Cyber Monday: Promise and Challenges
Cyber Monday is big. From what was an amusing oddity at the Internet’s dawn, it has evolved into the most important online retail event of the year. Total sales hit $9.4 billion in 2019—up nearly 19% from a $7.9 billion haul the previous year, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from a majority of top U.S. online retailers. That is bigger than both Black Friday ($7.4 billion) and Amazon Prime Day ($4.2 billion last year). During the peak hour of shopping between 11:00 p.m. ET and midnight, consumers spent $11 million on average every minute.
But how much did the online merchants leave on the table? A lot, according to the analysts watching the eCommerce trends.
Overall, 39.3% of consumers have been unable to find everything they want online, notes the IDC Insights Cross-Industry Consumer Response to COVID-19, March 2020 report. 13.4% of consumers have experienced technology problems while ordering online; 38.1% have not been receiving orders on time; 48.1% have not received all of the fulfillment options they wanted.
After discussing what merchants need to know about Black Friday, we continued our conversation with Jordan K. Speer, Research Manager, Global Supply Chain at IDC, and tapped into TrueCommerce customers’ experience. It revealed an additional set of pain points holding the e-merchants back and some innovative ways to address them.
The Need for Web Storefronts
To sell online you have to have a website. Sounds obvious, but even some major players, including such retail behemoths as Dollar Tree have largely failed to develop online capabilities. Aldi and Lidl have no online capabilities at all. Smaller retailers, which are supposed to be nimble, do no better: about 46% of American small businesses have no Internet presence. “This is a huge area for retailers to get their arms around,” says Ms. Speer.
Putting a makeshift website up just for the sake of it is not enough. “We saw sites fail because they were overloaded and could not handle the increased volume during peak periods. They could not scale up and down,” says Ms. Speer. Instead, merchants need to seek eCommerce platforms that combine flexible cloud capabilities with customizations that engage customers throughout the buying journey.
Another item that seems obvious but is often neglected by online merchants is accurate product information. "Product information has a vital role in digital commerce, across the entire customer journey,” says Jordan Jewell, research manager of IDC's Digital Commerce program, in his intro to IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Product Information Management Applications for Commerce 2019–2020 Vendor Assessment. “Both B2B and B2C customers interact with product data and content in discovery, search, order placement, and even post purchase.”
According to Mr. Jewell, PIM applications are an essential tool in a seller’s arsenal. “The right PIM applications should provide organizations with a competitive advantage when selling online and be flexible enough to support different kinds of products and commerce business models in the years to come," notes Mr. Jewell.
Selecting the right PIM solution provider is key to success; businesses need not only best-of-breed technology that scales with ease, but also top-of-class service and support. IDC recommends evaluating viable applications carefully to select the solution that fits your unique needs. For example, the research firm recommends considering TrueCommerce’s Product Manager if you are a North American brand or retailer looking to broaden your channels of distribution with a SaaS offering, especially if you already use TrueCommerce to manage other aspects of your commerce operations, like electronic data interchange (EDI).
Deploying Marketing Tools to Increase SEO Traffic and Online Conversions
Winning the eCommerce game and making the most of Cyber Monday requires constant web store upgrades and fine-tuning. Thanksgiving Coffee has upgraded its TrueCommerce eCommerce Platform several times, in line with website updates. Its latest refresh was the most comprehensive to date, which tightly integrated the look and feel of the storefront with the overall site design for a more cohesive user experience.
The result has been a massive surge in SEO performance, which drives customers to product pages directly from popular search engines like Google—as well as a significantly higher conversion rate. Embedding more links to store pages on the website, combined with built-in SEO optimization features, account for significant sales growth.
“As soon as we launched the new TrueCommerce Nexternal web store we saw a 300% increase in organic search results—it’s been pretty incredible,” said Marchelo Bresciani, the company’s Marketing Director in a TrueCommerce case study interview.
Another success driver is updated cart functionality, which optimizes screen space to describe products for a better user experience and improved conversion rates. “The ability TrueCommerce Nexternal gives us to make the site visitor’s experience totally cohesive plays a big part in the success that we’re seeing,” adds Mr. Bresciani.
In preparation for, and during Cyber Monday, merchants can use banners and design elements to alert customers to discounts and special offers, which help drive increased sales. Thanksgiving Coffee uses Nexternal’s customization capabilities to do this year-round. “I particularly appreciate how easy it is to customize our storefront with each month’s highlighted offers and new product arrivals,” describes Mr. Bresciani.
Category support is also a key sales tool. “It’s great to have different buckets to display our coffees in,” Mr. Bresciani continues. “For example, on my own I can go into TrueCommerce Nexternal and turn the category pages for our Cause Coffee partners into landing pages that the partners can direct traffic to. It’s a much more engaging feel versus some clunky store that we can’t customize.”
The company also plans to leverage more of the TrueCommerce coupon functionality, such as the ability to automatically email discount coupon offers to shoppers who have abandoned their carts.
“Tailoring coupons to reward repeat customers or entice more business is painless in TrueCommerce Nexternal,” Mr. Bresciani indicates. “We anticipate a lot of additional retail engagement with that type of automated sales generation.”
Winning the Shipping and Delivery Game
Skyrocketing eCommerce orders put pressure on warehouses and distribution centers, fulfillment and last-mile delivery, says Ms. Speer. Retailers are challenged by shortages in labor and product, she says, adding: "All this is happening while consumer demand for new or scaled-up no- or low-touch business models like BOPIS, curbside delivery and fulfill-from-store is on the rise.
“E-merchants need to surface the variety of fulfillment options, making them visible to their customers online,” says Ms. Speer. “In doing that, they should clearly understand which products are profitable to ship, and which are a better fit for curbside delivery – such as a 50-pound bag of dog food. Here’s where analytics and artificial intelligence could be of help.”
Fulfillment automation can also play a role in Cyber Monday success, by helping merchants meet the tight delivery timeframes shoppers (and Amazon Prime) require. Solutions like TrueCommerce Pack & Ship accelerate fulfillment by eliminating manual processes that bottleneck sales capacity and lead to delays and shipping errors. These also reduce workloads, which may be helpful for merchants working with a lean staff this year.
Turning Returns into Opportunities
Another issue eCommerce merchants will have to grapple with on Cyber Monday is returns. According to Statista estimates, in the U.S. alone, return deliveries will cost $550 billion by end-of-year 2020, 75.2% more than four years prior.
“Historically, retailers have considered returns as a just cost of doing business,” says Ms. Speer. “And now, especially with apparel, you have people using eCommerce essentially as a home dressing room, purchasing eight items and sending back seven. This is not very sustainable.”
A significant portion of returns are managed through omnichannel that integrates brick-and-mortar and online platforms. However, according to IDC's 2020 Supply Chain Survey, quite often items purchased online cannot be returned to a physical store of the same retailer. “Around 57% of retailers still do not integrate returns when it comes to online and physical stores,” Ms. Speer points out.
This integration holds great promise for both online and physical stores, even those run by different retailers. Forward-looking companies, even archrivals, are already making the most of it. “Kohl's has partnered with Amazon to accept Amazon returns,” notes Ms. Speer. “The retailer handles the work of taking back Amazon customers’ returns, but also increases its own in-store traffic. Amazon improves customer satisfaction and site traffic. It's a win-win situation.”
We agree. Ms. Speer also noted that new fulfillment methods can also spark new returns methods, with curbside offering the potential to service the customer by taking returns as well as delivering new items to the vehicle. Today's retail models are changing. "Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we may soon see Curbside Saturday," Ms. Speer joked.
New retail models are bringing customers to the store in different ways, opening retail opportunities that online and brick-and-mortar merchants simply cannot miss. Merchants wanting to take advantage should consider omnichannel platforms that support multiple routes to market, like the end-to-end supply chain integrations provided by TrueCommerce Foundry. And now is the time to do so, because like those Cyber Monday deals, getting ahead of the holiday competition is a limited-time affair.
Gearing up for the Cyber Monday 2020 by starting an eCommerce website? Looking for ways to elevate your existing storefront? Contact an eCommerce specialist at TrueCommerce to see how we can help.
About the Author: Yegor Kuznetsov is a former international news agency editor and a marketing communications veteran who loves telling customer success stories. Over the last 20 years, he has been working for an array of dynamic technology companies, most recently with TrueCommerce, a global provider of trading partner connectivity, integration and unified commerce solutions.