SVP, Partnerships + GTM - One of the original founding members of the S&O team, Tony oversees strategic partner development and go-to-market planning for our Channel, Technology, and Agency partnerships.
As we approach the end of the summer, online retailers are typically at least thinking a little bit about the holidays. That thought process needs to change bit in the year of the coronavirus.
Point blank: Prepare your holiday deals and discounts now, not tomorrow, not a week from now. NOW!
COVID-19, based purely on statistics alone,will likely cause the utter collapse of Black Friday deals and in-store shopping.
This is sure to give rise to a unique holiday selling season this year for ecommerce stores, and one that must be capitalized on earlier and potentially for an extended period of time.
Cyber Will Dominate in 2020
Last year, it was Black Friday that reigned supreme for retail. In BigCommerce's Cyber Week 2019 Trends Report, YoY GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) increased from 16% to 23%, and average order size rose from $109.60 to $119.60.
That's not to say that Cyber Monday didn't fair well. In fact, that same report showed that YoY GMV increased from 6.3% to 13% which is staggering to say the least.
Let's be frank here for a moment though, 2020 is anything but normal.
More and more of the largest brands in brick-and-mortar retail are joining the growing list of those choosing to close on Thanksgiving.
This fueled by the obvious and continuing shift in consumer behavior as more people are opting to stay home, be safe, yet continue to shop online and then maybe leverage the benefits of curbside pickup.
You "pure play" ecommerce merchants out there should be taking this shift with a bucket of salt. While brick-and-mortar may not have a place in your business model, the trends affecting in-store shopping must be incorporated into your overall strategy.
Simply "being there" was not, is not, and will certainly never be enough ever again. To that, I am covering some of our top-most recommendations for ecommerce merchants looking to maximize performance and profitability in this post-coronavirus holiday selling season.
Prepare Your Ecommerce Website
All the marketing and advertising dollars in the world will not help an ill-prepared ecommerce store for a potentially massive influx of new site visitors, accelerated user behavior, and more add-to-carts than ever before.
Shoppers will be expecting sites that load fast, are easy to navigate, and keep them engaged. If yours does not meet these standards, then driving traffic could be all for not.
Now, I am not saying you should consider anything overly drastic such as replatforming to another ecommerce solution or completely redesigning your website layout. Those could very well be some of the worst things you could do right now.
No. Instead, simply consider reviewing your website for ways to improve upon the existing foundation. Some things to consider could be:
Page Load and Page Speed: In 2016, Google reported that 53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Fast-forward to 2019 and it was found that over 80% of marketers are fully aware that page load and page speed directly influence conversions, but they were not prioritizing initiatives to improve those rates. Regardless, the first step in knowing about a problem is by identifying it in the first place. Take a few moments of your time today to run a test, such as by using Google's free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Mobile Friendliness: With the inevitable rise in online consumer behavior this holiday season, more and more shoppers will undoubtedly be using their smartphones or mobile devices to search for and also buy goods online. It is predicted that, in 2020, revenue generated from mobile shoppers (often referred to as m-commerce) in the US will exceed $330 billion - an over 26% leap from 2019. You, as a store owner or maybe marketer, should be making sure that your mobile site version is up to snuff. As you may have guessed it, Google has another free tool to help with just that.
Experience & Navigation: Word of mouth alone can be a killer for ecommerce businesses. Did you know that upwards of over 44% of online shoppers are likely to blab to their friends about a recent bad online shopping experience? By association alone, that could mean hundreds or thousands of lost revenue for you should you be one of those stores not delivering an excellent shopping experience on your ecommerce website. Yet again, Google to the rescue! Just this year Google released its Grow My Store tool via ThinkWithGoogle. Why I highly recommend trying it out is because of how in-depth and clear of a report you get - providing several unique layers of recommendations you can take back to your team or developer.
Something else to consider here is how your site is (or isn't) fairing in terms of product or seller reviews.
Deal or No Deal
For just as many MORE shoppers that may visit your ecommerce store during the holiday selling season, there will be an even greater interest in hunting down the best deals and offers.
Parents and grandparents looking for exactly what their children and grandchildren have been asking for all year long (and maybe even from last year. Spouses and significant others looking to one-up themselves as compared to 2019.
Let's face it though: Shoppers had already gotten smarter, savvier, and many of world's largest leading ecommerce brands have worked tirelessly to meet that demand.
Put the two together and you have a "perfect storm" of consumers who want to spend less and get more for their dollar. As an ecommerce merchant or marketer, the time is nigh to prep your site and your marketing.
On-Site & Afterwards: Before we even get into your advertising, lets talk about what needs to be done RIGHT NOW. As you are reading this, my sincerest hope is that you already have a plan in place regarding discounts or special offers for the holiday selling season. If not, then I hope you at least have some assemblance of a very near-future plan to be put in place. Either way, while having deals or special offers prepped is one part of the equation, the other is the delivery. Be sure to make your deals known to your shoppers - whether it be by using static banners, carousels, interstitial pop-ups, or subtle on-page messaging. Second to that is how your carry your offer marketing through to the post-shopping experience. Ensure that your email sequences are ready to fire and do so properly. Just because someone bought from you doesn't mean they will immediately think to do so again - making it even more important to ensure that you have a win-back email strategy in place.
Fulfillment:According to a Walker Sands study back in 2018, 79% of US consumers had said that free shipping would make them more likely to shop online. To put that even more into perspective, a similar study issued by Narvar saw that 53% of those consumers won't even purchase a product if they don't know when it will arrive. Providing this degree of information to your shoppers should be a paramount aspect of your holiday selling season strategy - especially doing so from point A to Z in the consumer journey. Just this year, Google released its free and fast annotations for Shopping ads - with us here at Sales & Orders being named one of only 2 official partners to help merchants onboard. If you are a merchant who can consistently guarantee a maximum 3-day, door-to-door fulfillment on some or even all of your products, free and fast annotations are an excellent way to make your Shopping ads stand out among the competitions'.
Promos & Sales: I'll preface with this being most about how you manage and handle the delivery and use of your promos or even sale price discounts - from behind the curtain in your ecommerce store's control panel, to ensuring that accurate promotion and sales information carries through to your potential customers as they shop across channels such as Google and Facebook. For Google Shopping ads, Merchant Promotions (a program in Merchant Center) allows you to add 'Special Offer' content to your ad units while also allowing you to provide a coupon code or even highlight a "free gift with purchase" to entice people to want to buy from you and not the next guy. If you happen to be running Facebook Dynamic Product Ads (YOU SHOULD BE), then you'll also want to get acquainted with Ad Overlays so that your Sale Price stands out against the MSRP.
Another thing to note is how long you plan on running sales or promotions for. Big box retailers and brands are preparing to offer, what would normally only be a short window of deals, deals or a series of offers that could last several weeks or even months.
2020 is the year to be one of those retailers - sacrificing just a bit of your margin to the offset likely to come from increased purchase volumes.
Omnichannel Ecommerce Marketing
How many eggs? Which basket?
Those are the default constants when it comes to ecommerce business owners trying to decide where to market/advertise their products, and how much money should be spent doing so.
Am I going to tell you how much you should be spending? No. To that, all I can offer is a recommendation to let the data do all the talking. Every business is different and therefore you have to make the right decisions for YOUR business as a whole.
However, with respect to the same question, its important to understand the true value behind any particular marketing or advertising channel - and even more important to understand how the right combination of different channels can bring about strong performance during this upcoming holiday selling season.
Google: As you might expect, Google is the #1 go-to channel for ecommerce store owners looking to expose their products to more online shoppers and drive profitable revenue through advertising. Some older reports had indicated that 40% or more shoppers start their purchase journey on Google as opposed to Amazon. Earlier this year, Google announced that the Shopping tab would soon (now) consist almost entirely of free product listings. This all through the Merchant Center program Surfaces across Google that, just like Shopping ads, requires merchants to submit a product feed and have approved products to be eligible to display among these free listings. Shopping ads have received several enhancements in the first half of 2020 as well, what with free and fast annotations and improvements to the messaging provided in Shopping ad units (ie Curbside Pickup messaging). We ourselves have found that, on average, over 65% of ecommerce merchants are likely to choose at least Google as their primary channel for product display and advertising.
Bing (Microsoft Advertising): Though not necessarily all that surprising, it is certainly disappointing to see that, on average, only a little over 6% of ecommerce merchants will adopt a dual-channel approach that incorporates both the Google and Bing search engines. Why that is is certainly influenced by a number of factors, but the most likely being a lack of understanding of the benefits of adding Bing to one's strategy. Though many may not have the budget to split between these two giants, if you've yet to at least test out the combo then how will you ever truly know? First of all, the Bing or Microsoft Advertising Partner Network is massive and includes other search engines such as Yahoo and AOL. In the US, Bing reportedly controls over 32% of the search market share, and almost 40% of all clicks on Bing or Microsoft ads are in the retail category. Dollar for dollar, advertising on Bing, such as with Shopping ads, is often far more cost-effective than Google and affords ecommerce merchants many of the same tools - like RLSA or Remarketing Audiences.
Facebook & Instagram: Though not recommended, there are many merchants who will forgo SEM or Search Engine Marketing and strictly run their marketing through more contextually-driven channels such as social media. Facebook, being the most prominent social media platform around, offers not only advertising but other ways for merchants to connect with more shoppers. Dynamic Product Ad campaigns, which can display products across both Facebook AND Instagram, are not only super easy to get started with, they run almost entirely on Machine Learning - making it so that you have less work to do as compared to let's say Shopping campaigns on Google and/or Bing. Merchants often see the most benefit from Retargeting with Facebook as it is both cost-effective and hyper-targeted to previous site visitors. Earlier this year, Facebook announced the roll out of the enhanced Shops. Though native Facebook Business Page Shops have been around for quite some time, they are now taking steps to make that experience even better for both merchants and shoppers alike.
Since April, COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on these and many other advertising channels. Though the initial "shock point" of the coronavirus pandemic forced many store owners to slow their advertising or even close up shop (if only temporarily), advertising across Google, Bing, and Facebook has recovered at an unprecedented rate.
In an internal review as of April 2020, stores using our platform to run their ad campaigns were able to serve over 1 billion additional product ads across these channels.
Other Valuable Ecommerce Resources
As you can imagine, I could go on and on - but there are just so many other things to consider. So, just before we conclude here, I wanted to share some additional resources that we recommend taking a look at.
With the holiday selling season poised to be one of the strangest ever, you should be looking at just about every possible way to expand your reach and drive more sales.
- Affiliate Marketing for Ecommerce: An in-depth look at not only the value of affiliate marketing, but also a full overview of how we here at Sales & Orders are working to reshape this type of marketing for ecommerce businesses around the world. Learn More Here
- Buy on Google (Shopping Actions): While only available in the US, Google just announced some major changes to this program and has stopped new merchant on boarding for the time being, but likely to open again prior to the holidays. Learn More Here
- Ecommerce Security: Priceless guidance and information from our Partners over at BigCommerce, just as important as it to sell is to provide a secure place for your shoppers and to protect your business from cyber criminals. Learn More Here
- What is Google Shopping?: Maybe you are showcasing products on Google or even advertising them already, OR maybe not at all. Either way, many merchants on both sides still don't quite get the full breath and depth of what Google can offer to your ecommerce business. That's okay though, because I wrote the Handbook (wink, wink). Learn More Here
- Think Retail on Air: In the first few days of September, Google Ads is hosting a series of webinars where you can tune in live to hear experts and product specialists share consumer insight, trends, and more to help your business this holiday selling season. Learn More Here
Prepare, prepare, prepare.
It may only be August but gearing up in time for the holidays is likely to take some time and a good amount of effort on your part.
Much of what we've discussed may also likely require the involvement of other parties such as your web developer(s), agency, or marketing team.
Taking what you've (hopefully) learned today, its time to begin building - just as you would any building:
- Start with a strong foundation
- Shore up walls and the interior
- Beautify that indelible structure
- Furnish it and enhance it over time