As we reach the halfway point of October, it’s almost go-time for launching your holiday projects and initiatives. This can be a mix of emotions; exciting, anxious and possibly scary all at the same time. Once Halloween is over, the competition explodes for capturing early holiday shoppers and attracting customers over the next two months. Utilize the months in Q4 as both a time to execute your holiday plans and to learn and improve.
Based on my years of being in the eCommerce and omni-channel trenches, here are three tips to help keep you and your team productive, and sane, through the holiday season:
1. Stay organized and remember your identified project priorities:
- Use your master project list of ‘Must-Haves’ and ‘Nice-to-Haves’, as reviewed in my previous blog, to keep the holiday task force team focused and on track. Hotfixes, last-minute requests and blockers are going to come into play, and they all have the potential for throwing your plans off the rails. As the project manager for the task force team, get alignment with the team on where these items will be tracked (project management software, Google sheet, Basecamp, etc) and a process on how to approve or deny the requests.
- If your task force team had been accustomed to meeting regularly for planning the holiday projects, I suggest transitioning those meetings into a daily scrum or standup meeting. This will be especially helpful in keeping the team aware of challenges or blockers that may arise, and also quickly determining what additional meetings or discussions need to be scheduled to resolve these issues. The project manager should own the scheduling and recap reports of these meetings to ensure that the master project list and reports sync correctly to identify all applicable information.
- Create a backlog for requests in the New Year, and set up a plan to work on these items. I do recommend separate planning sessions to work through these items, as the daily standup meetings should be focused on fixes as needed for active promotions and projects. If your company enacts a code freeze during November and December, this can be a great time to have the development team look at requests and help give estimates around how to implement new functionality in Q1. This will help keep on-going work streamlined, and set clear milestones for future work.
- If you haven’t already, I recommend creating a group email address for reporting issues and fixes needed during the holiday season. In large companies, this is more commonly assigned to a help desk or support team, but in smaller companies it might be as easy as assigning the holiday task force team members. This ensures coverage during vacations and ties back to managing the requests and hotfixes that will crop up during Q4.
2. Use real-time customer feedback to act quickly in resolving issues:
Whether through product reviews, customer service queries, product returns or sales data, your company will be accumulating a vast amount of customer information within a rather short period of time. This can be a bit overwhelming, but it can also be boiled down to highlight wins and areas for improvement – especially within an omni-channel retail environment.
Within the daily standup meetings, make sure to designate a team member to present a short daily report of sales, quick wins, and also any widely-reported customer issues (delayed shipping, out of stock inventory, etc) for everyone to understand. This is vital to helping all teams represented on the holiday task force team execute their planned projects optimally; for example, the merchandising, marketing and e-commerce teams may need to shift efforts or collaborate together quickly to provide solutions to a reported customer issue within email promotions.
Flexibility is key during this time, and don’t get discouraged if plans need to be adjusted based on customer feedback. Creativity can spike when presented with a challenge!
3. Use metrics and competitive analysis to improve your sales and user experience:
If you are using a platform that offers analytics, such as Magento’s Business Intelligence, you can run regular reporting to evaluate any risks or shine a light on any unexpected customer shopping behavior that may be harnessed for improving sales. In my last blog, I noted that data should be your guide within planning projects, especially for the holiday season. One of the quickest evaluations is to look at the real-time shopping behavior data during Q4 and adjust any planned promotions to use those best-performing shopping methods. Look at emerging or growing trends (such as search or product recommendations) and review with the holiday task force team daily to adjust plans as needed. If you notice any planned promotions or functionality that are not converting well or being engaged with by the customer, make it a point to take a deeper dive into the potential reasons asap.
Competitive shopping can also help clarify any missing gaps in your data – is the competition offering a lower price for a similar product, or a gift with purchase? The holiday task force team should plan on delivering a post-mortem holiday report with both metrics and competitive analysis, while staying on top of Q4 opportunities to be competitive and in-tune with customer behavior. This report can also help companies make decisions on staffing needs, training for employees, and ways to look at their branding or design in a new way. The best brands and companies learn from their data, and aren’t afraid to identify areas for internal improvement to ensure their customers understand that they have their best interests at heart.
Despite the fast-paced and often hectic rush of the season, it truly is one of the best times of the year to see your hard work pay off. Using the right reporting and analytic tools will also help your team build a historical account of the season, as well as providing year-over-year information for driving future planning. Best wishes for a happy holiday season!