Business > Merchant Voice

Learn from your Christmas Experience

Its January. The Christmas rush is over. The Christmas money has been spent, and the website sales are slowly dying. The number of orders have dropped off the proverbial cliff, as expected. Now is the time to review the web site. Taking into account the previous year’s business and how well it managed the Christmas rush, what needs changing or updating?

There are two main considerations, firstly what can be done to make everything go better, and secondly what needs to be done with the look and feel of the website?

You have effectively stress tested the site in the last few months. There are naturally two sides to a web site, the customer experience and the administration. Both need to be considered. Due to the hopefully high volumes of traffic, you have the best possible opportunity to analyse what happened.

Whilst the administration side of a website is important, it should never be changed at the expense of the customer experience. The admin should be as invisible as possible to the customer.

The key metrics I look for is how many orders processed in a day, how many were not processed on the day of arrival, how many needed stock to be ordered and how many could not be done and had to be cancelled.

No stock control is perfect. There is a cost associated with getting it accurate. The more man hours you throw at it, the more accurate it can be. However on fast moving items that can be replenished overnight, it can be better to spend those man hours on picking and packing, rather than getting the stock count perfect.

This is why I take and analyse the metrics. In an ideal world all orders will be processed and despatched on the day they come in. If an order has to slip to the next day, then it is better that it is because you have sold out (and have re-ordered), rather than you did not have the time and resources to process it. Clearly the thing to avoid is not being able to fulfil an order because your supplier has also run out.

Your back office systems should make all this as easy to do as possible. An efficient order management process ensures that you have the correct level of stock, and the correct number of people processing the orders. A good system can easily save thousands of dollars. In looking at the metrics, you need to see if yours is good enough, or if there is room for improvement. If you are going to install a new system, you have about nine months to perfect it and bed it in.

With Magento and Amazon, I use a system called Linnworks. It is not cheap, none of these systems are cheap, but the man time saved, and the stock level savings, more than make up for this cost. The system allows me to do hundreds of orders a day with minimal staff. The interfaces are effortless, and it also interfaces directly into my chosen postal provider (The Royal Mail).

Your post delivery method also needs to be reviewed. What is your customer feedback? How many parcels went missing? How many were damaged? It is not just money here. A cheap delivery company that looses or damages parcels can loose you not just the value of that order, but any future order from that customer.

The customer satisfaction of the web site is more complex. I have just started to analyse the data. The number of visitors are up, as expected, and the conversion rate is also up, again as expected. At this time of year more people are searching the internet with a view to buy rather than just general curiosity, so it would be a concern if the conversion rate did not go up. This does not mean all is necessarily well however. Bounce rates need to be properly looked at to see which type of pages people disliked and left the site. The checkout funnel needs to be investigated for any leaks. Navigation is particularly interesting, to see how people found what they were looking for and whether they gave up and moved on.

Magento has the useful feature of recording what searches were performed on the site. It lists the words used and the number of products that matched the search. This shows what your visitors are interested in and shows what the search displayed. Look out for popular searches that did not display what you expected. Magento gives you the ability to change the default search behaviour on any specific search. This means that you can tailor a specific search to give exactly what you want. For the most popular searches consider constructing a landing page that provides useful content and good action points (i.e. buy now buttons) for the things that the visitors were searching for. This should not only improve your conversion rates for visitors, but potentially improve your SEO as you are providing more relevant content. (Although make sure that these landing pages are in your site map and are thus indexed, don’t expect Google to do searches on your site.)

Hopefully this holiday period has been profitable. Hopefully you will not now be overstocked with seasonal goods. Learn whatever lessons you can from what went right and what went wrong. Plan this coming Christmas from NOW, so you can do even better. What you cannot do is sit back and assume the coming year will be better. Remember your competitors will be wanting to improve too.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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