eCommerce in 2020: 5 Year-End Challenges to Start Tackling
So far, 2020 has been anything but certain for eCommerce brands. Further, we expect many more challenges with the year-end shopping season rapidly approaching. For eCommerce in 2020, consider these 5 year-end challenges to tackle now. The big lesson is that we can prepare and get it right, but the time to start is now.
With that in mind, we are going to look at some of the most significant stressors you will face in the coming months. We will consider how to start tackling them. Further, there are a few places where you can turn trouble into opportunity. There is no time to waste, so let us get started with your calendar.
1. Plan for important dates
While the COVID-19 pandemic threw most 2020 eCommerce planning out the window, there are still a few things it has not changed. Most importantly, you know that your customers are ready for some year-end shopping. The holidays are not going to shift much — with a couple of notable exceptions we will talk about later. So, start putting together your calendars for everything related to your business.
A few of the most important dates of 2020 to know:
- Thanksgiving is on November 26th
- Black Friday is November 27th
- Cyber Monday happens on November 30th
- The year-end holiday shopping period generally runs from December 3rd through 21
Get your sales and promotional items ready. Test your marketing messaging and review your sales channels. Test the fulfillment process for anything new that you do. This includes things like extra inserts or branded packaging or giving people freebies with an order. No matter if your year-end holiday efforts kick off on Black Friday or a month earlier in October, you want planning to happen now.
An essential part of this planning is checking your inventory and demand forecasts. eCommerce companies have seen disruption in their supply chains in 2020. You do not want that to happen during the time the bulk of sales occur. Check with suppliers, get bulk orders in now, and plan your freight.
If you have space and budget, order ahead of time. Work with suppliers to be flexible to their needs. And do not forget your packaging. If eCommerce experiences a boom during this time, that will mean more people are trying to buy the same boxes, envelopes, tape, and fillers as you. You will need to order that packaging ahead of time to avoid running out, paying extra, or having to delay shipments.
2. Expand options for price sensitivity
eCommerce is expanding rapidly, and people who tried digital commerce during the pandemic are likely to use it as a primary way to shop during the holidays. Salesforce’s digital index shows industry gains may be here to stay and that people searching for products online have among the highest intent to buy.
A core takeaway from that trend is that when people find you, they want to buy if you can meet their needs. Unfortunately, many economies have had mixed recoveries and recurrences of coronavirus concerns. People still want to spend this holiday, but smaller budgets are likely.
Tackle that cost challenge by expanding your product list or offering deals designed to meet lower budgets. Consider the discounts you provide or other ways to reduce costs. If you do not have the flexibility to add more, lower-cost products to your mix, think about making free shipping more available or lowering your discounts and deals. Someone who is on the fence about affording a “buy two, get one free” offer might be more inclined to bite if you provide some “buy one get one 50% off” savings options.
Remember, this is all about the first sale. So, you might be able to create initial offers that are cheap but then require refills, such as the razor-and-blades model. Or consider offering subscription services with discounts in the first few months. Subscription billing helps people get in the habit of paying for something and budgeting for your goods on a recurring basis.
Being proactive about subscription services — especially notifications on price changes or when an annual pass renews — is a fantastic way to control complaints and costs while still growing your sales base.
3. Prepare for returns, a critical eCommerce challenge at a busy time
The holiday season is always a critical time for returns. When looking at all eCommerce last year, reports suggest that 25% of annual returns happened between Thanksgiving 2019 and the end of January 2020. Projections show an increase in returns during this year’s holiday season, too.
So, returns are going to be a part of your business no matter what. Even if you have a ‘no-refunds’ policy, you are generally legally required to replace defective goods you sell. You are going to have to use team members to manage customer concerns.
Turn returns into a competitive advantage by offering a smart policy that can even increase future sales. Start by creating a clear policy that is easy to find and understand, which gets people to buy in the first place. Set clear deadlines and set expectations. For example, you may want to tell people that returns can take slightly longer to process during this time because of the increase in overall orders.
Once you have done that, work with your warehouse team or 3PL to understand how returns are physically processed. Ensure you have got extra space and workforce to respond as returns come in. Remind people of the requirements for a product to be checked and put back into your inventory after a return. Clear internal policies can help maintain inventory quality and keep processes moving instead of creating a backlog.
One of our favorite tips is to look within your eCommerce returns capabilities. Use its tools or look for integration partners that can make it easy for customers to print a return label. It automates a lot of manual, time-intensive processes and can ultimately be a cost-saver.
For increased success, reduced questions, and better internal processes, consider creating an illustrated guide of returns steps and requirements.
4. Help people shop early
While we first noted that your business could not change the timing of the year-end holidays, there is one that can: Amazon. And what we are talking about is Prime Day, which is set to be later in the year than usual but might end up pushing some holiday shopping earlier at the same time.
This year, Amazon is moving Prime Day to Q4, and it has currently told sellers to reserve the week of October 5th as a placeholder. Pushing back that late could quickly turn Prime Day into a major holiday shopping event. Prime Day often raises eCommerce sales for other marketplaces and companies running sales, not just Amazon. If people cannot find what they want on Amazon, they are ready to spend and willing to look elsewhere.
Plan for this and run campaigns or make your offers on or ahead of Prime Day. Have sales that overlap and try to earn some new customers while Amazon does the demanding work of getting people in the mood to buy.
What you will want to ensure that you do is help people see why buying from you then is smart. Consider making an offer for free or reduced shipping. Note that their order will arrive in plenty of time for wrapping. Talk about the stress your shoppers will not have to experience on Black Friday or other worries. The coronavirus is still lurking in all our minds and increasing the stress and anxiety of your customers. Have messaging that combines deals with help and relief.
If you are not able to get ready by October, watch Prime Day sales to see what products like yours do well and their price points. It will give you insight into what to offer and how to price it to be compelling.
5. Read up on fraud, especially in payments
While your team is managing internal processes and activities to help customers and manage fulfillment, leadership needs to take time to review your business structure and security. One of the chief concerns here comes with fraudulent orders and payments. These can wreak havoc on your overall profitability and increase worries across the board.
As eCommerce grows, so will the risk of fraud. Start reading up on current trends and best practices specific to the goods you sell and the eCommerce platforms and sales channels you use. Facebook sales fraud will look different than Amazon, eBay, or the other sales channels, for example.
Payment providers can be a significant help on current trends as well as protections. PayPal regularly puts out updates on eCommerce fraud and makes recommendations on digital fraud tools. You will also want to train your team on phishing and other attacks to protect against social engineering. Clicking on one lousy link is all it takes, unfortunately.
If you have shifted where people work due to COVID-19, be sure to look at cybersecurity best practices for remote teams, too. Anyone with access to your network or system can create risk. With so many transactions going on, fraudsters will try to sneak by you with links, stolen cards, faked accounts, and much more.
Get your plan together now.
Is your planning team together?
One unifying feature about year-end challenges in eCommerce is that everything needs to be tested and checked again and again. Processes for returns and refunds need to occur on software and warehouse levels. Marketing campaigns should get A/B testing and all your landing pages reviewed ahead of time. New products and partnerships, expansions of inventory, and even the materials to pack up orders should be ready ahead of schedule.
It all takes an immense amount of planning. So, that is the first step and one you should take today. Identify the roles and responsibilities of these initiatives and create a list of people who are involved. Define who can verify each of these elements and how they will play a role in the day-to-day activities when the year-end is here. But remember, planning is the first of eCommerce in 2020 challenges 5 year-end to tackle now.
Do not let deadlines creep up on you before you are ready and have a team in place. Get your people together now. Rely on them to help you with these and many more challenges you will face throughout the rest of 2020.
Thanks to Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment for the ideas and content of this article. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.
Consider our article on How eCommerce Can Keep Your Small Business Going Strong. eCommerce software options can be found at Accounting Software World. If you are new to eCommerce, consider our article on Advantages of Starting an Online Shop and Easy Ways to Start.