Our Christmas series has looked at essential tips and best practice for e-commerce retailers in the run-up to the festive season. Now, we look at how to prepare your website for January sales, refunds and returns, as well as converting gift vouchers into products and services.
December might be the busiest time of the year for retailers, but the weeks following Christmas are also the time when many consumers will be turning gift vouchers into products and services or looking to return gifts for a refund. Plus, of course, Boxing Day heralds the start of the major sales season. We caught up with SecurePay’s eCommerce Manager David Howgate to find out how online businesses can gear up for January.
1. Keep a close eye on cash flow
For most online retail businesses, the Christmas rush is followed by the January lull. “Online businesses will see a reduction in sales over January and things traditionally pick up again in February,” explains Howgate.
In the run-up to, and during, a slow January, it is crucial for an online business to manage its cash flow carefully. “You need to be mindful that the Christmas rush is over, so think about how you are going to carry on into January and particularly how you can compete with the big retailers during their major sales period,” advises Howgate.
Cash flow tends to affect small businesses more than large retailers, so it is important to have a strategy in place. Howgate suggests looking back at historical sales data from previous December and January periods.
“Look at the differences between things like actual sales and voucher purchases,” he says. “Some businesses may have had lots of vouchers and gift codes – those will be attributed to December but the product is actually redeemed in January.”
2. Consider your stock carefully
Howgate warns that it is easy for e-commerce businesses to over-order during quieter months. “If sales are down but you are still replenishing stock, you need to be careful not to over-order,” he says. “It really depends on each business’s model.”
On the other hand, Howgate notes that businesses need to make sure they have sufficient stock to service vouchers that may have been given as Christmas gifts and are being redeemed in January. “You must have the correct stock availability,” he says. “This is really important from a customer experience perspective.”
Howgate adds that many businesses have a minimum re-order amount, so they can only re-order once their stock has dropped below a certain level. For these businesses, a January sale is a great option to clear excess or old stock and allow them to order new goods.
3. Integrate your inventory with your warehouse stock
For retail businesses, the ability to easily manage the stock on your website versus what is actually in your warehouse is vital. One way to do this more efficiently is by integrating your e-commerce website with your accounting software.
“By connecting your inventory with accounting software like Straightsell, you can get a much better view of where you are at,” says Howgate. “This is really helpful in both busy and quiet periods. Straightsell is website solution that can easily be integrated into most accounting platforms.”
In addition to helping to deliver a good customer experience, this also helps to remove some manual elements from the e-commerce process, he explains.
“Many e-commerce businesses have administration staff in a warehouse, but integrating your inventory with your accounting software means they don’t have to manually input data, and it removes errors associated with that,” says Howgate. “With manual systems, the wrong items can be despatched – integration eliminates human errors that can be made through data entry.”
“By connecting your inventory with accounting software like Straightsell, you can get a much better view of where you are at. This is really helpful in both busy and quiet periods. Straightsell is website solution that can easily be integrated into most accounting platforms.”
David Howgate, SecurePay eCommerce Manager
4. Refunds and returns
How an e-commerce business deals with returns is often linked to its delivery method, according to Howgate.
For instance, Australia Post’s eParcel online delivery solution offers a seamless return capability, whereby the customer can be provided with a return sticker.
Whichever method an e-commerce business uses, Howgate stresses that the returns policy should be clear and easily available for customers. This helps to engender more trust and can help to seal a sale online. “Customers do worry about returns, which is why I always recommend businesses provide a refund policy with their delivery,” he says.
“Your returns policy must be on your website. You should also place a link on the emailed order confirmation that is sent to a customer when a purchase goes through. And I always recommend that retailers place a hard copy of instructions with the goods, explaining to customers how they can make a return.”
With SecurePay, refunds are usually a simple process, says Howgate. “When an order is processed and paid for by credit card, refunds are straightforward with SecurePay,” he adds. “The merchant simply logs in to their SecurePay merchant login, finds the transaction and makes a refund.”
5. Add a live chat option to your website
If you plan to run a January sale or want to offer customers extra support around refunds and returns, Howgate also advises adding a live chat tool to your e-commerce website. This allows you to “chat” with customers online and to deal with their queries about refunds or returns quickly and in real time. This, he says, can also help to reduce their uncertainty over returns.