In the run up to Black Friday weekend, customers are laser focused on what deals and bargains they can grab. Who has the best deals? Which promotions are running and where? Whose gifts can they purchase in Black Friday sale? However once BFCM has passed, their focus shifts - the kind of questions they want answers for become about efficiency, experience, and support. If you can preempt those questions and build the answers into your holiday shopping experience, then customers will take notice.
Let’s look at the most common questions customers will have in the weeks between BFCM and the end of the holiday season.
“Where is my order? Will it arrive on time?”
As time ticks down, anxieties over orders arriving grow. In a Deloitte consumer survey, 39% said they planned to shop early, primarily to ensure their order would arrive on time. In another survey, 98% said that shipping and delivery impacts their brand loyalty with 47% saying they wouldn’t order again from a brand with a poor delivery experience. Delivery times and delays can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction and retention.
The best way to preempt this concern is by having a robust holiday communication strategy, and implementing tools such as real-time tracking.
In addition to order confirmation emails, include another automated email during the holiday season that gives the customer additional information about fulfillment and delivery outlining any delays. For example if after BFCM your warehouse is working through a backlog of orders, let customers know that it may take a day or two longer for their order to be dispatched. Set up additional emails to let the customer know of any delays your courier may be experiencing and how this affects them. Include information about your returns and exchanges policy, just in case their order doesn’t arrive on time.
Implementing a real-time tracking tool can alleviate a lot of the anxiety the customer may feel when waiting for their order. It gives them a simple to use platform where they can get individual information about their specific order, including any notes your team may want to add. It can also help take some of the pressure off your customer support team, as using real-time tracking can reduce the number of enquiries about order status.
“Who can I contact if I have an issue with my order?”
There are a wide range of reasons why a customer may want to get in touch with your team about their order. Perhaps something has arrived damaged or in less than perfect condition, maybe they received the wrong item or are missing something from their order. Whatever the case, it’s important to make it easy for the customer to be able to get the support they need.
The first step for many customers won’t be to immediately reach out to your team, in fact 60% of US consumers prefer self-service support options. Having these solid self-service options will be a huge benefit to your customer experience - more than half of consumers say the reason they can’t resolve an issue on their own is due to a lack of information, and only 12% say they can’t find the information they need on good self-service portals. While it might be a bit late now to completely overhaul your self-service options, there are still ways you can add to your current customer service experience:
- Create a holiday specific FAQ using queries from previous holidays as well as the most common questions you’re currently seeing come through your support inbox. Link to this from key areas throughout your site, including product pages and a site banner.
- Set up an auto-responder for email, social media, and other support chat platforms you may use that covers common questions with links to relevant information.
- Use a real-time tracking tool to capture any customers looking for order status information.
- Send email campaigns and post on social media about where to find self-service support.
These will be relatively quick to implement, and will help to reduce the number of enquiries coming through your support channels so your team can focus on the queries that need greater attention.
When a customer has used self-service options and then does need further assistance, make it easy for them to contact your team. Make the links to contact customer support obvious on key pages, and include details in those emails mentioned earlier detailing your support options. If your response time is longer than usual, be sure to let customers know as soon as they get in touch so that they aren’t left waiting on a response and becoming frustrated.
“When can I order until?”
In the weeks after BFCM, time becomes even more important to customers as they then have a finite amount to secure those perfect presents. If they order a gift and it arrives late, unaware of your shipping deadlines, they’ll still be unhappy because they’ll feel that they weren’t given the information they needed at the right time. This ultimately reflects poorly on your customer experience, and can impact retention. That element of trust is a big part of the relationship between a customer and brand, and the more you can do to build trust the more likely they’ll be to remain loyal after the holidays.
Communicate your order deadlines in key areas throughout your site and marketing channels, to ensure customers are fully aware before they place an order. Increase the visibility of these dates the closer you get to them, not only to increase awareness but also increase the level of urgency with customers who are interested in ordering. To ensure you don’t send so many emails that it comes across as spammy, segment your audience to send messaging to those who may find it more valuable for example those customers in your browse and cart abandonment flows. Display final order dates on your homepage and as a site-wide banner, so that any new visitors will immediately be aware of your deadlines.
If your deadline is quite a while before the holidays due to issues like supply chain or last-mile fulfillment delays, then you may want to offer alternative suggestions. For those merchants with a physical storefront, promote these to your local audience as your order deadline approaches and allow curbside pick-up so they can order past the deadline. For online-only merchants, start promoting gift cards more as a last-minute gifting option.
“Will [product] be back in stock before the holidays? Is it available in-store?”
Stock availability is a big concern for customers in the weeks after Black Friday weekend - in fact in the Deloitte survey mentioned earlier, 75% said they’re worried about out-of-stocks affecting their holiday shopping.
To help your customers and avoid disappointment, you can do a few different things to preempt this concern.
- Display stock availability on product pages.
- Display an estimated restock date on product pages where the item is currently unavailable.
- Temporarily redirect out-of-stock product pages to a landing page with recommendations for items that are currently available.
- Hide out-of-stock items from your temporary collections.
- Offer gift cards as an alternative.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, then you should also display on product pages whether or not an item is available in-store. Especially if your online orders are fulfilled from a separate warehouse, then you don’t want to lose local sales just because it’s out of stock online. Consumers are increasingly looking for Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up as options for ordering online, and this will increase as we get closer to the holidays. If you do offer these options, make it clear throughout your site so that local customers don’t miss out.
“What is your returns policy?”
While returns and exchanges seem like a post-holiday issue, having a good policy is a key factor in purchasing decisions over the holiday season. 67% of consumers say they check a retailer's returns policy before they make a purchase. This becomes even more important to customers over the holiday season as their shopping habits are slightly different to the rest of the year. They’re likely purchasing for someone else, so if they don’t know that person’s size for clothing, or perhaps they get them something they already have, then an easy returns policy becomes vital to their decision of which store to buy from.
Make sure your policy is clear, straightforward, and easy to initiate. Have it linked from your homepage, holiday landing pages, and product pages, as well as in any email campaigns including automated transactional emails. You should include:
- Duration of the returns period, and if you have extended it for the holidays.
- Item condition - specify the difference between returns related to damage that occurred in transit, versus a regular return.
- How the customer should return it to you, i.e. if there is a returns portal or a form to request a shipping label.
- If return shipping is covered by your store or by the customer.
- Options for resolution e.g. exchanges, refunds only etc.
Making it clear ahead of time will not only encourage the customer to place an order, but will also make the process much easier for both the customer and your team if a return is initiated. This makes for a more efficient and smoother customer service experience, and this will impact the customer’s perception of their overall experience. 38% of consumers in one survey said that a negative returns experience over the holidays would discourage them from purchasing from a retailer in the future. Get the experience right, and 92% of customers say they’d purchase again.
The brands who stand out over the holidays are always those who are proactive in providing customers with an excellent experience. Part of that experience relies on being able to quickly provide a solution to common concerns they’re going to encounter throughout the holidays. Orders arriving on time, products being available, how to initiate a return, these are all issues that if a merchant can quickly resolve them will positively affect how the customer perceives their brand. The more positive their perception, the more likely they’ll be to remember your store when they next want to place an order.