During the holiday shopping season, merchants can quickly become overwhelmed. Between planning and running promotions, managing inventory, staying on top of higher than average fulfillment volumes, and more, it’s an understandably busy and high pressure period. Any additional issues, and it can fast become a major headache to manage.
One such issue is what to do in the face of global supply chain issues. When your warehouse is fast running low on inventory, or your logistics partners are backlogged, what can you do to mitigate the impact on your customer experience?
Supply chain issues and SEO
There are a number of reasons why at any given time, your supply chain may experience some problems. If there’s a delay or snag anywhere in that chain, it can have a sort of domino effect and end up impacting your sales and customers.
Say the manufacturer for your products is based on the other side of the country, and their materials come from China. If the ports are congested in China, then it causes a significant delay in those materials landing with your manufacturer. That delay means they can’t produce your products to schedule. Then if there are labor shortages with cross-country logistics, it can cause price increases and major delays in the products reaching your warehouse.
You can see how this snowballs and then if this happens at a key sales period such as Black Friday and the holidays, it’s going to have an impact on your plans and inventory forecasts. The best way to mitigate that impact is to be prepared and proactive, and have a plan ready. Some SEO best practices and tools can help you as part of your supply chain strategy. These can not only help to preserve your pages’ rankings over BFCM if you do run into inventory issues, but better still implementing these can have a long-term positive effect on your store’s SEO.
#1 - Local SEO
One of the issues you may run into if your supply chain is under pressure is increased delivery times and costs. Customers want to know that their products will arrive on time for the holidays, and if they’re at all concerned by this timeframe then they may not purchase. 38% of consumers are worried that gifts will arrive later than expected, and 25% are concerned they won’t arrive at all.
This issue can be tackled in a few ways; one effective strategy is by bringing shipping deadlines forward so that you’re giving plenty of time for orders to arrive ahead of the holidays. If you have a physical storefront, then this can then be coupled with an effective local SEO plan. This ensures that even though you aren’t shipping as late as you normally would, you can turn to your local customer base to keep selling right up to the last minute. In fact, where delivery times are uncertain, people turn to their local stores - 74% said the reason they shop in-store is because they want the product immediately.
Keep your Google My Business profile active and up-to-date
Google My Business is an invaluable tool in boosting your store’s local SEO. Especially when it comes to finding new customers, one study found that 84% of searches related to Google My Business were discovery, with just 16% accounting for direct search. This means an optimized GMB profile could be the key to unlocking that local footfall.
To do this, here are some best practices:
Keep your name, address, and phone number (NAP) up-to-date. This is a crucial first step for any local SEO strategy.
Update business opening hours as they change over the holidays, noting any closures or extended opening hours. This will better service searches around “open now” or “near me” as you get closer to the holidays.
Post updates on your profile, letting local customers know about any exclusive in-store deals or inventory.
Respond to reviews to demonstrate to customers that you take a proactive approach to customer service.
- Include all extra services you may offer in store such as curbside pick-up.
You want to provide as much real-time information as possible that will demonstrate to Google that you’re engaged and giving their users valuable and useful information. This will help your local ranking, and bring in more nearby customers especially in that period of time between order deadlines and the holidays.
Display local fulfillment options on your site
As well as optimizing off-site local SEO, you need to ensure that your on-site content addresses the needs of your local audience. You want them to know as soon as they land on a product page that they have local fulfillment options available to them, if this is something you offer.
Displaying your local fulfillment options clearly on product pages and other key pages throughout the customer journey such as their cart will ensure that if the customer is uncertain about delivery times, they know they can simply buy online then and there, and collect in-store locally.
By utilizing local SEO, you can ensure more customers within the same area as your brick-and-mortar stores discover your brand and products. This will lessen the impact of fulfillment delays and costs not just for your store but for your local audience also.
#2 - Structured Data
Structured data or markup is a great way to give customers the information they need before they even leave a SERP. This is extra information contained within a page’s HTML that tells Google more about that page; in ecommerce, this will usually be things like price, star rating, and stock availability.
In search results, a page without structured markup looks like this:
You can see that there’s no other information in the above example other than what you’d typically expect from a search result - the meta information, and link. With structured markup, the results may show up like this:
Here the result also has a star rating and number of reviews displayed. Here’s another example:
In this second example, the price and availability are displayed. These are called rich results, and while you can’t guarantee they’ll always appear in SERPs you can increase a page’s chances of rich results by adding structured markup. This gives both Google and users more information, and the more useful you make your page the better the experience is and the more likely Google will be to rank it.
In the context of supply chain issues, structured markup can help customers see product availability before they even land on your page. Where your store does have inventory available, it makes it clear to customers that they can be confident in visiting your store to make a purchase for something they want. This may put your store ahead of competitors who don’t have this information readily available in a SERP.
If you do run out of inventory, then showing customers that the product is unavailable is also helpful. This may sound strange at first, as in this case you aren’t making a sale. However you also aren’t setting that search user up for disappointment; if they go to your product page ready to make a purchase only to find the product isn’t available, this is a poor experience. The user leaves your page pretty quickly, and if this happens over and over again it has the potential to damage that product page’s ranking as it can signal to search engines that the page isn’t providing a useful or valuable experience for search terms.
Implementing structured data can be done either manually using coding knowledge of Shopify Liquid and JSON-LD, or using an app to automatically add schema to your product pages. The former may require the help of an expert in order to correctly implement all the data you want featured, with the latter being a much easier solution.
#3 - Out-of-Stock Redirect
If a customer lands on your product page anyway despite the product in question being out of stock, then you want to have a strategy ready. It may be that they followed a link on an external site, or from a SERP where your page doesn’t have rich results displayed. Whatever the case, there are SEO tools ready to help turn a potentially disappointing experience into a positive one.
Even outside of inventory issues as a result of supply chain pressure, it’s especially likely over the holidays and BFCM that you may run low on stock of bestsellers as eager customers snap up inventory in promotions. If you run a promotional email campaign with your bestsellers as the star of the show, and it runs out of stock before a customer has a chance to check it out on your store then you need to have an alternative ready for them so as not to disappoint.
It may then be beneficial to draw their attention away from the out-of-stock product, and point them in the direction of other products they may be interested in instead. SEO Manager’s out-of-stock redirect feature allows you to temporarily redirect your product page to a link of your choice when it runs out of stock in all varieties. This is deployed automatically, so you don’t need to worry about it over the course of busy periods such as BFCM itself when your team’s attention is drawn elsewhere. Once inventory is replenished, the redirect is paused and the page displays as normal.
As for where to redirect to, you may want to set up a seasonal landing page. This would be specifically for out-of-stock products that lets the customer know that the product is unavailable, and shows them some suggestions for what they may like instead. You can set up temporary collections in Shopify tailored to each of your best-sellers, and use Shopify’s automated collection tools to make it so that these collections hide any out-of-stock products. Customers will only be able to view available products, and potentially find something else they may like instead. This provides not only a better customer experience, but also has the potential to still make a sale even though the product the customer originally wanted is not available.
When it comes to the holidays, merchants typically expect there to be added supply chain pressure. However when that’s coupled with even greater global supply chain issues, it pays to be prepared with every tool available. These SEO strategies will help ease communication and customer experience over the holiday season, and will have long-term benefits for your store’s SEO at the same time.