As the holiday season approaches, merchants’ biggest concern is the customer experience – ensuring that customers’ encounters with their business are friction-free and pleasant, with the ultimate goal of securing conversions and long-term customers. Challenging in its own right, offering a seamless customer experience is made more difficult in light of constantly-changing customer expectations.
Here are some ways merchants can adapt behind the scenes to meet customer needs and preferences this holiday season and, of course, to optimize their results.
Today, no shopper is 100% protected from the threat of a data breach, but security should be a top concern of every merchant. Data breaches do not only damage the merchant-customer relationship and a business’s reputation; they also incur hefty expenses for the merchant. When consumers dispute fraudulent charges, the merchant loses the money from the sale and is charged additional chargeback penalty fees by its payment processor. This can amount to large losses.
While security technology can be expensive, it is a worthwhile investment in the long run for retaining customers and turning a profit over the holidays.
Make it Happen:
Online: Make sure your fraud detection technology is up to snuff. Many anti-fraud technologies enable merchants to automatically flag purchases from certain locations or above certain amounts, allowing for further review to make sure that no fraudulent purchases are approved.
In-Store: Consider upgrading your payment terminals before the high-traffic holiday season. As of October, merchants in the United States can upgrade their POS hardware to EMV compliant terminals to shift fraud liability and prevent fraudsters from skimming card data for online purchases.
Move to Mobile
In the past year there’s been a lot of hype about mobile and even wearable payments. Be ready for customers who might want to test out paying with their phones – either online or in your physical store. According to eMarketer, consumers are already using their phones as part of the shopping experience: 85% of consumers use their phones to research products and prices in-store , and 29% of e-commerce purchases in the U.S. are made on mobile phones .
Make it Happen:
Online: If you haven’t yet, make sure your ecommerce website is optimized for mobile, so shopping on one’s phone is easy and comfortable. Make sure your checkout mechanism enables you to remember past customers, so shoppers aren’t forced to resubmit payment details on their phone – this can lead to frustration and abandoned purchases.
In-Store: If you’ve invested in contactless terminals to accept mobile wallets in-store, make sure you’re ready to use them quickly and efficiently. Just because consumers are excited by the prospect of mobile payments, that does not mean they will necessarily know how to pay by phone. As such, be sure to brief your employees on how the payment process works, so they can help expedite customer checkout.
The holiday season is also a busy time for tourism. If you are looking to attract more international customers as December rolls around – whether to your e-commerce site or your local store – it is crucial that you take the time to understand the multicultural audiences to whom you will be selling. Depending on where your customer is based, shopping holidays are different, as are expectations regarding promotions, products available, and even checkout processes.
For instance, your global promotions should be optimized for the major shopping holidays of the different international audiences you want to reach. For example, just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday occur in the U.S. on November 27 and 30, China’s Single’s Day takes place on November 11th, and England and Canada’s Boxing Day isn’t until after Christmas.
Make it Happen:
In-Store: There’s nothing more embarrassing than holding up the checkout line because your credit card has been rejected. Contact your payment processor to ensure that you can accept foreign credit cards without issue. Ultimately, one positive in-store experience could convert an international shopper and encourage him or her to make e-commerce orders on a regular basis.
Online: Similarly, make sure your website can accept locally preferred payment methods of the different countries you’re targeting. Whether your customer is accustomed to paying with international credit card schemes, regional e-wallets, or direct bank transfers, the payment process should be comfortable and familiar, regardless of the consumer’s nationality.
The holiday season is a high-stress shopping time, and consumers both online and in-store have strict agendas. Nothing is more frustrating than going to a store to buy a specific present and finding that it’s out of stock, or ordering a gift for a friend and later learning that it wasn’t received until mid-January. While inventory and shipping logistics are very important to the customer experience all year, they take on particular significance during the holiday season.
Merchants need to be transparent about what products they can offer and when they can ensure delivery.
Make it Happen:
In-Store: If your stock management is not up to par, make sure you find an efficient system for updating product inventory before the holiday season. Shoppers should be able to easily locate their desired product in your store. And when something is out of stock, make sure you can easily find it at another branch and arrange home delivery or in-store pickup.
Online: Consumers expect transparency about delivery options on your website. Make sure to let customers know how soon they must place an order to ensure delivery before the holidays. If you have a brick and mortar store, be flexible about fulfillment options. For example, consider offering “buy online, pickup in-store” (BOPUS) – customers appreciate having autonomy over delivery options.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year… For Merchants
While the holiday season presents challenges for merchants, it also offers a great opportunity to satisfy existing customers and obtain new ones. By bolstering different retail processes that impact the customer experience, merchants can mold the way their brand is perceived and set the tone for a new year of higher conversion and customer retention rates. It’s up to each merchant to make this holiday season the most wonderful time of the year for their customers – and their businesses.