The 2017 holiday shopping season was the busiest one yet for retailers. The National Retail Foundation reported that sales reached $691.9 billion in November and December, which surpassed projections and marked the biggest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. With these numbers expected to continue to increase, eCommerce brands should take a deeper dive to uncover trends and considerations that can help them grow in 2018.

Be Mobile or Be Gone

The 2017 holiday season saw record numbers of mobile sales, as U.S. shoppers spent $35.9 billion via smartphones and tablets, according to Adobe Analytics. Cyber Weekend alone saw more than $7 billion spent via mobile devices. Not surprisingly, mobile accounted for more than half of traffic to websites during the holidays. The spike in sales and traffic should scream to retailers: If you don't have a quality mobile experience, you're doing it wrong. This is especially true for emerging brands as they grow their customer base. Adobe's report also observed that smaller retailers saw better conversion rates over the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, especially on mobile devices, further highlighting how important it is for brands to optimize their mobile presence.

As digital natives develop into more prominent consumers, brands should adapt their strategies. According to Pew Research Center, just over one-in-ten American adults are "smartphone-only" internet users, with no traditional home broadband service. That being the case, there's no way eCommerce sellers can deny the value of a mobile presence. While the obvious benefits of mobile commerce (mCommerce) are similar to traditional online shopping-- shoppers can browse or make purchases outside of store hours in the comfort of their own space--mCommerce enables the same capabilities without limiting consumers to one location, truly embracing the on-the-go lifestyle many consumers have adopted. Other reasons modern shoppers flock to mobile vary; for example, mobile applications are often faster and more convenient than traditional websites accessed from a computer.

Need another reason to put mobile optimization at the top of your 2018 to-do list? I'll give you two:

  • Utilizing push notifications to update customers about promotions or order status is an effective way to maintain the transparency that shoppers love without flooding their inboxes.

  • Mobile devices allow for geo-targeting, so eCommerce brands can send branded messaging to consumers based on their current location, which can help create a seamless blend of all channels.

The bottom line is that growing retailers need to optimize their mobile experience to create a convenient and pleasant process for the growing volume of on-the-go shoppers.

Prepare for Returns

Returns are a typical component of the holiday peak. UPS reported that January 5th, 2018 was the busiest day of reverse logistics, with 1.4 million returns occurring on what has been dubbed "National Return Day." Many orders are returned even earlier; Optoro reports that 45% of customers return their unwanted gifts between December 26th and 31st. Given the growth of online shopping, these numbers shouldn't surprise.

While returns can be discouraging to brands, this is a process in the sales cycle that can also be viewed as an opportunity to provide additional customer service to build brand loyalty.  While it's understandable that retailers are often hesitant to provide free returns due to the expense of reverse logistics, it's important to weigh that against the cost of losing customers who expect this amenity.

To that point, Optoro also found that 46% of shoppers abandoned their carts upon realizing retailers didn't offer free returns, with 76% agreeing that a positive return experience greatly encourages them to buy from a retailer again. In addition to preventing the loss of customers, the 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study found that 79% of respondents said free returns are important when selecting a retailer and 44% said the biggest issue with returning items is paying for shipping. This is especially important for emerging brands as a hassle-free return or exchange process can attract more first-time customers who could potentially become loyal brand advocates.

Executives need to remember that returns don't necessarily mean the end of a sales transaction or the relationship between buyer and seller. People often exchange unwanted gifts for different sizes or another item. Making the return process affordable and convenient can make it more likely that customers will continue their shopping with your brand.

Despite this advantage, improving the return experience can be a challenge for an emerging eCommerce brand that may lack resources or experience. This is why many brands outsource their logistics to dedicated fulfillment providers with the skills and support to improve efficiency and lower costs. The right third-party logistics (3PL) partner can offer the solutions growing brands need to provide simple and economic returns that appeal to shoppers.

Peak Season Lessons

With the increased orders brought on by the holidays, it should come as no surprise that peak seasons can be the most stressful time of the year for brands. However, taking the time to understand your customer profile and purchase behaviors offers valuable insight into the ever-evolving habits of your customers. To help navigate this exciting growth, check out this eBook that provides a helpful roadmap with tips from industry experts on how to secure and handle your brand's eCommerce growth.