With the holidays just around the corner it helps to know at least some of what customers search for in the way of promotions online. You should already know what your customer base likes as far as promos go, but there hasn’t been a better time to take a good look at your shipping policy and process.
By now you should know that free shipping is a sales driver—it always has been and likely always will be. But for some, a good refresher helps. A quick view of Google Trends shows you the weight that free shipping plays especially during the holidays.
Here’s some more proof that free shipping is high on customer want lists. And here’s a post that shows the sales results generated from testing various types of shipping promotions (although there were tested during none holiday seasons.)
Shipping Best Practices
1. Don’t Make Customers Login to Get Shipping Rates: How would you feel if you went shopping on the internet and found that you had to login just to view shipping rates? Lousy huh? It’s not right, and your customers won’t go for it. The questions of “how much does shipping cost” and “how fast can I get it” are top of the customers mind and to make them login in order to get it will cost you precious sales. Customers should be able to see the cost for shipping on the shopping cart page and it should be an option on the product pages as well. If you base your prices on the location where the order will be shipped, give people the ability to enter their zip code for a quote.
2. Include Shipping Info on all Product Pages: The product info page is one of those pages where shipping questions often arise. Customers want to know if “I add this item to my cart, how much is it going to cost to ship it.” As a result, giving the customers the ability to see shipping times and costs from or on the product pages should be an option. Offering a link to the shipping rates and policies is a good idea but an even better one is using something like AJAX or a tabbed view to enable the customer to get their shipping rates without the need to leave the page they are on.
3. Link to Shipping Page from Shopping Cart: In the shopping cart where customers select the shipping method, be sure to provide more information regarding each what they can expect with each option.
4. Don’t Try to Make a lot of Money off Shipping: Customers are shoppers and can find shipping rates for similar items (on competitor sites) very easily. They are often sensitive to high shipping prices. Don’t attempt to make “more money” (profit from) raising shipping and handling rates. It will backfire on you.
5. Consider Offering Free Shipping at Level Above your Average Order Value: If your average order value is $45, consider offering free shipping at $55 in to increase that average value. Here are 4 more tips for increasing for increasing your average order value.
6. Show Delivery Estimates by Region: On your shipping page, show a map of UPS or Fedex estimated delivery times based on region. These graphics are often provided by your shipping carriers and can easily be downloaded and placed on your site.
7. Ship Next Business Day as a Norm. Ship Express Orders Same Day: Customers want things fast. Even if they purchased 3-5 day shipping, you need to make sure you get all orders out the door the next day (that being at least the day after the order arrived.) In general, make it a point to process orders within 1 business day. There is no reason to sit on orders and doing so increases your chances of the order not arriving on time—and that leads to unhappy customers.
For those that choose “1 Day Express”, “2 Day Express” etc… shipping methods (if you offer them), consider shipping these orders the same day you get the order in (up to a certain cut-off time.) Express means that and you should treat the shipment that way. An example of terminology for this type of method might be “All orders received before 1:00 PM EST are shipped the same day”.
8. Provide Tracking Numbers: You should be doing already this but it needs to be mentioned. A critical time to start building customer relationships is directly after an order. Customers want to know that the order they placed has in fact been received, and want to be able to track that package’s progress to their doorstep.
As soon as you receive the tracking numbers and shipping information you should promptly email your customers promptly and relay that tracking info to them. If your system enables it make the tracking number a link directly to the carrier’s website (or your own) which pulls up the delivery schedule for them. It provides an extra layer of usability and that small gesture will be appreciated by your customer in the long run.
9. Don’t Ignore or Point Fingers on Lost Shipments: If you ship any level of items over the Internet it is bound to happen at some time. A shipment will get lost in the shuffle. Although it may not be your fault, you need to work with the customer to correct the situation. Don’t point fingers. Instead help solve the problem. If that means re-shipping the order then do it.
10. Under Promise, Over-deliver: Don’t try promise something you can’t back up. Give yourself a shipping cushion. To avoid unrealistic delivery times, you may want to add 1 or 2 (or even 3) days padding on to your delivery times estimates (except for overnight, 1 and 2 day options of course.) Companies like Dell and Amazon.com tend to do this pretty well (for the most part). They say “3-5 day shipping” (for example) and you get the package in 2 days.
I like to provide the cushion so that if it gets to the customer in 5 days they are still happy. If it gets there early they are excited. But if you offered 2 day shipping and they got it in 3 they would be mad. Get the idea? Give a window and deliver asap. You’re customers will thank you for it.
Just a reminder here to everyone that today is the last day to take advantage of the Free Website Video Review I am performing for anyone who joins my online coaching program Ecommerce Amplifier.
The reviews have been more than beneficial to those who have already received them and in many cases have helped increase their website conversion in as little as one week.
If you want to take advantage of this offer you need to do it today. My coaching program comes with a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee so you have nothing to lose.
I’ll be moving through the reviews as fast as possible and will complete them so you can implement the suggested alterations in time to gain additional holiday sales.
In addition to the limited time video reviews members can also download a ton of bonuses including source templates, cart add-ons, graphic files and more from my Vault as well as get access to the members only forums.
More information on this can be found in my original post on the launch of Ecommerce Amplifier here.
The holidays are quickly approaching and you should already be pushing promos geared toward that (and have others planned). However, this timely post provides you with a checklist of things to consider while moving toward the holidays.
1. Ensure your checkout process is stable and the shopping cart is streamlined.
You should be aware of this part of your site all the time, but take one good look at it and make sure it is working (and across multiple browsers) before the holiday shopping season hits big. It does you no good to get an customer who is interested in your product(s) put items into their cart and then abandon due to circumstances that could have been avoided.
2. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
If your website is working and is smooth, now is not the time to try new programming alterations etc… You might risk introducing a bug or problem into the current process and if it can wait, you should put all your major changes off and sit tight until the holiday season passes. Instead, focus on sales efforts. Sales are more important than new innovations during the 4th quarter.
3. Ensure your search marketing and ads reflect the holiday things people are looking for.
Free shipping, big discounts, buy one get one free, etc… are all big items people consider during the holidays especially. Also consider running ads during the holiday season only that reflect products people are looking for (that you offer).
With the major engines you can easily schedule your ads to run during a given period (I recommend creating a new campaign(s) and calling it “holiday” or something like that.) You can break this new campaign into various ad groups that all target different holiday products.
Schedule it to run during the holiday season only and end it when the holidays are over. This is something that can really help boost sales.
I recently worked with a retailer that had some holiday products (limited time) which just arrived. A quick search of Google Trends told me the exact points in time each of these products was in it heaviest demand on the internet and thus we setup a number of ads targeting those keywords and products. The results were immediate with new sales coming in within a few hours.
4. Utilize your Social Media channels to ensure you spread the word about your offers.
Viral marketing during this time of the year is something you simply can’t overlook. Good news (and offers) spread fast!
5. Tweak navigational elements to cater to the holiday shopper.
Consider adding the following temporary categories to your navigation during the holidays.
Gifts by Price: Organize and suggest gifts by price range. For example, highlight gifts under $10, 25, 50, 100 or whatever price points are appropriate for your business. Maybe try a “Gifts Under $10” category or something.
Gifts by Person: Organize gifts intended for different people groups such as kids, teens, parents, and grandparents. Consider a “Gifts for Him” or “Gifts for Her” category as well as “Gifts for Boys” and or “Gifts for Girls.”
6. Showcase stocking stuffers.
Be sure to highlight low cost products that would make good stocking stuffers. You may even want to utilize these types of items for “cross promotional selling” as a way to increase your average order value.
7. Make sure your shipping and return info is clearly marked on your product pages.
Again, this is something that I say should be there all the time anyhow, but during the holidays you better have it. Shipping and return issues will be top of mind for your customers at this time and one of the first places the begin to seek answers to these questions is on the product page. Be sure you display or link to your shipping and returns pages from your product pages.
A favorite way I like of doing this is to provide a “tabbed” experience as is the case with many big online retailers and providing tabs for the product description, shipping info, returns info etc… This is a super way to keep the user on the product page and still provide them with the information they seek.
8. Consider offering gift wrapping.
If your business can do it, consider offer gift wrapping services to your customers. You can add this as an “upsell” on the product page (and remember to cross sell it on the shopping cart page in case they missed it) but be sure to add enough additional charge to cover any labor and materials associated with this.
9. Create product bundles.
Product bundles are a great way of increasing average order value and sales across the board. Consider taking several related products and grouping them into a “gift package” at a discounted rate than if the items were purchased separately (this too will encourage sales.) Gift selection is much easier when related items are grouped together in some sort of gift basket or bundle.
10. Consider gift messages.
If you r cart enables you to do so let your customers add a personal message to their gift. For simplicity, you can have the message appear on the packing list which will already be included in the box. If your cart doesn’t enable that, consider using the “Additional Comments” box (which many carts have by default) as an opportunity for them to add their gift message. Just ensure this message appears on the packing slip as well.
11. Determine shipping cut-off dates.
This is probably one of the most important pieces of information to communicate to customers during the holidays. Check with your shipping carriers to determine what the cutoff days are for the various methods of shipping. Ensure you add a “guaranteed arrival in time for (name your holiday here) if ordered before (name your date here.)”
12. Prominently display your return policy.
As mentioned above, your return policy should be easy to find. Consider re-wording it as a “no hassle” policy in order to calm the fears of first time buyers (if you are not already doing so).
If your current policy is stiff, consider loosening it up during the holiday season. While a 30 day return policy is commonplace for the rest of the year, it may scare off early shoppers during the holidays. Make it clear to your visitors that you will accept returns and exchanges on all Christmas (or name your own holiday) gift purchases. This ensures them that they can expect total satisfaction.
QVC always does a super job of wording their return policy during the holidays—Why? because it works.
13. Show holiday spirit in your graphics.
Go ahead, decorate for the holidays! Consider redesigning some of the artwork on your site with a holiday theme. If you do any shopping (or searching) on the internet you’ll see all the big players do this. Even Google decorates for the holidays by reworking their logo to get you in the buying mood.
14. Ensure your server can handle any increased capacity.
If you don’t host in-house, talk with your web host about how you can increase your server performance during the holiday rush. The quickest way to lose sales is to have a website that is not online or is very slow. This will not only cost you holiday sales, but will likely cost you many future customers as well so the effect can be long term.
If you are on a shared hosting platform and looking for hosting, I recommend Media Temple as an option.
If you are looking for a dedicated hosting solution, no one beats Rackspace in my opinion. (I would not recommend moving your site to a new hosting platform if you are in the midst of the holiday shopping season though!) If you weren’t prepared for the rush then you’re just going to have to wait till next year to make the move. Lesson learned.
15. Enable customers to ship to alternate locations than the one they are buying from.
If a customer is buying a gift for someone that does not live near them they may want to have it simply shipped to to the recipient’s address as a holiday gift surprise.
16. Communicate with fulfillment & customer service.
Make everyone involved in the order process aware of any promotions etc… you plan on running. Don’t surprise your customer service and fulfillment staff with an unplanned 24 hour blowout sale.
Taking 10,000 orders in a day is great, but if your warehouse can only ship 5,000, you’re in for trouble.
17. Ensure your email campaigns promote the holiday offers and your website backs those up.
If you are running any email campaigns you need to ensure that offers presented in the emails are easily found and similarly presented on your website. Consider using similar graphics and pushing the traffic to specific landing pages on your website that are setup to convert that traffic.
It’s all about relevancy here. The more relevant the site is in comparison to the email offer, the more success you’ll have generating sales.
18. Consider offering gift certificates.
Even if you do not offer gift certificates any other time of the year, consider offering them during the holiday season. These often provide an added option for shoppers who may not have a “wish list” but know someone they are buying for likes to shop at your store.
These might also be a way to get “last minute” shoppers to buy—that is, providing your cart offers the ability to generate “digital gift certificates” that are sent and redeemed online (rather than printed or sent in a traditional “gift card”.