Having been through more than a dozen holiday seasons in my ecommerce career, I’m sharing a few things I have learned over the years. In my last post, I covered risk management and how to create an optimization plan going into the holidays. Now let’s talk customer behavior.
Having a clear understanding of who is hitting your site, and what they are looking for, is key to developing an immersive and relevant customer experience. The challenge is that the makeup of your visitors can change considerably during the holidays, and those who are visiting often explore the site differently than other times of the year.
Who is on your site anyway?
The place ecommerce occupies on the cusp of technology and marketing often puts us in the mindset of a traditional marketer. One thing we often miss with this approach is the understanding that visitor composition changes naturally throughout the year, particularly for businesses in a highly seasonal industry. Some customers may seek your brand only certain times of the year. For instance, some shoppers are only interested in the winter clothing line, or they tend to shop in advance of summer activities.
A second phenomenon associated with the holidays is the gift buyer. Your customer Mr. Smith is very loyal, and purchases fairly regularly. Mrs. Smith, however, only shops on your site on Black Friday. While she may know what she wants to purchase, her unfamiliarity with your site or product leads to a shopping journey that is very different from what you might expect. Since so much of a good testing program is about looking at the end-to-end experience, this can complicate your interpretation of the results.
Lastly, even if Mr. Smith is shopping on your site at the holidays as well, he is likely to behave differently during this time. With the increase in promotions and other offers on-site, most visitors will explore sale pages and banners more carefully, while tending toward a decrease in consumption of content. I’ve run tests during the holiday season that generally point to a twofold increase in exploration of upsell options at a higher ticket items. This behavior was the primary contributing factor to incremental AOV over the yearly baseline.
Identifying the gift buyers
Learning how your customers act during the holidays is the key to achieving the most relevant and engaging experience. There is no magic bullet that will solve everything, but there are some variables to begin looking at to identify gift buyers:
- New vs. Returning – While we may not be able to identify Mrs. Smith on Mr. Smith’s computer, we can be fairly certain that gift buyers like her are going to be “new” to our site. Beginning by looking at new visitors, and then refining them into some of the more detailed sub-segments listed here is a good place to start.
- Index/Product Page Loiterers – Pausing on the index or product page is most commonly a characteristic of someone buying gifts. I’ve seen 20%-30% increases in time on these pages during the holidays! Combine this with new visitors, and you’ve done most of the heavy lifting. Just be sure that other factors—such as other tests you are running, or content changes—are factored out.
- Product Page, Index Page, Product Page – Similar to sitting on the index page, holiday shoppers tend to move back and forth from products to product lists more often. This could be Mrs. Smith looking for that perfect gift, or Mr. Smith hunting for a better option.
- Keyword Searchers – For most retailers who aren’t high SKU count/category spread, returning users tend to use the navigation more often than keyword searching. A new visitor doing a single keyword search during the holidays is likely to be a gift buyer.
- Cart Adds & Abandons – Generally, you will see a negative correlation between gift buyers and abandoned carts. We often miss this one because in general, add-to-cart rates and cart abandonment rates will both rise during the holidays. This is because the existing customer is more likely to price shop, while a gift buyer goes straight to checkout.
Keeping an eye on these behavioral patterns will help retailers to see which customers are new or returning, and which have landed on your site to shop for gifts. Knowing this will allow you to target these customer groups with promotions that speak to their interests.
Van Schlichting is SEO + Optimization Practice Lead at Corra, a New York, Los Angeles and London based digital commerce agency creating unified commerce experiences for fashion, lifestyle and beauty. Corra’s ecommerce strategy, design and technology professionals are trusted by retailers of all sizes to implement and support the Magento Enterprise and hybris platforms.