For a Successful Holiday Season, Let Your Data Be Your Guide

It can either be the Elf on the Shelf®, or the elephant in the room – data is as important as you make it. To that point, many eCommerce and omni-channel retail organizations are sitting on mountains of customer shopping and behavior data, especially after the holiday selling season. Sadly, an unsuccessful holiday selling season can often be traced back to a company’s lack of making proper data analysis a priority prior to planning.
The digital age has given businesses a real-time look into what their customers’ want, when they want it, and what trends are emerging. But the trick is to use this information wisely. As I mentioned in my last blog, Magento’s ‘2017 Holiday Commerce Outlook’ report speaks about this topic, and there’s a section devoted to it with “Make Your Data Shine.” Magento’s Business Intelligence tool, within the Magento platform, allows merchants to effectively digest the amount of data that is captured in website visits and transactions to make informed decisions. And while this specific blog post isn’t going to dive into the how-to generation of these types of reports, I will speak to data analysis scenarios that often gets teams confused or frustrated within the holiday sales cycle. Here’s three tips that your Holiday Taskforce Team can use for planning your holiday projects, and also help to reinforce which efforts get focused on (Must-Haves):

  • Utilize customer shopping behavior to indicate which digital functionalities matter most.

According to the Magento report, retailers acquire between 29 to 59 percent more customers, than they normally have. As a Project Manager for the Holiday Task Force team, ensure that your team has access to last year’s data to see which digital functions were used most. It’s safe to say that Search is emerging as a top priority within multiple retailers as a key shopping behavior for customers. But this can also vary within the categories of products that an organization sells. I suggest reviewing last year’s shopping behavior data, at the least, within the October to December timeframe to see what the top three overall shopping behaviors were. You can further break it down by month, product category, or even specific time periods such as Black Friday. However, the largest priority is to see what stood out during the holiday season, as it will drive the majority of business.
Next, within those top three shopping behaviors, what are your conversion rates? As a Holiday Task Force team, look at this level as proving how successful those shopping behaviors performed. For example, let’s say that Search accounted for 45% of sales, and Navigation (or links) accounted for 40%. Both are extremely close in the amount of which they were used. But in diving deeper, Search had a conversion rate of 0.9% and Navigation had a conversion rate of 4.0% – this is a huge indication that Search needs improvement, as there’s an opportunity to recover lost sales. A low conversion rate could mean a variety of things, and Search optimization tools are critical to many retailer websites. It could also mean that customers didn’t like the search result set that was displayed, or products were simply not optimized to the search terms that customers are using. An easy way to help determine this is to run two reports; a. top searches during Q4 and b. failed searches during Q4. These will highlight gaps in product assortments (such as products that ran out of inventory early or that your business isn’t currently selling), or product names that need optimization (such as “bed linens” becoming “bed sheets”). Running these types of simple reports can either readily solve merchandising issues, or indicate needed improvements to the Search optimization tool which may involve IT or development talent.
Lastly, if there is a clear winner of shopping behavior on our website, then let that shine for this year’s holiday projects. The shopping behavior data can help guide how the website looks and behaves for a customer. If Search was predominantly used, then the Search bar should be easy to find. If there are top products that always sell for your organization during the holiday season, then a simple “Top Products” navigation link or a CMS block showing these products on the homepage would be a great way to improve cart conversion.

  • Guide marketing or promotional activities with customer shopping data.

As the holiday projects unfold in planning, there will be great opportunities for Marketing to ensure promotions are relevant and deliverable during the peak shopping time frames. Within the Holiday Task Force team, I suggest setting up a communication tool to help the Marketing team know which products are sold out or low on inventory as the season progresses – this may help prevent emails or digital ads being designed that feature products that are unavailable, and lessens customer service issues. Collaboration will also help drive traffic in-stores (for omni-channel retailers) by using website banner graphics, or search result recommendations, that feature products at a location close to the customer. Special promotions can also be tested during the holiday season based on the customer’s shopping behavior online. This can be executed with promo codes, or even gift-with-purchase promotions, and will allow your business to see what customers engage with most. As the last two weeks of Christmas come closer, capitalize on the last-minute shopper by clearly promoting specific products, promo code savings, or expedited shipping to help simplify their experience in getting what they need quickly. The Holiday Task Force team can work together to help strategize how to get these promotions displayed most effectively on your website during the holiday season, and also regroup during the season to help modify any tactics as needed.

  • Get in front of your competition by knowing what your customers like.

Looking back at my career in retail, one thing that had surprised me early on was the amount of towels that were sold during the holidays. But as our website functionality improved over time, and we were able to receive better product ratings and reviews, I gained a huge “a-ha” moment from customer feedback. Customers were buying new towels for themselves, as the prices were low and they were hosting people in their homes for the holidays. That was a huge shift in my mind as I’ll admit I was confused and wondering how many people were actually gifting towels during the holidays. As it turned out, it was simply a logical time for customers stock up on many of the household items that they would normally need, or spruce up their home to welcome guests. Knowing that level of information opens up a whole new approach that you can take with your customers, instead of guessing. Also, it can allow you to “talk” to your customer differently during the holiday season. For example, if you know that the bulk of towels being sold is for hosting, then a better use of promotions for household items may be geared towards “Coming home for the holidays” rather than “Best home gifts”. It resonates more with the need the customer has, and can also make an emotional connection. It is also valuable to ask the customer service contact on the Holiday Task Force team to bring what the top customer complaints were during the holidays to your meetings. Utilizing your customer’s feedback, whether in customer service communications, social media interaction, or product reviews, can bring to light many issues or operational questions that may be easily solved as a cross-functional holiday team.
Competitive shopping analysis from last year’s holiday can also give you the upper hand in understanding what may have attracted consumers. Was it better quality product? Was it overall percent-off savings? Was it an easier mobile experience? Look into your own comparative offerings and digital environments to see what may have been more compelling to the customer, or what improvements your business can make to be more competitive.  This will also help you retain more of the 29-59 percent increase of customers into regular business and sales.
As the Holiday Task Force gets underway with planning and projects, the use of data can truly enable your teams to work smarter, and not harder. It also helps validate decisions, and defends potential changes that your business may have to make in order to effectively compete. Overall, it will also help to prioritize the work needing to be accomplished. For Project Managers, and cross-functional teams, this will help in making efforts and delivery more efficient and logical to achieve better performance. In my last and final blog for this series, we’ll explore how to stay organized and proactive as a team during the holiday selling season. Until then, use data to help you and your teams move forward with the right decisions.

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