January and base in December. The NRF estimated that in 2018, there would be $400 billion in returns for retailers. 

With 30% of online purchases being returned every year, both online and brick and mortar shops need to have a strong returns strategy.

Although returns are an inevitable part of the retail business, online retailers can benefit from making small adjustments to their product descriptions. For example, clothing retailers can provide additional resources and imagery for sizing. This will work to downsize one of the most common reasons for clothing returns. For non-clothing online retailers, consider including a personalized card inside packages that informs customers of your closest store location. This will work to encourage an in-store exchange rather than a return through the mail.

In a Global Consumer Survey, 86% of shoppers reported that the biggest factor in deciding whether or not to buy an item depended on the item’s return policy. In fact, 81% said they would shop elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with a merchant’s return process. Retailers of any size and scale can’t afford to get this wrong.

With the application of asynchronous messaging, pre-order pages, AI, and augmented product descriptions, retailers have a full toolbox to implement into their CX strategy. For retailers this holiday season, a rewarding customer experience may be the gift that keeps giving.

Do you want to get a head start on your holiday season support strategy? Let’s chat. Send me a note here.

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Jennifer has over 20 years in the customer experience and analytics industry, consulting with clients on how to optimize their customers’ journeys. Supporting both startups and Fortune 500 retailers, Jennifer has designed client VOC programs and assists clients in developing their CX plans both in steady state and peak timeframes.  Jennifer leads TaskUs’ retail business development efforts. 

Jennifer Turner

Vice President, Business Development, Retail
August 16, 2019