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‘Tis the Season for E-Commerce

Online shopping will drive holiday sales more than ever this year. We’ll help you prepare for Cyber Monday and get you ready to greet online shoppers throughout the winter sales period

In this unusual year, when time seems to both drag on and rush by simultaneously, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the start of the winter holiday shopping season is just a month away.

The winter holiday sales season — roughly Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day when many retailers make or break their year — historically has been less important to mattress specialists. Instead, bedding retailers have relied on the many three-day holiday weekends sprinkled throughout the year — Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. — for their profitability.

Yet there’s no reason bedding retailers can’t claim their share of winter holiday sales, and even a sliver is significant. Retail holiday sales now top $1 trillion a year.

And the fastest-growing segment of holiday sales is e-commerce. Although overall holiday retail sales are expected to grow only 1% to 1.5% overall this year, e-commerce sales are expected to increase a whopping 25% to 35%, according to Deloitte, a global audit, tax, consulting and advisory firm.

E-commerce holiday sales have been growing annually by double digits and were up last year 14%, according to a Sept. 15 Deloitte news release, but the pandemic is expected to accelerate the growth. Even shoppers who previously were reluctant to buy online or simply preferred shopping in-store got a crash course in e-commerce beginning last the spring when much of the economy was shutdown.

There are several key shopping days coming up: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and others. Here, we’re going to focus on that last one — Cyber Monday — and explore ways bedding retailers can grow their e-commerce sales.

Cyber “Money-Day”

First, let’s look at the calendar. This year like last year, Thanksgiving is relatively late — Nov. 26, putting Black Friday on Nov. 27 and pushing Cyber Monday to Nov. 30. Retailers that are more dependent on winter holiday sales may lament the shortened period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, for bedding specialists trying to capture more of these sales, this year’s calendar affords more time for planning and preparation.

And one important note about the calendar before we go any further: Cyber Monday is a big deal in terms of e-commerce. According to eMarketer, consumers spent a whopping $7.9 billion shopping online on Cyber Monday alone in 2018, significantly more than the $6.2 spent via e-commerce on Black Friday, the No. 2 day on eMarketer’s top 10 list. But we’re using Cyber Monday also as shorthand to talk about e-commerce holiday sales more broadly and to give you a concept to organize your digital sales efforts around. All these holiday sale dates are squishy and getting squishier every year, with “Black Friday” sales starting the weekend before Thanksgiving or even earlier.

“Single-day events, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, are no longer the focus of shoppers. Rather, holiday shopping, both in-store and online, is spreading throughout the week.

Indeed, many Cyber Monday strategies will help boost your online sales as soon as you put them in place and will continue to be effective long after Cyber Monday ends. Let’s look at several tactics you can try.

Get your site in shape

If you’re going to drive more shoppers to your website, it needs to be at its best. Think of it like your car: Give it a thorough wash and wax so it looks good and check the engine to ensure efficient operation.

In terms of appearance, plan to freshen up website images, streamline your content and get rid of any outdated information.

Francesca Nicasio, a retail expert and content strategist for Vend, a San Francisco-based provider of point-of-sale systems, encourages retailers to create banners to announce Cyber Monday and other holiday deals so that they’re highly visible. If you plan to offer several specials, you can create a separate landing page for them.

In terms of your website’s “engine,” make sure your e-commerce site can handle additional traffic, Nicasio advises. And, in a recent BigCommerce article, Kaleigh Moore suggests using a service such as Uptime Robot to monitor downtime and response times on your site so you can correct any problems ahead of your sales push. BigCommerce provides a platform for online businesses and has U.S. offices in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, and Moore is a longtime entrepreneur who researches and writes for the company.

With more and more e-commerce done via smartphones, you need to ensure your e-commerce site is optimized for mobile devices.

Larger regional and national chains may want to create an app and push consumers to install it on their mobile devices. “App promotion needs to stop being relegated to a footnote in marketing promotions and instead be introduced as a more explicit appeal. That could mean email marketing campaigns and in-store reminders, or even providing special discounts for downloading the app, adding payment details or conducting transactions,” the eMarketing report suggests. “Clear the first hurdles to app usage, so by the holiday season, it can be an ingrained habit.”

Smaller independent retailers don’t need to invest in a separate shopping app but should make sure their website works seamlessly on smartphones. Moore suggests retailers run a mobile compatibility test through Google (Search.Google.com/Test/Mobile-Friendly), which will help ferret out slow-to-load pages and other issues.

Prep for the Sale! Sale! Sale!

Throughout the year, Sleep Savvy encourages mattress retailers to promote their product knowledge, sleep expertise, delivery service and other distinguishing aspects of their business rather than relying on race-to-the-bottom “Sale! Sale! Sale!” ad campaigns.

Now is not the time to heed that sage advice. Holiday shoppers want deals and discounts.

“With daily deal websites more popular than ever, a one-time cyber-exclusive deal on Cyber Monday is a great way to capture your target market’s attention and upsell your other products,” Moore says.

For Cyber Monday promotions, offer two-for-one sleep accessories, discounts on more expensive bedding or even sales of products you’d like to clear out and move quickly. The winter holidays also are a great time to promote sleep ensembles. Put together packages (mattress protector and two pillows or adjustable base with mattress) to advertise as Cyber Monday-only deals.

The key is to drive shoppers to your site and get them to buy, without offering such deep discounts or generous giveaways that you erase profits, Nicasio advises.

“Another tip is to offer promotions that add value,” Nicasio says. “For example, you could throw in a gift when people purchase above a certain threshold (e.g., ‘free tote bag for every $75 purchase’). Or, you could offer an added service with each purchase (e.g., ‘free makeover with every purchase’).” In a mattress retailer’s case, it might be a free luxury sheet set and two pillows with $1,000 mattress set or a gift certificate to a massage therapist with an adjustable base buy.

To have a little fun, Moore suggests creating a deal-driven “scavenger hunt” for shoppers: “Rather than publish a single coupon code, try hiding it somewhere on your website and telling your followers (on social media) that anyone who finds it gets to use it.”

Finally, Moore says, plan to extend your Cyber Monday sales into the following week. “You can add scarcity to your offer without limiting yourself to a single day,” she says. “As you create deals, don’t forget that the days immediately following the shopping weekend will see accelerated demand, as well.”

Hone and deliver your message

In its 2019 Holiday Marketing Guide, Yes Marketing does a deep dive into the successes and failures of holiday email marketing campaigns in 2018 and suggests strategies for retailers to try. The data-focused marketing firm with headquarters in Chicago notes that the open rate for Cyber Monday emails fell 10% from 2017 to 2018, and, in 2018, was 17% lower than the open rates for more standard “business as usual” emails sent throughout the year.

“As email volume continues to grow (and so does the use of the Cyber Monday theme), the competition for subscriber attention around these shopping events is becoming harder to overcome. As consumers expect to be bombarded with Cyber Monday messaging, the novelty and excitement of the holiday is wearing off,” Yes Marketing says in its guide. This finding indicates that mattress retailers may be better off planning email campaigns around Cyber Monday without explicitly mentioning the day in email subject lines.

If you can get consumers to open your Cyber Monday emails, the messages are likely to be effective. Yes Marketing found that the conversion rate for Cyber Monday email promotions increased an impressive 57% from 2017 to 2018. Interestingly, according to the guide, “free shipping offers were most effective at driving purchases from Cyber Monday emails.” (More on shipping and delivery later.)

Two other successful types of Cyber Monday email messages, according to Yes Marketing, are limited 24-hour sales that urge quick action and intriguing, mysterious promotions that require recipients to open the email.

Omnisend, a London-based company that specializes in omnichannel marketing automation, points to text messages as another effective marketing tool for Cyber Monday and other shopping holidays.

“While email steamrolled most of Black Friday in 2018, SMS (short message service) emerged as the dark horse of the holiday season,” Omnisend says in an article on holiday marketing posted in September 2019 on the Retail Dive website. “It’s no secret that 94% of all SMS messages are read within the first five minutes of being received, with more people opting-in for SMS marketing by the day.” Omnisend recommends retailers use a mix of text and email marketing, and suggests testing text campaigns now “to find the right mix for your customers” so you can be ready for the big sales period.

And don’t forget social media. “Generate buzz and excitement beforehand by posting Black Friday and Cyber Monday teasers online,” Nicasio says. “Using social media is a great way to accomplish this, so get on the networks that your customers are using, and post sneak peeks of your offers.”

Do due diligence on your delivery

Holiday shoppers demand convenience and are looking for delivery methods that make life easier and cheaper for them during an especially hectic, expensive time. That starts with free shipping. If you always offer free delivery, highlight that on your website. If you typically charge for mattress delivery, now might be the time to drop that fee, at least through early January, and promote your special free delivery deal.

You’ll also want to talk with your vendors who offer drop shipping on headboards and other bedding accessories to ensure they’re prepared for extra demand at holiday time. If you promise customers that an ensemble of sheets and pillows will arrive at their home in two days, you need reliable supplier partners that can help you meet the commitment.

And, finally, target click-and-collect customers, who buy online and then pick up their purchases at the store. “Encouraging shoppers to buy online and pick up in-store not only vaporizes shipping costs but can even generate incremental in-store shopping,” eMarketer says.

Armando Roggio, a senior contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce, a news site for e-commerce businesses, expects click-and-collect shoppers to drive last-minute purchasing this holiday season.

“In bygone times, last-minute Christmas shopping was a painful combination of not finding a parking space, scouring half-empty shelves for something worth giving as a present (like an Old Spice gift set) and waiting in line to pay,” Roggio writes in an August 2019 Practical Ecommerce article. “Click-and-collect has eliminated several of these pain points, effectively enabling procrastinators.”

In fact, click-and-collect is increasingly important throughout the holiday shopping season. Adobe Digital Insights reported 50% year-over-year growth in click-and-collect during the five-day Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday period in 2018, according to its Holiday Recap 2018 report released in January. The pandemic has made customers even more comfortable with click-and-collect shopping. Just note the number of parking spaces at brick-and-mortar stores now reserved for such shoppers.

Build awareness of in-store pickup through email campaigns, on your website and via social media. And then ensure the pickup process at your store is painless and pleasant. Review — and revise, if necessary — your procedures for helping customers get boxed beds and other products into their vehicles. If you offer white-glove mattress delivery, institute a comparable white-glove pickup procedure that makes customers feel valued. You might even want to invest in some big red bows to add a festive flair to pickup purchases.

Don’t neglect your store

Even if you’re focused on driving e-commerce sales during the holidays, you can’t neglect your store. Those click-and-collect shoppers will be popping in to pick up their purchases — and you want to continue to draw plenty of other shoppers into the store throughout the season, too.

“Even if you’re not actively running Black Friday (or other holiday) deals, it’s important to keep your shop in top shape,” Nicasio says. “This is particularly true if you have a physical store in a mall or shopping center with a big box anchor. These venues see an uptick in foot traffic right after Thanksgiving, and some of those shoppers will end up in your shop.”

eMarketer echoes the call to spiff up your store: “As brick-and-mortar retail reinvents itself as experience-led vs. inventory-led, retailers ought to invest in atmospheric enhancements to stimulate the senses and leave shoppers basking in the aura. And these experiences don’t need to be expensive showstoppers. Holiday shopping that feels fun instead of a hassle will re-engage customers and keep them coming back.”

Nicasio advises retailers to “spruce up your window displays and fixtures, and bring out your best and newest merchandise.” And we’d add to the list decorate for the holidays. You don’t have to go all in on a red-and-green Christmas theme. A fluffy winter wonderland can be cozy and inviting. Offer hot chocolate with peppermint stick stirrers and encourage people to take a break from their other holiday shopping by putting their feet up with an adjustable base.

And never let your staff forget to convey the message that the holidays are a perfect time to buy a new mattress — to spiff up the guest room for visiting families or as a gift for hard-to-buy-for elderly parents.

“Remember that people are in the mood to buy, so implement sales tactics that would get them to do so,” Nicasio says. “These may include impulse buys, upsells/cross-sells and suggestive selling.” 

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