The last few weeks of the year are some of the busiest in ecommerce - from Black Friday through to New Year, it’s a whirlwind of sales, promotions, gifts, and fulfillment. January by comparison isn’t nearly as exciting - fewer sales and dealing with returns is enough to bring on the start-of-the-year blues. However, it’s actually in itself a great opportunity; this relatively quiet period is the ideal time to start setting your store up for success in the new year.
Using the time you have in January to go through some vital tasks will give your store the much needed headstart it needs to ensure success through the following months.
#1 - Analyze your store holiday data
The holidays are great not just for increased sales, but for all the valuable data you’ll also get from those orders. Your store data is one of the most vital components of a great ecommerce strategy, as it will indicate where your store was successful, and where it perhaps underperformed.
Here are some key areas to consider:
Overall sales performance - Compare your sales performance from previous years to see how and where your business grew. Did you sell more gift cards in the run up to Christmas? Were your BFCM promotions different from the previous year?
Individual product performance - You’ll know from store data ahead of the holidays which were your top performing products, and which typically sell less at this time of year. Look at your individual products to highlight those which performed well, those that didn’t. Identify potential reasons for this such as better catalog placement, more marketing attention, better product information etc.
Affecting factors - There are always issues whether that’s inventory, fulfillment, or site performance during the holidays. Assess how much of an impact these may have had on sales, individual products, or customer experience.
Abandoned carts - Understanding your abandoned carts over the holiday period is important, as it shows you how many customers were ready to purchase and for whatever reason, decided against it. Look for any patterns with these, such as specific products, cart value, customer region etc. as it may indicate a deeper issue.
Conversion Rate - Conversion rates for different pages on your store can tell you a lot about the experience a user has on that page, and perhaps why they aren’t converting compared to others. Going through the process of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) will help you to better understand your customers, and create a better experience that will serve your store long-term.
- Acquisition vs Retention - Over the holidays, you’ll likely see more new customers than usual as people start buying gifts for others and discovering your brand. At the same time, you’ll get repeat customers who always buy your products at this time of the year. Looking at this compared to previous years, along with sources and products purchased can tell you a lot about your customers.
The results of your analysis will help guide the direction of your future strategy, and give clear indication as to where improvements should be made to boost conversion rates and customer satisfaction.
#2 - Look at trends for the year ahead
The number of brands launching ecommerce stores continues to grow, and with that so too does your competition. In order to not only be competitive but to stand above your competitors, you need to know what’s trending in the world of commerce and how your store can improve. As we approach the end of the year, many experts start publishing advice about what they expect will be the trends and leading developments in the new year. These can often provide merchants with the starting points they need so they can develop their store in the first few weeks of the year.
To get started, look at common trends across different areas of commerce such as customer experience, SEO, B2B ecommerce, marketing, and UX/UI. You should also look at any roadmaps for the platform your store is built on, and any apps you utilize as part of your existing store experience. This will give you the big picture of what’s to come in the new year, based on not only expert advice but also what’s going to change with the platforms you use.
From there, you should assess different trends based on relevance and feasibility. Determine which trends will be most relevant to your store and customer experience. This will largely depend on your product, growth plans, and customers - not every trend will be something that your customers will care about, or will serve your business ambitions. Equally, not every trend that is relevant will actually be feasible to implement into your store. This depends on monetary and resource cost, as well as timeframe, current store functionality, platform capabilities, and other external factors.
You also realistically can’t focus on every trend all at once, so once you’ve identified the trends which will be relevant and feasible for your business, prioritize them. Which will have the greatest impact the quickest? Which will your competitors likely implement sooner rather than later? Which can be implemented quickly, and which will take longer? Answers to these questions will help you to decide which trends you want to focus on in the short and long term.
#3 - Create a promotional calendar
Forward planning is the key to success for any sales campaign, and the best way to start is by having a promotional calendar. Creating this at the start of the new year will allow you to plan out timelines for different elements of a sales campaign that need to be completed ahead of time such as new product launches, inventory forecasting, asset creation, and customer support.
The best place to start is by assessing the year just passed. Analyzing your store and sales data at the beginning of the year gives you a full picture of the previous year to compare, and determine the success of different promotions you ran over the course of that year. Look at planned promotions as well as holidays where gifting is important to see which periods were the most profitable both in terms of orders and customer acquisition. This will tell you which promotional periods are valuable to focus on and run again in the new year, and which perhaps didn’t perform as you’d hoped. The reason for looking at acquisition as well as orders, is that some promotions may not have been successful in terms of hard sales but you saw a number of new customers compared to other promotional periods. Dive deeper into this customer set, to see the retention rate and determine whether or not this promotion is worth running for building your customer base.
As well as looking at your own sales data, it helps to look at a calendar of significant holidays and events that your store could either run a promotion for or celebrate on social media and email. This along with your data deep dive will allow you to build out a calendar along with key deadline dates to ensure your team is on track and ready for the year ahead.
#4 - Optimize your store experience
January and the start of a new year are often slower periods for many merchants, making it the prime opportunity to carry out necessary improvements to your store experience. You’ll also be able to use all that store data to see exactly where those improvements are most needed. Use data from your store and other platforms, as well as Google Analytics to highlight points of friction within your experience, and get to work on fixing them ready for the rest of the year.
Some key areas to focus on include:
You should also look at customer feedback and support tickets to highlight any areas within the customer post-purchase experience that may be easily fixed. For example if your team saw an increase in support tickets for incorrect or missing items, you may want to look at automating or improving the fulfillment data handling process. Or if you saw a large number of delays with a particular courier, this may indicate that you need to work with that courier to work through what caused the delays.
#5 - Work on retention marketing
Once the holidays are over, you want to make sure that you retain all those new customers that discovered and loved your brand. Acquiring customers is hard work, but with existing customers you don’t need to do any convincing - they’ve already experienced your store and products. In fact, increasing retention by 5% has the potential to increase profits by as much as 25%, and returning customers spend an average 33% more than a new customer. That’s why a great new year strategy is to focus on retaining those customers who purchased over the holidays.
Engage with email - Email and SMS are your two most direct and engaging channels. Your customers are now used to seeing your emails pop up throughout their purchase journey over the holidays, and by using segmentation and personalization you can catch their attention once more. Offer them personalized recommendations during your post-holiday sales, especially if they complement the products they already purchased.
Promote loyalty programs - If you already have a loyalty program, this can act as a great incentive for retention. Most customers during the rush of the holidays may not have paid attention to your program and its perks, so take the time in the new year to demonstrate exactly what benefits they can take advantage of. If the customer is already a member of your loyalty program, offer them boosted benefits for a period of time so they’re encouraged to make a purchase sooner.
- Offer customer support - January is prime time for returns; for one reason or another, a customer may need to send an item back. Believe it or not, an easy and clear returns process is a big boost for customer retention - in one study, 96% said that they’d make a future purchase from a brand that offered a great returns process. Preemptively email all customers letting them know about your customer support channels as well as how to initiate a return.
Demonstrating your brand’s worth beyond their original order will show customers that your store is worth coming back to in the future.
The holiday season is a huge opportunity for increased orders and sales, and the first month of the new year can seem slow in comparison. In reality, this is the perfect chance to dig through all that data, set your store up for success in the months ahead, and focus on building lasting relationships with the customers who ordered during the holidays.