It’s no surprise that during the holiday season, Black Friday & Cyber Monday are absolutely critical events for any e-commerce business. According to Adobe, online retailers earned $108.15B between Nov 1 and Dec 31 2017, up 13.8% from 2016. Only in the U.S.
Since the holiday season presents an enormous opportunity, it can also be a hit or miss. Given how short the season is and how a mere two days of activity can so heavily reflect in sales numbers, something going wrong may mean huge losses in revenue. It happens to the biggest brands—In 2017, large retails experienced online outages on Black Friday, such as Lowe’s or H&M.
How do you make the most of the season while avoiding pitfalls? Here are our tips, with a focus on search and discovery.
Are all your e-commerce systems ready to handle the charge?
Just like any other day, shoppers will expect a Google or Amazon-like experience on your website. But more than any other day, the cost of failing that expectation is gigantic.
Your competitors are spending just as much money and effort in acquiring customers as you. According to McKinsey & Company, a user will abandon bad sites for competitors after 2 to 3 seconds. This means that every additional delay on your website will lead visitors to your competitors and cost you revenue.
Typical culprits that cause friction are page loading time, payment system availability–but did you know that search can also be a major cause of downtime? To give you a sense of the craziness during Black Friday 2017, some of our customers experienced 3,000 search queries per second for hours, if not days, with peaks over 10,000 queries per second, compared to 700 search queries per second on a normal day.
Whether you handle your own search infrastructure or trust a search provider, you should make sure your systems are ready to handle such load increases.
Is the entire experience ready for mobile?
According to Adobe 2017 Holiday recap, mobile accounted for 55% of traffic and 36% of revenue between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday 2016.
From landing pages to payment, your mobile shopping experience should not be an after-thought. Building mobile experiences means much more than having a responsive website. For instance, many of the difficulties on the mobile platform come from the extreme limitation of display space (learn more in our ebook: Mobile E-commerce Experience).
A common mistake is wanting to display all the data at hand like you would on a desktop. Start by understanding how shoppers browse your catalog. For items that are selected visually, like shoes or clothes, you could present search results as enlarged pictures.
Keeping Inventory Up To Date
While creating scarcity is a powerful strategy to accelerate the purchase decision, showing products that won’t be shipped to your shoppers before the end of the holiday season will cause users to bounce. It also wastes screen real estate for products that won’t generate any sales.
So make sure that wherever you display products on your website, whether as a recommendation, your homepage, or search results, you don’t expose out-of-stock items.
Considering the volume and frequency of transactions during the holiday season, it sometimes means millions of updates to your product database every day. Every system needs to pick up on these changes, and this requires a very large scale, agile system.
Anticipate your shoppers’ wishes
Your product offering is of course one of your greatest assets, so make sure it answers your customer’s needs. Use your search analytics to discover what articles your shoppers are searching for ahead of the holiday season, and most importantly, what they are searching for but not finding. Use those insights to adapt your catalog and plan deals, or to improve your advertising and SEO strategy.
Just like you are preparing for the holiday season, your shoppers are likely searching for the best deals ahead of the actual sales by comparing prices, shipping times and costs, etc. This means they will visit your website prior to the season. Use it!
Leverage your content
You and your shoppers generate valuable content about the products you sell, including blog posts, guides, product reviews and social media posts. This content can influence the purchasing decision of your shoppers, and position you as a knowledgeable seller, so don’t hesitate to surface it on your store, alongside product pages — or even in your search results.
Help your shoppers research
Shoppers who know what products they want will probably perform refined searches to find out if you sell them, or similar items. You can lead them to the right offers on your site by proposing saved search and search alerts. They will have an incentive to come back to your store (or you will have a strong reason to ping them).
Be proactive with your merchandising
Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, you have the luxury to reorganize your store front in one click, or even automatically. Use it! Shoppers will look for the best deals, so use the discount rate in the ranking of your search results. Create scarcity by ranking products with limited sales time first. You have a doorbuster offer, but still want to preserve your margins? Rank this doorbuster first for relevant queries, and then add your post-discount margins in your ranking logic. The parameters you can play with are endless. The important thing is to be able to configure the ranking logic of your search according to what matters to your shoppers, and you.
Adapt to the unexpected
Whether you like it or not, you will miss some trends and discover high selling offers that you wish you had more promoted. It’s not too late! Tweak your search results ranking logic to promote your best selling products, and capture even more sales.
Through your site search, your shoppers literally speak to you. Leverage those invaluable insights! What were they looking for that you did not offer? What search results converted the most? How did people navigate your store? Did they filter by a specific brand when looking for TVs? All this data can help you improve your offering and the way you surface it to your shoppers next year.
Turn first time shoppers into engaged customers
Throughout the Holiday season, you will acquire new shoppers, thanks to your unmatched offers on specific products, and increased advertising efforts. Chances are, if they like the overall experience, they’ll return to your store. So when things calm down, reflect on what went well and what did not, and start planning long-term investments for your user experience. Studies report that every $1 invested in UX yields a $2 to $100 return.
Take search. Search has moved far beyond the search box, to include advanced features like browsing, navigation, personalization…. The logical next step is search without the box. Key e-commerce strategies like omnichannel improvements and personalization are already becoming dependent on advanced UIs such as voice and chatbots (learn more in our ebook: Search beyond the box).
Ultimately, there isn’t one size fits all solution. As Forrester puts it, “Choosing — or even knowing if you need to invest in — a site search solution isn’t simple.”
We have more tips and best practices on site search – if you’d like to speak to a search specialist, click here. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your tips for holiday site search. Leave a comment, tweet to us, or shoot us an email.