* This article was originally posted on Linkedin.com *
Before I lived and breathed e-commerce, I managed a 30,000 square-foot brick and mortar store. I understand that for any retailer, the holiday season is, frankly, chaos.
The days leading up to major shopping days like Black Friday or Boxing Day include a lot of prep work. When the big day arrives, you may actually find yourself a bit overprepared.
In brick and mortar stores, these are all-hands-on-deck days. The goal is that every customer leaves happy. The holidays may be your only chance to make an impression—they may be the only time of the year many of these people come to your store.
The Importance of Capturing and Converting During the Holidays
My stores did a lot of planning in October and November, considering what techniques and tactics we could use to get people to come back after the holidays. We knew that we couldn’t be selfish—after all, our brick and mortar traffic was finite.
Online traffic is so abundant right now that it leads to a lot of waste and missed opportunities. In brick and mortar retail, you’re counting traffic in hundreds—not hundreds of thousands. Smart businesses tend to be a lot more thoughtful with their approach.
We employed tools like bag stuffers (coupons that offered discounts on future purchases), and our biggest email list drive of the year also occurred during the holiday season. We incentivized signing up for emails with in-store gift draws. We always tried to stretch the goodness as far into the next season as possible.
The question to ask yourself is this: What can we learn about capitalizing on holiday sales from the brick and mortar approach of yesteryear? How do we approach these high-traffic days and make the most of them? (I want to note here that while the winter holidays are often the busiest of the year for many companies, these principles can be applied year-round, whenever your brand’s busy season falls.)
Naturally, you want to treat your regular customers to something special during this time, but the real challenge is converting the window shopper. Your regulars and your die-hard brand loyalists are in your store or on your site daily. They have an existing relationship with you—you’ve already built equity.
Those curious newcomers are the ones you don’t get a chance to influence all the time. Bringing them into the fold requires a more customized approach. There are four essential elements to doing it right.
1. Listen and Adjust
Enter any holiday season understanding that you’ll have to make many minor pivots and adjustments as you go. If not, you’re not listening to your customers!
Active listening can come in many forms. A tool I really love using is the post-interaction survey, which should be sent the moment an order is fulfilled, shipped, or delivered.
Even something as simple as, “Would you refer us to a friend?” can garner a genuine emotional response. Approaching these new customers for feedback in a timely manner with kindness and a sincere desire to hear about their experience can make all the difference in creating a repeat customer.
Social media can also provide great feedback channels for new customers. Whatever methods you employ, I would encourage you to create a listening team within your company that addresses questions and concerns in real time. Empower them to make the changes necessary to carry you through this peak season.
2. Be Proactive
With the number of checkpoints, milestones, and shipment scans in a typical ecommerce fulfillment process these days, your customer should never have to chase you down about a problem with their order. There is so much real-time data available now that a shipment should never fall off the map.
You must be proactive about your shipping and monitoring. Yes, there are going to be issues. There will be delays and lost packages and things shipped to incorrect addresses. But if there is an issue with a shipment, you had better make sure you know about it before your customer finds out!
People expect brands to be on top of these sorts of things, but very few actually provide adequate shipping and monitoring support. We need to strive harder. You’re never going to be as perfect as consumers expect you to be, but if you can delight a few and proactively fix as many issues as possible—especially around critical drop times—that’s what matters. This is when trust is earned or lost.
When you’re in the weeds, processing your highest volume of orders all year, customer service can easily fall by the wayside. However, especially when converting new shoppers, customer service response times are vital. Even an automated reply (“We’ve received your order and are working hard to get it ready to ship,” for example) can set a customer’s mind at ease.
If you’re buried in processing orders or other work, but your inbox is filling up with customer questions, it can be tempting to shelve them for later. But simply replying with, “Thanks for reaching out! We have received your message and we’ll be in touch ASAP,” can keep a customer from getting upset. This kind of proactive communication lets them know they’re being heard and that you value their business.
I get really put off when I have a single transaction with a company, and then all of the sudden I’m getting seven emails a week from them with nothing but hard sales pushes. I get it—you’re fighting for attention in an incredibly crowded space. But there’s really no quicker way to get into my spam box than pulling this move. Whether Google is hiding your emails automatically because you look like a spammer, or I’m doing it manually because you’re irritating me, your communications may be getting relegated to the trash heap.
The companies that hook me are those that extend me an invitation to come back and receive additional value of some sort. Sometimes it’s a coupon. Sometimes it’s something more tangible, such as free embroidery or a partner referral.
I’ve had companies send me samples of products related to what I ordered for my first purchase, or a coupon for 20 percent off my next order with no expiration date. The key here is to invite people back, not sell them back.
Keep People First
Successful conversion during the holidays all comes down to tailoring your engagement with new clients and making people feel like they’ve had an experience. Remember that you’re not just selling or marketing at people—you have to invite them to partake in what you’re doing as a brand.
The world throws advertising at us every day to see what sticks, but that’s not how loyal customers are made. And the holidays are a perfect time to generate major customer conversion.
A colleague of mine recently shared with me her experience with a small candle company called Frostbeard Studio, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She made her first purchase after seeing a Facebook ad during the holiday season.
She suspected she’d been targeted because of her love of reading (all of Frostbeard’s scents have literary inspirations). But after being pleased with the product, she joined their loyalty program and began buying semi-regularly.
After placing an order one day, she received a personal email from the business owner, thanking her for her repeat business and kind words on social media. My colleague continues to buy from them regularly and has turned at least a dozen other friends on to their candles. By taking a few minutes out of her day to send an email, that shop owner created a brand ambassador that is helping grow her business in a genuine, grassroots fashion.
Remember this story during the holiday season. Customer conversion is not all about the flashy decorations or the doorbuster sales. Focus on making impressions and making connections—I promise you’ll reap what you sow.