When we say the words “holiday season”, a lot of warm and fuzzy associations come to mind: holiday sweaters, holiday decorations, wrapping paper, elf hats, and of course — shopping galore. But, as the unique year of 2020 and the challenges that its posed for web creators, comes to a close, we’ve probably already realized that things may look different this year. 

Instead of strolling around big department stores and heading for the sale rack, it’s more likely that we’ll find ourselves somewhere different this year. Propped up on the couch, coffee in one hand, mobile phone or laptop in the other, scanning the web for online retailers and e-commerce websites that will give us what we’re looking for. 

Thanks to social distancing and, unfortunately, quarantine, foot traffic in department stores has transformed into increased web traffic to online stores. Whether in-store or at home, the crowds are wild, and it’s time to help them navigate to the products and purchases they’ve been wishing for all year long.

But what does this mean for web creators? How can we up our e-commerce game and maximize the potential of eager online shoppers looking for the holiday deals and promotions of their dreams? First things first, we need to embrace the insightful discoveries and suggestions about holiday online shopping in 2020. This includes data analysis, market research, behavior analytics, and a treasure trove of information that can help us make better website and online store building decisions. 

Once we’ve mastered all the facts and figures, we’ll be fully equipped to understand both the content and design decisions that make sense for your online store, in order to perfect each visitor’s online shopping experience and their decision to click “Buy Now”.

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What Web Creators Can Learn From Last Year’s Holiday Season

In Deloitte’s 2019 Holiday Survey of Consumers, they explain that not only does “online shopping remain the lead shopping destination”, but, even more so, survey respondents expected to spend 59% of their holiday budget online as opposed to in-store shopping. 

This is a powerful statistic, yet in order to understand the holiday online shopping experience, why shoppers prefer it, what their online shopping habits and preferences — we need to delve a little deeper and get into the headspace of those that love (or will soon be enamored with) e-commerce. For example, especially over the last few months, there’s definitely a growing preference for online shopping rather than in-store buying. 

Let’s try and understand what we can learn from the data extracted from 2019 shopping behaviors in order to inform our e-commerce site building for 2020.

So, for us web creators, that means that as the years go by, consumers’ tendency to choose online shopping for their holiday purchases is steadily increasing. Always think in terms of “onward and upward”. 

This takeaway is helpful in terms of setting your expectations. As you plan your promotions, marketing campaigns, customer outreach, etc., keep in mind when you can expect your sales to be highest and when it’s reasonable that they’ll be on the lower side. Use the opportunity to be smarter in hindsight. 

  • US consumers spent $142.5 billion online between November 1st and December 26th. 

Another matter of hindsight, understanding the November 1st – December 26th time frame can help us make better informed decisions about when to schedule promotions for, when to reach out to customers, and across the board, when to start mentioning the words “holiday season”.

What To Expect From Online Shoppers This Holiday Season

Based on these figures alone, it’s essentially a no-brainer that e-commerce and the holiday season are none other than a match made in heaven. But, that being said, how do we tap into that universe of delivering the most sought-out, valuable products to online shoppers in a user-friendly, convenient way? And, in general, what can we expect from the 2020 holiday season — where consumers’ needs, interests, and most of all financial constraints have shifted?

  • Adobe Analytics predicts that online holiday season spending will reach $180 billion in 2020. If the flu season keeps preventing people from going to brick and mortar stores, shoppers might spend as much as $200 billion.

Knowing that weather influences whether or not holiday shoppers will be making online orders or venturing out to stores can also help web creators with their planning. For example, you can even set dates for promotions based on weather forecasts. If you see that there’s a day that the weather is so miserable that there is no way shoppers can leave the house and stay dry, you may want to do a spontaneous promotion for that day, knowing people will be especially home-bound. Why not seize the rainy day?

  • “BOPIS”, which is the term used to describe the option to order an item online and have it reserved for you in-store — will reach over 40% growth from 2019. 

If “BOPIS” is relevant to your store and business model, try and make it an option for shoppers. Given how many brick and mortar stores have responded to this year’s pandemic by making their store accessible through a website, “BOPIS” is much more common and therefore expected by prospective customers. There is great potential here, we may as well leverage it.

  • Mobile shopping will account for 42% of the season’s online purchases

You can equate mobile-friendliness with a friendly salesperson or shopping advisor. If you want your customers to be greeted with warmth and holiday cheer, this applies to your website, too. It should be inviting, and welcome any device or screen size your customers are working with. 

Okay, so, now that we’ve been clued in to some more insight on what e-commerce key trends and behaviors we can expect to see this holiday season, let’s devise a plan of how we can contribute to these figures and reach for the stars. In other words, leverage the current rapidly-growing trend of online shopping and use it to take our websites to new heights.

8 Tips for Preparing Your E-Commerce Store for the Holidays

#1 Embrace How Much Shoppers Are Loving E-Commerce Now More Than Ever

order christmas tree online
Shoppers can easily order their Christmas trees from home

Understandably, consumers left, right and center are trying to avoid doing in-store shopping. Large crowds, the risk of traveling, they have many justified reasons for their concerns. 

Make It Easy To Stay Home

As online retailers, the best way to accommodate these potential customers is by providing them with products and services that they’ll be relieved about being able to order online. 

In the case of the happy holidays, you can take this principle of customer empathy and take it one step further: try and think of what specific items and goods people may want to have at home for their holiday celebrations. Can you provide them with something that they’re used to buying in-person each holiday season, that typically isn’t sold online? (Think: specialty foods such as coffee beans, pastries, boutique gift wrapping supplies…).

Offer In-Store Pickup and Deliveries

Many brick and mortar stores have started offering in-store pickup and deliveries due to the pandemic, even if they didn’t necessarily do so back “when life was normal”. This is definitely a step in the right direction. After all, as we mentioned earlier, “BOPIS” (buy online pick up in-store) or BOSS (buy online ship from store) are on the rise. But how can you leverage your website to make these two processes as simple as possible?

Easy: make it as easy as possible to either order for express delivery or for in-store pickup. One way to do this is by providing as much contact information as possible about your store and delivery service. This is where the Google Maps Widget comes in handy. Embedding Google Maps in your website is super simple to do, and will benefit your online store’s customer experience. For example when looking to order for in-store pick up, shoppers can understand where exactly your store is located and how to get there.

#2 Prioritize User Experience

nordstrom ux
Nordstrom has a user-friendly navigation menu for their shoppers

78% of consumers consider easy product search and comfortable site navigation to be one of the most important factors for online shopping — allowing them to quickly discover products that meet their personal needs. In fact, overall site navigation is also super important to online shoppers, and 75% said they look for e-commerce sites with intuitive site navigation. 

Easy Website Navigation and Search Capabilities

Often, when we hear the words “site navigation”, one of the most-loved navigation elements that makes anyone’s online store a better place is: product breadcrumbs. The precise goal of what product breadcrumbs are built to do is to make it easy for customers to navigate your store. 

If someone is browsing your “Holiday Sale” clothing collection and wants to make sure not to miss a category (hint: holiday sweater gift for dad, new baseball hat for son) — they’ll want to have an easy time going back and forth from product pages to category pages.

Know What To Include in Your Product Pages

Usability pioneers and experts Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) provides a thorough breakdown of the absolute “must-haves” for what a product page of any e-commerce website must include. 

This must-haves list includes eight key components, all of which can be created using WooCommerce Builder

  1. Descriptive Product Name
  2. Recognizable images
  3. Enlarged view of images
  4. Price (including additional product-specific charges)
  5. Clear product options, such as color and size, and a way to select them
  6. Product Availability
  7. Clear way to add an item to the cart, and clear feedback when it’s been added
  8. Concise and informative product description

#3 Focus on Personalization

bliss product pairings
Bliss spa's online store suggests products to enhance your self-care goals

When shopping for what they have their eye on, customers will often appreciate suggestions of what other products they could look into to give them an even greater experience with what they’re looking for.

Leverage Product Recommendations

This is where the WooCommerce Product Related Widget becomes your product page’s (which you create using a Single Product page) best friend. Related products are generated from your product category, which you set up by creating conditions for when that Single Product page should appear. 

The virtue of utilizing the ability to suggest related products to your shoppers is that it transforms their buying process into a personal, unique experience. You could even say that it becomes an emotional decision that impacts their thought process. These prospective buyers start feeling like your online store is one that fits their lifestyle, understands their shopping interests, and is a promising place to find what they’re looking for. And, it goes without saying, it not only increases the likelihood of them adding more items to their cart, but it also can help them find an alternate option to a product they browse and then decide they’re not going to end up buying.

E-Commerce Email Marketing

The value of email marketing for website personalization is evident in the fact that 73% of consumers say that they prefer doing business with brands that use personal information to increase the relevancy of their experiences. 

Some personalization tactics that can be employed through email campaigns include: 

  • Email list segmentation
  • Individualized email messaging
  • Behavior-triggered emails
  • Responsive email design 
  • Social media integration

More specifically, if you own a toy store website, you can offer shoppers the option to select the age bracket they are looking to buy toys for and then subscribe to email updates about new toy inventory that arrives in the store that fits their age criteria. Once you do this, you can create email lists, use them to send individualized email content, and even build behavior-trigger email campaigns based on the category choices that shoppers select when telling you their relevant age range of interest. 

Once you have this personalization technique in place, you can build a relationship with your customers (existing or prospective) that accounts for your understanding of their buying needs and of the incentives behind their shopping decisions.

#4 Consider Shopper Interests During the Pandemic

holiday shopping most bought items
Deloitte shows how popular gift cards are this year

As we covered earlier, much research has been done about consumers’ shopping behaviors during the pandemic — both in what they are buying and how they are buying it.

Cater To the Homebody Economy

For starters, Deloitte’s 2020 Holiday Retail Survey finds that consumer spending is expected to cut back on travel spending, and that non-gift items such as home furnishings and seasonal decor are on the rise. People are also spending a bulk of their holiday spending on gifts and gift cards, as well as goods they need to entertain at home.

It’s worth keeping in mind that 61% of Deloitte’s Holiday Retail Survey respondents said their biggest attraction for choosing a retailer is those that offer a great deal. Following that segment, 49% consider retailers based on its products’ quality and reliability, and 46% choose according to product variety and styles available. 

In practice, what e-commerce website owners can do to apply these findings to their holiday season preparations is:

  • As much as possible, find ways to add pandemic-oriented categories and items to your inventory: this includes gift cards, home furnishings, seasonal decor, games and toys, etc. 
  • Show as much product variety on your website as possible, and invest in the product archive pages. Make each store visitor feel like you have an abundant, rich collection of items, where he’s bound to find what his heart desires. 
  • Specify details about products’ quality. This can be done by the way you label your product names, inserting the words reliability, durable, organic, etc. whenever possible.

Add user star ratings to your product pages. This is exactly the type of detail potential buyers like to see. It’s especially useful when archive pages have the option to filter products based on their number of stars.

Elaborate on Health & Safety Details

The importance of being transparent with your potential customers about your business’s compliance with COVID-19’s health and safety regulations is indisputable. This is especially true for food and restaurant businesses, who are expected to enforce certain hygiene laws in their workplace.

For example, customers will want to verify that every employee in your restaurant wears a facemask while preparing food, and also know if your deliveries allow for contactless delivery. 

A simple way to make sure that your website provides this information is by using the Product Data Tabs widget. These tabs are located in your product display, and can provide information organized into tabs — such as “Description”, “Additional Information” and “Reviews”. A straightforward way to incorporate COVID-19-related information is by naming one of the data tabs “COVID-19” (or similar) and explain what your pandemic-related policies are.

#5 Be Strategic About Your Shipping & Return Policies

holiday shipping deadlines
USPS clarifies how to make sure customers send and receive their packages on time

The online shopper’s reasoning for loving free shipping is pretty self-explanatory, which is why 40 out of the top 50 online retailers offer it. This also explains why consumers will often avoid shopping on websites that don’t offer free shipping. 

Understand the Advantages of Free Shipping

Whether free shipping is something you can offer all year, or alternatively, exclusively during the holiday season, it’s recommended you do so. In fact, This is especially true considering that we should be prepared to see an increase in carrier surcharges and delivery costs during this peak shopping season. Yet, mid-December sees a big uptick in “free shipping” searches as the shipping window for Christmas delivery diminishes. It may be worth considering to offer these special shipping promotions prior to the starting point of the raise in fees. 

There are many ways to inform website visitors about promotions your online store is having, and one of our favorite tactics to do so is by using the Countdown Widget. By creating a time limit for your customers to be eligible for free shipping, you create a sense of urgency for them to make their decision. In parallel, you’re encouraging your shoppers to be opportunists – to seize the moment and grab the promotion you’re offering them before they miss out.

#6 Prepare for a Longer Holiday Season

holiday presale
Taste of Home ran a pre-holiday sale to give shoppers more discount opportunities

It’s pretty reasonable to assume at this point that holiday shopping in 2020 will be “anything but typical”. As we know from our own experience, customer preferences and budgets have changed this year, and retailers are preparing accordingly. 

Know When Customers Are Planning To Shop

During a typical year, Black Friday marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Yet, in 2020, many stores began theirs in mid-October. Part of the reason for this change in time frame is to allow shoppers to go to stores early, when there will be less holiday crowds, and therefore social distancing will be easier. 

These preparation measures on behalf of retailers are definitely the right way to go, as 49% of consumers are planning to start their holiday shopping by Halloween or earlier. On the flip side, last minute shoppers accounted for nearly 30% of online holiday sales. So, just as you may be starting your holiday promotions early this year, make sure you don’t end them too soon. Catch the last minute shoppers in their tracks.

So, how can you make sure that prospective customers are fully clued-in about when your sales and promotions begin, especially when you’ll be starting them unexpectedly early?

One simple solution is to create a countdown timer popup, or various other types of popups — which you can do in a number of ways, as you see fit: 

#7 Think About Responsive Design

google home desktop site
Browsing Google Nest devices on desktop lets you see the full range of products at once

As we’ve discussed, COVID-19 has kept many of us at home at times when we are used to being on the go, be it commuting to work, running errands, sitting in coffeehouses, and so on. Fast forward to 2020, and many people are bound to their couch or home office, where it’s easier to do online shopping (and browsing) from their desktop computer. 

Accommodate Preferences for Desktop Browsing

If, up until recently, you’ve appropriately been designing your sites with a “mobile-first” design, you may want to think about looking into the other side of the coin, and designing with a “desktop-first” mindset. This can involve focusing on features such as adding more explanatory and descriptive texts (now that you have more space), adding more images and visuals of your product, being more liberal with the amount of decorative accents and effects you add throughout your site, adding additional motion effects, such as image zoom, and even adding larger sizes images for more detailed viewing.

#8 Provide Social Proof

ikea social proof
Ikea devotes a large popup sidebar to customer reviews and ratings

Whether it’s because of the standard set by Amazon of hearing fellow consumers giving non-biased input about your product of interest, or simply because people like to support their decision making, user reviews have become a must in the online shopping experience.

Make Sure Your Customer Reviews Are Plentiful

Especially when the holiday shopping season is fiercely competitive for online retailers, shoppers are often more likely to buy from a website with online reviews, rather than from a site without user feedback. 

Bazaarvoice’s Shopper Experience Index found that when comparing product pages with no product reviews to those with at least one review, pages with a review experienced a 354% increase in conversion rate. Shoppers want accountability, and they want it now. Our tendency as critical thinkers to follow the “wisdom of the crowd” means that a positive user review about a product is significantly reassuring during our buying process, and can make or break a sale. 

Social proof and user feedback can come in a variety of forms which are easy to add to your website, such as product ratings (which we discussed earlier), as well as customer testimonials, in the form of a Testimonial Carousel. Testimonial carousels are a great way to integrate trustworthy, engaging and uniquely designed testimonials and reviews to your site. Adding the interactive touch to your content, giving the visitor the option to read it at his own pace is a small design detail that can go a long way.

Happy Shopping!

Embracing the rise of e-commerce this holiday season is definitely a creative albeit uplifting way to see the silver lining on the COVID-19 cloud. Give shoppers a chance to explore your products and unique offerings in the comfort of their own home, without any need to bundle up and hit the streets, only to trample over fellow holiday shoppers. 

As fun as it is to peruse around the stores and go on a full-blown shopping spree, there’s something comforting and opportune about finding a great deal on your online store of choice. Eager online shoppers are excited to be fully decked out in their 2019 holiday pajamas that they salvaged from last year’s sale rack — and need to replace for 2020.