International sales – newbie or seasoned pro?
For UK-based online sellers, 2016 could see a very interesting holiday period, thanks to Brexit.
In fact, UK-based e-tailers selling outside the UK could see their best ever holiday sales, enjoying the best of both worlds - at least until Article 50 is triggered: continued selling in the EU while the UK is still a member, combined with a more competitive footing for non-EU selling – in the US in particular, given the weakness of the pound against the US dollar.
At the same time, domestic spending seems to be remarkably buoyant too.
Brexit aside, what are the expectations of online retailers for the 2016 holiday period compared with their experience in 2015?
According to the latest ChannelAdvisor survey, it’s a bit of a mixed bag:
- 27% expect an increase in sales of between 1-10%
- 19% expect an increase of over 15%
- 22% expect a decrease against last year.
When asked ‘What is your biggest e-commerce challenge during the holiday/Christmas season?’, respondents to the same survey reported the main challenges anticipated by online retailers as:
- 51% - fulfilling orders on time
- 28% - adjusting to competitor activity, such as promotions
Picking up on the first of these, you don’t need me to tell you that it is absolutely crucial to keep on top of the inventory you will need to fulfil spikes in sales generated by pre-Christmas industry events and your own promotions. Keeping products on Amazon stocked is essential both for your bottom line and to maintain your reputation - particularly if you are using Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA).
In 2015, delivery expectations by consumers were heading towards two days or less – driven no doubt by Amazon Prime. Make sure your delivery options are in line with these expectations – customers will switch to a competitor for a better delivery deal.
The communication of guaranteed delivery dates is particularly important pre-Christmas.
Don’t forget to flag latest guaranteed delivery dates to your customers well before the Cyber weekend begins as part of your email marketing: some 30% online retailers surveyed by ChannelAdvisor said 20 December will be their cut-off date for guaranteed on-time Christmas delivery – though a brave 6 % are offering 24 December!
In terms of matching and beating competitor activities, this is the time of year to make sure you stand out from your competitors - and promotions are a major strategy for doing this and increasing Christmas sales.
Quite apart from any attention-grabbing Cyber weekend promotions you may be planning – try to incorporate enticing discounts and free shipping options throughout the pre-Christmas period: discounts applied over a certain spend level, for example, or to specific lines, or for a fixed 24-hour period.
You will hopefully have built up a solid email marketing list throughout the rest of the year that is ripe for harvesting in this final quarter for offers, competitions and announcements of newly arrived products. All grist to the mill for the final push.
18% UK online retailers plan to offer more holiday promotions than last year
21% plan to offer more promotions on Black Friday
17% will offer free shipping/returns
The top strategy for 38% of online retailers in the UK to increase holiday/Christmas sales is to increase digital marketing/advertising. If you have not already done so, now is the time to decide where to spend that additional budget.
Facebook is considered particularly powerful for e-tailers in retargeting. It has expanded its audience network to include the mobile web and has rolled out in-store tracking through its Offline Conversions API.
Google ads are also becoming more powerful: four text ads are now shown on top of organic results and there is a new user interface. Google has also announced that it is looking to enhance the shopping experience for users searching on broad terms, which account for about 40 percent of all shopping-oriented searches.
Amazon ads continue to evolve, with Amazon often now the start point for shopping trips rather than Google.
Spreading the word: social media
Don’t forget how effective social media can be in the run-up to Christmas – particularly in drawing attention to promotions and events and in getting users to ‘like’ or recommend products in your store.
An enticing web-site that delivers a seamless shopping experience
In view of pre-holiday events such as Cyber weekend and your own extra promotional activities – you need to be sure your website can cope with the additional traffic.
Customers have high expectations of the browsing and purchase process online. More discerning and impatient than ever, they expect a seamless experience when visiting your web store. If they don’t get this, they will try your competitor. Offering high performance and the capacity to handle peak buying days is essential.
If you haven’t already looked back at how your website coped last Christmas – now is the time to do so to identify any instances where customer expectations were not met and ensure that any changes needed have been done. Take particular pains to ensure you can handle mobile traffic smoothly. During Q4 2015, mobile searches eclipsed desktop searches for the first time.
Your web-site needs to be capable of providing a superlative experience across buying peaks before you even send out your first pre-Christmas mailing.
And don’t forget to incorporate plenty of ‘Christmas spirit’ to get browsers in the buying mood. This needn’t be a full Christmas shop – insightful Christmas blogs or online gift guides can also attract and engage visitors to your store.
Regular email marketing campaigns
As noted earlier, you should be using your mailing list to inform of promotions and events; to communicate the latest guaranteed delivery dates; and to try to bring your customers’ shopping forward by creating a sense of urgency.
Re-target visitors to your online store, particularly recent visitors in the previous 2-3 days, who have left without making a purchase. The more recent the visit, the more likely the opportunity to convert to purchase.
It is particularly important at this time of year to follow up abandoned shopping carts and send out reminders. Also, to try to identify why the cart was abandoned: do people abandon when they see the total cost including shipping or when they get to the payment methods? Are they enticed away because they realise the overall deal from a competitor is more appealing? Do you need to offer a free delivery promotion? Do you need to offer additional payment options – maybe even bitcoin or third-party payment wallets (eg Apple Pay, Amazon Payments as well as PayPal)? Do you need to match a competitor’s promotion?
To keep your last quarter sales activity on track, these are the key dates that should be ingrained in everything you are planning:
- Singles Day (China), 11 November
- Thanksgiving (US), 24 November
- Black Friday, 25 November
- Cyber Monday, 28 November
- Christmas Day, 25 December
- Boxing Day, 26 December
- New Year’s Day, 1 January
Finally – if you are already a cross-border seller or if the fall of Sterling has persuaded you to sell internationally for the first time, adjust your campaigns to fit the local audience: for the US, for example, ramp up your efforts for Thanksgiving and Black Friday; if you are selling into China – don’t forget Singles Day, which falls on 11 November.
And if you are selling internationally this holiday season, don’t forget the importance of managing currency conversions generated by the biggest trading season of the year. Currency movements have an immediate and real impact on the bottom-line of online retail businesses involved in cross-border trade - and it is particularly difficult to manage currency risk in periods of uncertainty and high volatility (as post-Brexit).
You may consider using a currency specialist to help you with this task. After all, you don’t want to see your overseas Christmas sales result in New Year losses!
The report quoted in this article is ChannelAdvisor’s 2016 Online Retail Survey, extracts of which are available at http://go.channeladvisor.com/Webinar-Ultimate-E-Commerce-Holiday-Checklist-08162016-LP-Main.html?source=webretailer-webinars