Nov 18 2019

5 Tips on Using Tech to Beat the Holiday Retail Crunch

By making sure their IT systems are prepared to handle the holiday influx of shoppers, retailers can set themselves up for their best year-end run ever.

The holiday shopping period in November and December is the busiest time of the year for retailers — not news to anyone who has seen shoppers lining up outside stores before most others have finished Thanksgiving dinner. 

That sheer volume of transactions means that missing out on even a portion of shoppers’ pent-up demand during this part of the year can be disastrous. And if retailers don’t have their IT systems ready to go, they could quickly find themselves bemoaning a blue holiday. 

This year, online shoppers are projected to spend nearly $144 billion in November and December, up from $126 billion last holiday season, according to Adobe Digital Insight’s report, “2019 Holiday Shopping Trends.” 

Although online-only retailers account for a substantial portion of those sales, traditional retailers are also major e-commerce players. In fact, Best Buy led all retailers last year in terms of their boost to online traffic and conversion rates on Cyber Monday and Black Friday, with a twofold increase in conversion and a fivefold traffic spike

Despite robust numbers all around, however, not every retailer had a happy holiday in 2018. Business Insider reported that a number of major retailers saw their websites crash during the season, causing them to lose untold sales revenue

Focus on These 5 Areas of Tech for a Smooth Holiday

To prepare for the crush of shoppers this holiday season, retailers should focus on five areas of IT — the first, and probably most important, being websites. 

In truth, a retailer’s website should probably be priorities No. 1 through 5 all on its own, given its importance in powering e-commerce. Test websites early and often, and put them through the worst possible scenarios.

“If you have not load tested your site at five times normal traffic volumes, your site will probably fail,” Bob Buffone, CTO at web-optimization services company Yottaa, told Business Insider.

Online drop-shipping and custom print fulfillment service Printful recommends in a blog post that retailers should take steps to improve the loading speed of their websites and increase web security features. And they should also avoid making significant changes to sites during the holiday season, lest these result in glitches that become exacerbated during a period of unusually heavy traffic. 

Next, inventory systems. If retailers don’t have a firm grasp on their inventory, they might end up showing customers products they can’t buy, writes Matthieu Blandineau, product marketing manager for the web search service Algolia, in Retail Customer Experience

This not only eats up valuable screen real estate for products that won’t result in any sales revenue, but it can also cause shoppers to go elsewhere out of frustration. 

If retailers don’t already have such tools in place, they must deploy inventory control software to ensure that customers’ searches are accurate up to the second, he wrote. 

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how retailers can protect their inventory from malicious bots.

Analytics, Mobile Devices Help Optimize Customer Experience

It’s not enough, however, to merely produce accurate search results, Blandineau added. Retailers should also be utilizing their customers’ searches to glean insights into shoppers’ demands. These analytics can be used to revamp the online catalog, plan promotions or improve advertising and search engine optimization.

Retail kiosks and point-of-sale solutions can also help to simplify the holiday shopping season by allowing savvy customers to find and purchase what they need on their own, while freeing up store associates to focus on shoppers who need more help. 

Endless-aisle kiosks allow customers to explore additional products, and self-checkout kiosks help break up lines and improve customer satisfaction; 66 percent of shoppers say that they prefer self-service technology, writes Melissa Tally, marketing coordinator for Meridian Kiosks. Some retailers even have smart-locker kiosks, which allow shoppers to place and pay for their orders online, and then pick up products in-store with an access code. 

Point-of-sale solutions — including mobile point-of-sale, or mPOS — can make employees more productive and get customers what they need more quickly. 

While the website is the engine that drives e-commerce, mobile apps and devices are how many shoppers now interact with retail brands. In fact, mobile devices accounted for more than half of all e-commerce traffic and nearly one-third of revenue between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday in 2018. 

Retailers can optimize customers’ mobile experience by building credit card scanners into their apps and designing uncluttered mobile landing pages, Blandineau writes. Also, retailers should account for “research online, purchase offline” shoppers by prominently displaying product reviews and in-store availability.

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