The holidays are fast approaching and brands and retailers of all sizes are busy with last-minute preparations. To help sellers plan for the season ahead, we decided to highlight some advice from our Managed Services experts in a Q&A blog series.
The ChannelAdvisor Managed Services team works with clients every day to provide strategy and execution in their e-commerce efforts — maximizing their presence on marketplaces and optimizing their digital marketing campaigns.
With marketplaces on top of everyone’s mind this season, we spoke to Cameron Sutton, one of our client strategy managers for marketplaces, about some of his advice to help brands and retailers prepare for the upcoming shopping season. (Read Part 2, on digital marketing best practices; and Part 3, on Amazon Advertising best practices.)
Q: It’s October, what are the three most urgent things sellers should be doing right now before the holidays?
If you want to improve all of your e-commerce operations on marketplaces, you can break your strategies down into three areas: marketing, selling, and fulfilling.
When it comes to advertising on marketplaces, brands and retailers should be setting their holiday budgets and finalizing campaign structures right now. To optimize the selling piece of the puzzle, you should be optimizing listing content by completing a review of your product titles, fleshing out descriptions and bullets, uploading the most dynamic images/videos and completing item specifics.
There are many aspects of fulfillment to prepare for, but overall, sellers should prepare for the uptick in traffic and make sure they have enough products in stock and the ability to ship orders in a timely fashion when things get busy.
Q: When it comes to product listings, sellers always hear about the importance of “optimizing” product content. What does that mean in real terms?
Optimizing your titles means utilizing all available characters up to the marketplace title character limit and including title elements like: Brand + Short Item Description + Size + Color + Keywords/Item Specifics (such as use, gender, season or type, if applicable).
It’s a good idea to review competitors’ products or top-selling products in a given marketplace to see how your listings stack up. Also, review customer feedback and questions: What did they asked that could be answered in your title?
For product descriptions and bullets, you want them to be as full as possible. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Utilize up to the character limit
- Be clear, concise and product-focused
- Think like the customer — what information would you need to make the conversion online without having used or seen the product in person?
- Review for misspelled words, grammar mistakes or special characters/HTML code
When it comes to images, “optimized” means meeting all the marketplace image specifications. Start with clear imagery of the product only (nothing in the background) and provide multiple shots of the product. Consider that this could be the first time a potential customer has seen your product. End with a few select lifestyle images with your product (if applicable) or utilize enhanced image content if the marketplace provides A+ content.
Q: What should sellers being doing now to ensure their inventory doesn’t go out of stock?
Focus on inventory forecasting. Understand your inventory position from Q4 last year, year-to-date (YTD) this year, and your expected growth in Q4 2019.
The Amazon FBA inventory deadlines are:
- October 24: Inbound shipping Freight Ready Date cutoff
- November 5: Inventory cutoff deadline for Black Friday week/Cyber Monday week
If you do go out of stock, do you have a backup plan? Be prepared to offer a similar product or prepare your customer service team to handle increased marketplace cases and customer communication.
Q: Any last-minute tips on making sure your delivery capabilities are in place and your packages reach consumers in time for the holidays?
Understand and solidify warehouse/distribution closures between November 1 and January 31 by October 31. Add warehouse closures in your marketplace settings (if applicable) or modify handling time as needed.
For your potential customers, offer expedited shipping options, particularly during the last full week leading to the holiday, and communicate last-ship dates openly across multiple channels.
Q: Can sellers do anything to prepare for marketplace suspensions during the holiday season?
Yes, sellers should create a marketplace suspension letter, using company letterhead, and formulate a plan of action now in case the need arises in November or December:
In the letter, using a positive and conciliatory tone, be sure to include:
- Why the issue occurred
- How you resolved the issue
- How you plan to mitigate the issue moving forward
Here are a few things to keep in mind when formulating your action plan:
- Align your marketplace, IT/technical, distribution and customer service teams now and designate a team that can quickly huddle if the need arises.
- Remember, any orders placed leading up to the suspension still need to be shipped.
- Note marketplace policies and delivery metrics/thresholds for each marketplace in which you list and communicate those metrics internally.
- Review metrics daily during the holiday rush and be nimble. If your automated process breaks, be prepared to manually update orders.
Q: How can sellers drive more traffic to their marketplace listings?
The strategies for driving traffic to your listings over the holidays generally align with marketplaces best practices throughout the year.
Offer free and fast shipping on products, as well free returns, if you’re able.
Optimize your product content to drive SEO. For your product category, review the filters available for an end customer on a given marketplace and then map or provide data for those fields. Participate in marketplace programs or metric initiatives that can improve performance, such as Amazon Prime (FBA/SFP), eBay Guaranteed Delivery and/or Top Rated Seller Plus, Google Top Retailer status, etc.
If you’re selling on Amazon, take advantage of Amazon Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands as much as possible (your competitors will be). On, eBay, leverage Promoted Listings and the eBay Global Shipping Program.
Lastly, investigate and participate in various marketplace promotional features. Some marketplaces, such as Google Shopping Actions, allow you to submit for category features and promotions during key holiday shopping times.
Be on the lookout for part two of this series, where we dive into digital marketing best practices.