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Holiday ecommerce preparedness guide for 2021.

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Holiday Retail Season

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Demand and uncertainties in the supply chain prompted ecommerce businesses to start the 2020 holiday shopping season earlier than ever last year. From consumer trends and what we’ve learned from last year’s unprecedented climate for retailers, we can expect another early shopping season for 2021. 

We’ll explain why that is in this guide and share how you can make sure your business is ready for the holidays.

Here’s a brief overview of what we’re about to cover:

  • Why is Total Commerce so important for the busy holiday shopping season?
  • Selling in multiple channels
  • Automate inventory, shipping, and returns management
  • Positive customer experience online and in-store

Why is Total Commerce so important for the busy holiday shopping season?

Linnworks defines Total Commerce as conducting commerce wherever your customers are, on their terms. Retailers need to sell where their customers to capture sales during the business holiday season. In 2020, retail ecommerce made up $185.88 billion billion in holiday season sales. This number is only expected to grow.

Don’t assume that 2020 was an outlier, and the start of the holiday season will go back to pre-pandemic timelines. Consumers have become accustomed to their online shopping habits. While online shopping conveniences carried over from the pandemic and will still be expected, like buy online, pick-up in store, it’s important to know that customers will also be venturing out more into stores this year. 

As vaccinations are rolling out, more consumers feel comfortable shopping indoors. If you have a brick-and-mortar establishment, you’ll likely see more shoppers at your stores this season. This means you’ll need to be prepared to accommodate shopping preferences both online and in-store. Many customers sat out physically shopping last season. This is your opportunity to elevate the in-store shopping experience.

Researchers predict retail ecommerce to make up 18.9% of total holiday sales and that an early holiday shopping season is on the horizon for 2021. Last year, that number was 17.5%. Ecommerce sales are in a position for continued growth, and retailers need to be prepared. Brands must commit to Total Commerce to be successful this holiday season. This means being in multiple shopping environments at once. 

So get ready for the holiday shopping season, or miss out. 

Selling in multiple channels.

The key to selling more? Your product needs to be where your customers are. For retailers, this means selling in multiple sales channels simultaneously.  

For example, you should be listing your products on your own website, but that shouldn’t be the only place your customers can find you. Consider these channels for expanding your reach and increasing sales. 

Third-party marketplaces

Third-party marketplaces connect buyers and sellers for a fee or a portion of the sale. The marketplace provider puts a catalog or collection of products together from different sellers and supports logistics, payments, and ordering. Think of Amazon, eBay, Wayfair, Etsy, and Alibaba. Some retailers like Target and Walmart even offer third-party sales through their platforms.

The main benefit of third-party platforms is that they get your products in front of a larger audience. They also allow you to scale. You may not have the budget or resources to expand into a different market or country, but with a third-party marketplace, the logistics are already in place.

Social commerce

Social media is gaining momentum as a shopping outlet for consumers, and social commerce sales are predicted to hit $79.64 billion in 2025, according to research from eMarketer. More people are heading to social platforms to interact with brands and their products. Influencers have become a sensation, and brands are promoting their content and products through partnerships with them.

This means social platforms are no longer just a place to chat with friends. They’ve become a powerful ecommerce marketplace. As online sales have integrated with social media, different social platforms are placing emphasis on in-app shopping features to improve customer experience. For example, Instagram announced that it had shifted its focus from a photo-sharing app to a shopping platform as one of its key areas. They’ve even introduced Shops on the app and Shopping in Reels to back up the statement.

Direct to consumer (DTC)

DTC channels that cut out the middleman are particularly enticing since they come with more ownership of the process for the retailer. With third-party marketplaces, the customer belongs to the third-party, not to the retailer. This means you’ll have a limited relationship with the customer on a marketplace. Insights about customers on marketplaces are limited and are usually only transactional details. 

Sales on your own platforms or in person don’t come with these limitations. You own the customer data and the experience. 

But you’ll need to be sure that your DTC channels are connected to provide the convenience customers are looking for. According to research from Linnworks, 76% of online shoppers say convenience is their main priority when it comes to selecting a retailer. For example, customers want to be able to shop across a retailer’s owned channels across whichever device they have in hand. According to Linnworks research, 81% of shoppers are looking for a cross-device, ecommerce experience. You also want to offer buy-online, pick-up in-store service with 43% of customers from the same research saying they favor brands who offer BOPUS options. Curbside pickup is also important for convenience and to better improve the customer experience.


As mentioned above, you should be utilizing your website for ecommerce sales. However, there’s more to consider than just adding a “buy now” button. Your website needs to be mobile-friendly and optimized for a positive user experience (UX). Last year, over 50% of Christmas ecommerce revenue came from smartphones alone, according to Adobe. Even if you’ve developed an app for purchases, your website needs to be mobile-friendly to meet customers where they are no matter where they plan to buy.

All channels

Keep in mind that each of these sales channels will require a different selling strategy. This means you won’t necessarily list the same products across different platforms. Consider listing only your best-selling products on third-party marketplaces to improve efficiency. Selling only higher-margin products can also help absorb the fees charged by third-party marketplaces.

Another way to increase sales and improve the customer experience is to make sure all sales channels are interconnected and cohesive. For example, ensure your website is responsive so if a customer puts an item in their cart on their laptop, it’ll be there when they go back to your store on their mobile device. Before the busy season begins, you’ll also want to update product descriptions across the channels and optimize your copy for SEO, so products are easily discoverable.

Automate inventory, shipping, and returns management. 

90% of consumers take action in response to a poor post-purchase experience, according to research by Pitney Bowes

One of the best ways to create a positive customer experience from the time someone lands on your website or in your store to after they buy their product is to align your inventory, shipping, and return management processes. 

Multiple sales channels, high sales volume, and the general chaos of the holiday shopping season can quickly become a logistics nightmare for unprepared retailers. This is why it’s so important to have a plan in place for tracking inventory, shipping, and returns. 

Automation can help the entire process run smoother and lead to a positive customer experience (CX). Customers expect a seamless shopping experience across channels. Order and inventory management software, such as Linnworks, allows you to deliver on just that. With an automated inventory management platform, you get a single inventory view for all channels, so you can maintain the right stock levels in each channel and avoid stockouts. When you manually track inventory, for instance, using a spreadsheet, you run the risk of user error. And when it comes to inventory management during the peak season, mistakes can be costly.

Now is also the time to secure the supply of your inventory. Consider how the pandemic affected the supply chain. For example, a furniture brand that was experiencing a normal lead time of one month from purchase to receiving inventory in the warehouse might have noticed a new lead time of three to six months during the pandemic. If you run out of inventory, you won’t make revenue. You’ll want to be sure suppliers as well as backup suppliers are lined up for the season and inventory is ordered in time.

The same goes for shipping carriers. If one shipping company is unable to deliver your products in time, you’ll want a backup ready to go. Shipping software solutions are ideal for automating and streamlining this process. Most shipping software can integrate with your ecommerce platform to help customers select the right carrier for their shipping needs and show you exactly what you’ll be spending to ship each order.

No matter what your inventory and shipping processes look like, you must prioritize easy returns. Not only should you be trying to avoid negative reviews, but you also want to make the returns process as seamless as possible to ensure customer satisfaction and increase customer loyalty. Make sure your return policy is clearly stated where your customers can see it and help customers make returns when needed.

Keep in mind that some industries are more likely to see higher returns due to the nature of the products. For example, the clothing industry often sees high return rates because customers can’t touch or try on the clothes before purchasing when they buy online. They may even buy multiple pieces to choose from, knowing that they’ll return one or more before the order arrives. All retailers need to be prepared for holiday season returns, especially those in industries with higher return rates.

Positive customer experience online and in-store. 

No matter where they shop with you this season, your customers are looking to you to facilitate a positive experience. You’ll need to meet their expectations both online and offline to navigate the busy season. You’ll need to be proactive about engaging with customers and making sure they hear from you during their customer journey. Even post-purchase, be sure to follow up and make sure they’re happy with the product. If necessary, help them with the returns process to make it easier and more convenient.

For digital shopping, customers want an immersive experience. Personalized recommendations, regular communication, and convenient shopping options, like being able to shop across devices, will go a long way. For social commerce, you can get creative. Consider educating your audience about your products in Livestream events, testing out Reels or Guides, and utilizing influencers. People want to feel connected to your brand, so you’ll need to go beyond just delivering a product on time. They want an entire experience.

Get your processes in place and focus on your customers. It’s up to you to make sure you’re automating business operations and creating a positive and convenient experience for your customers if you want a successful holiday season.

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