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Unabandon those Shopping Carts and Turnaround Returns this Holiday Shopping Season

Penelope Stockinger

By Penelope Stockinger

On November 30, 2018

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), fewer people turned out to shop the 5-day shopping extravaganza Black Friday through Cyber Monday last weekend, than last year.  But the industry trade group still predicts holiday sales to climb as much as 4.8% higher than 2017 levels.


“Consumers now view the holiday season as two months,” starting around Halloween, Bill Thorne, Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at NRF, said during a call with members of the media last Tuesday afternoon.


Shoppers also say they still have more than half, or 56 percent, of their holiday shopping left to do, the NRF found in polling 3,058 consumers between Nov. 24 and 25. Ninety-two percent of consumers think the deals they saw during Thanksgiving weekend will either continue or improve for the remainder of the year.


“Black Friday has lost its significance,” Steven Barr, consumer markets leader for PwC, told The Washington Post. “Retailers have conditioned the consumer to believe everything’s on sale every day, which means the deals on Black Friday are not significantly different from any other time.”


What does this mean for retailers?


It means shoppers are out there, and they are busy buying. But as always, it’s a highly competitive selling season.  This time of year, savvy retailers, eTailers and eCommerce companies should look to their product and customer data to attract and hold on to their customers and sales. Here are a couple areas where they can turn an “almost sale” into a sale – and help create long-term customer relationships.


One:   Unabandon the shopping cart


Abandoned shopping cart rates are a burden for many businesses, especially so during the holidays. In fact, 3 out of 4 shoppers never complete the intended purchase on a site. Plus, with the holiday sales events driving a frenzy of online shopping, those rates can be even more problematic. But this can also be an opportunity.  Using shopping cart and customer data to their advantage, retailers can quickly reach out through those abandoned carts and try to reinvigorate the sale, with discount codes or other offers to draw customers back to their sites.


Here are some tips:


Savvy retailers should treat these cart items as if they are “on-hold” and where possible reach out and lure their customers back with enticing offers.  Even around our own office, we’ve been talking about our online shopping experiences.  One of our colleagues says she will definitely bite when the retailer reaches out through the cart she left behind with a coupon code to finish the sale. If sellers assume the cart was abandoned because the customer found a better deal elsewhere, then sellers have the opportunity to reach out with complementary products as well – this is a great opportunity for up-selling, cross selling, and sweetening the deal with other incentives – free shipping, gift wrapping – offering a customer a level of service too good to pass up.   The information needed do this is all in the retailer’s data.


If retailers are using social media channels to reach customers, there are great tools to reconnect shoppers with the carts they left behind here as well.


Last year, eyewear brand Blenders increased its Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales tenfold.  Part of this success was due to the company’s approach to abandoned carts.


Using front end commerce tools like ShopMessage’s automated Facebook Messenger tool, Blenders was able to reel in an additional $40,000 of otherwise lost sales on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.  A great tool for the entire shopping season.


The USPS – has an idea as well, send a card!  With people sending fewer and fewer holiday cards these days, getting something fun in the mailbox, instead of more junk in the inbox – can be attention grabbing.  With this idea in mind, some companies have turned to programmatic mail or, in simpler terms, automated mail triggered by programmatic technology. Abandoned shopping carts from known customers (or customers with known addresses) can trigger an automatic response to come complete the sale – in an unexpected way.


Obviously, if retailers have checked all the selling boxes -great products, prices within range and plenty of promotions – it might be time, post-holiday season, to examine their data and their UX and see where people are getting stuck.  But that is a topic for next year.


Two:  Turn returns around


On the other end of the spectrum are the customers who did complete their transactions, but for a variety of reasons are counting on the generous and sometimes free and easy returns offered by many retailers, especially the larger ones, to quickly reverse the sale.


Scoring huge savings during Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping can be exhilarating for consumers, but if they go overboard, it can lead to buyers’ remorse. Luckily for customers, most major retailers offer generous return policies during the holiday season.  Shoppers also grab deals during the shopping frenzy only to realize that the deals might be getting better, triggering returns.


Worse yet, many shoppers are not happy with their purchase (or receive the wrong thing) and  have to return it.


By the numbers, the Wall Street Journal, reported that last year’s holiday season saw 28 percent of the gifts people purchased were returned, at an estimated value of $90 billion. In a similar study featured in the 2018 Shopify Holiday Ecommerce Returns Guide, Forrester, estimates holiday returns for high-end products surge to more than 50 percent.


If retailers wait until the end of the season to handle returns, letting them pile up instead of turning them around in inventory swiftly, this can cut deeply into profits.  What can retailers do to avoid this?


Here are a few tips:


  1. Make sure shoppers know exactly what they are buying. By providing rich and detailed product descriptions and plenty of images that not only entice customers but also accurately represent products, retailers can ensure their customers know what they are buying.


  1. Arm customer service agents, be they on the phone or online via chat bots (or even automated), with offers and promotions to entice people to keep their products. This works for shoppers still sitting on the fence about their purchases, but can especially help to mend damaged customer relationships if the wrong product was shipped or arrives broken.


  1. For goods that do come back. Sellers should process them and get them back on the shelves as quickly as possible.  Of-course goods flowing back into inventory need to be evaluated, but from there they can swiftly be put back into a company’s warehouse management system.  Considering that the prices of items may drop after the holidays, sweetening the deal for speedy returns can have a more positive financial outcome.


The Role of Data Management as a foundation for nimble and effective eCommerce

In order for retailers to react with cutting edge front end tools and promotions, or swiftly turn returns back to inventory – their product and customer data needs to be ready and in place.  An effective MDM solution manages data coming in from multiple sources – all non-transactional data that relates to the business and transforms it into usable, comprehensible sources of insight. By combining customer and product data, retailers can use this to not only turn around abandoned shopping carts, but also for predicting future buying trends, for example, by bringing together information about previous customer buying history, social media chatter, product and brand data and ratings and reviews from across multiple domains.

Read more about how MDM is so foundational to the retail industry

With all the information ingested smoothly and gathered in a central MDM platform, retailers can discover new insights that enable them to provide not only on the spot promotions but acts as a window into anticipatory retail.  In addition, the whole ecosystem will benefit when ecosystem partners share consistent and accurate information with both upstream and downstream channels.