Prepare for Online Holiday Shopping Trends
Expert advice on sprucing up your website ahead of the holiday season.
The end-of-year holiday shopping season remains an important one for small business owners, especially those with online storefronts. Megan Moore and Kali Johnsen of digital experience agency GROW joined our webinar series to talk to our community about how to optimize their websites ahead of the winter holidays and leverage the increased website traffic between October and early January to improve the shopping experience year round.
Plan for a holiday traffic increase, and make the most of it.
Online retailers see the most visits in November and December each year. Moore urged our community to think of those two months as part of a larger cycle that influences how they approach their site throughout the year:
- September and October: Analyze your site’s analytics (or add analytics to your website if you don’t have them) then create a hypothesis you want to test during the November and December peak. You should see whether your hypothesis works fairly quickly because of the influx of traffic during the holiday shopping season.
- November through February: Launch initiatives like seasonal promotions and imagery, then see how they perform. Make minor site changes according to your analytics. Moore also cautioned against making any major changes to your website until at least the top of the new year.
- March through August: How did your site perform in the last several months? Did you prove the hypothesis you set in September or October? Why or why not?
The GROW team members used the example of a business owner observing that their customers put things in their shopping carts but don’t complete purchases. A business owner can then make the hypothesis that simplifying the steps to purchase will double sales. To test that hypothesis, they can then update their site so that a shopper can easily enter their credit card address as the shipping address can create a smoother experience.
Get back to branding basics before going into holiday mode.
It’s tempting to lean into holiday-specific colors and symbols as soon as the seasons change, but Moore believes this time of year is actually the perfect opportunity to revisit your existing branding and values. That includes:
- Voice and tone: Is your brand serious or do you use puns in copy?
- Colors and visuals: What colors do you use and how (e.g. as primary or accents)? Does your branding include organic shapes or geometric ones? Then, you can see how those elements can turn into holiday messaging.
- Unique offerings and positioning: What are your company values? Do you have a mission statement? An incredible return policy?
Once you’ve identified those, think about ways these branding elements can be highlighted for the holidays.
“Think about how your brand can show up for the holidays, even if it’s maybe a little bit more niche or not obvious,” Moore recommended. “What is it that you’re doing that you can help people enjoy the holidays better?” This tactic is especially helpful for service businesses or ones with offerings that don’t generally scream, “Happy holidays”.
Overall, the key is to not lean too much into really specific content. The holiday season is a great chance to reuse existing assets, like imagery, and make minor changes, like the text paired with it. You can also get more mileage out of your website assets if you keep things broad. “Lean into themes that are common across multiple holidays to get the most use out of it,” said Moore. “Think about gifting and gratitude and celebration and parties. Those happen at all different holidays.” Not only will you save resources like time and money, you’ll maintain clear messaging year round, which can help deepen your relationship with customers.
Know what trends influence your customers’ shopping habits.
You can’t keep up with every new social media platform or trend, especially if you have bare-bones marketing resources. The GROW team identified broader holiday shopping trends for small teams to keep their eye on when thinking about their sites.
People shop earlier than you may think.
Some gift givers begin as early as October. They may not be making purchases, but they are considering what their end-of-year purchases will be.
Social issues continue to drive purchasing decisions.
“We’ve seen this growing trend, over the course of the pandemic and beyond, of people shopping with both their heads and their hearts may be more obviously than they had been previously,” explained Moore. That means sharing your brand values on your website or on your social media channels can boost your bottom line.
Brand loyalty is less important than ever.
“We’re not saying it’s going away,” Moore reassured our founders. “But it used to be that people would only shop [from] one brand.” Yes, you may have plenty of repeat customers, but with so many businesses competing for attention, you should count on an influx of new customers this season–and think about the best way to introduce them to your brand.
Social media is for gaining influence and making sales.
Customers have long used social media to research brands and see how those products perform in the real world. Capitalize on this habit during the shopping season by pulling together user-generated content (as in, other people’s TikToks mentioning your business) to show potential customers just how satisfied previous customers were. You can also consider running giveaways on social media.
AI tools are becoming more prevalent.
Many of the existing tools you use to run your business, like your email service provider, include AI components already. Leverage them to better serve your customers. Newer AI tools focused on content creation (e.g. ChatGPT or DALL-E) can help entrepreneurs turn out graphic or editorial content in minutes. These tools can even help with strategy and market research.
The legal system hasn’t caught up to the technology, meaning concerns about privacy and copyright issues persist. To those worried about their intellectual property, Moore explained, “As long as you are not putting any sensitive information in there, you can give it a lot of information and [give the] AI some grounding talk. [Talk to it] as if you would explain your business to a friend, or a family member.” Ask it a few questions and give it an assignment. Of course, you will have to carefully review the output.
Where should you start?
Ultimately, preparing your website for the holiday season is about increasing conversions, engagement, user confidence and brand credibility. In other words, you are trying to increase the things impact your site and business all year.
Managing your website can be overwhelming when you are also filling orders, working with warehouses and everything else an entrepreneur has to take care of. The GROW team recommended making sure the following parts of your website are at their best before implementing any big changes, especially before the winter holidays.
“Navigation is kind of like the invitation to your site. So, you really want it to be welcoming,” said Johnsen. When someone comes to your website to shop or book a service, it should be easy for them to find what it is they want. Confirm that the hierarchy in your navigation reflects the order of importance to your customers. Even a font style or size change can go a long way to underscoring that importance.
Performance and accessibility
Your customers can’t complete a purchase on a website they can’t use. This means both functionality and accessibility should be priorities. Scan for links that lead to dead ends and test various site functions on multiple devices, especially checkout. Make sure your site loads quickly. To that end, you should ensure your images are no larger than 200 kilobytes.
There are several components to website accessibility, but a key place to start is checking your site’s contrast. The contrast of words and background and images should be significant enough to ensure that low-vision users or users browsing with the help of screen readers can see all your content.
What is the most important information shoppers need to know? Make sure essentials like return policy, shipping times and cost are easy to find. You may even consider communicating order deadlines for gifts to reach customers by the big day.
Small businesses can expect to get lots of questions about products and services during this high-volume time of year. Consider adding an AI tool like a chatbot designed to answer questions about sizing, order tracking to get them help as quickly as you can.
It can be overwhelming to decide which site updates to make or prioritize. Decide what metrics matter to your business and, as Moore reminded our community, quality over quantity is the key to moving forward.
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