2020 has been a challenging year for many apparel brands. However, these last few months of the pandemic have created a whole new breed of shoppers that have a newfound level of comfort with online shopping. Consider what this means for holidays when it’s likely that hordes of people won’t be able to flock into stores. I’d predict online holiday shopping in the apparel industry is going to really take off. 

The pandemic has driven a major shift in shopping behavior. Many of these new shoppers will transition to using online shopping as their primary channel, opening the doors for brands to earn their business.

The next few months are critical when it comes to preparing your commerce business for the holidays. We say that every year. But! This year, it’s going to be different. We’ve put together a creative list of initiatives you should consider as we approach a very important holiday season amidst much uncertainty.  

Optimize Your SEM Strategy

Competition will be high as brands are fighting to capture the attention of highly qualified traffic.  This means that your SEM (search engine marketing) strategy will need to get tuned up. But this does NOT mean that your budget needs to go up! 

One creative strategy is to take the “Moneyball” approach to SEM. You don’t need to go buy out all the heavy hitter keywords. These are going to cost a pretty penny and not drive the qualified traffic you’re looking for. Instead, look for more specific keywords that are relevant to the specific assortments in your catalog. If you capitalize on a list of these you’ll surely drive more qualified traffic at a fraction of the cost. 

Want to take this to the next level? Plug in Lucidwork’s Fusion to the feedback loop. Fusion will incorporate your shopper’s user behavior, or signals, and plug that back into the equation to recommend high performing ad word suggestions.  

The typical SEM strategy approach, including ad and keyword buys.

Personalize Every Session

Welcome your shoppers into a store personalized to their preferences. Oh, hi Rebecca, welcome back, why don’t you check out these size 7 sneaks, they’ll coordinate great with the leggings you picked up last week. (Cue add to cart). 

Personalization is the most powerful tool in building the in-store shopping experience online.  Every apparel site needs to focus on personalization as the likelihood of physical retail experiences during the holidays are very uncertain. 

Strong and effective personalization is at the intersection of customer profiles and in-session signals. When you marry these two data sources on-the-fly, shoppers feel like they have a personal shopping assistant helping them find what they’re looking for. Whether it’s through recommendations which compliment past purchases or results sorted in a way that put fit, color, or style preference at the top, personalization will increase both conversion and average order value (AOV).

And you can’t argue with the results. For example, one of our customers, a leading off-price department store chain, was able to increase conversions from 4% to 7.6% after deploying Fusion to provide a hyper-personalized experience. By leveraging Fusion’s NLP (natural language processing) capabilities, signals (collecting, processing, storage), and content/user analytics, retailers can create that special “you-know-me” experience. 

Get the Right Fit

There are endless questions and curiosities around sizing, especially when it comes to gifting, and even more so now that dressing rooms have been canceled for the foreseeable future. How does this brand’s sizing run? How do they measure waist and inseam?

If you’re selling your own line of apparel you should be able to provide shoppers with highly detailed sizing charts. If you’re selling multiple brands on your site, it’s critical to reach out to those vendors to get all of their sizing charts. Make links to these highly visible on every product detail page (PDP).  

Encourage feedback and reviews of the fit from customers who have purchased the garment in the past. This will help shoppers understand, generally, how true to fit the garment is. While collecting information from previous customers have them submit photos. This content will add great value to the shopping experience.  L.L. Bean does an excellent job of collecting and conveying this information to the shopper. 

Example of a thorough product description page from L.L. Bean.

Lastly, if you have information about the model in the photo, add that to the PDP as well. This will give the shopper insight to how the garment will lay over certain portions of the body.

Diversify Payment Options

The more options, the more information, the better—this is true for product info as much as it is for payment options. Another way to boost conversions is providing third-party payment options.  According to a joint report between Baymard and Amazon Payments, 83% of the top 60 grossing commerce sites across the US and internationally offer third party payment options. 

They also found that nearly 10% of shoppers abandon carts solely due to the lack of payment options.  Whether it’s Venmo, Paypal, or some other option this can be a huge value add.  

Additionally, as we approach the holiday season, consider offering different payment plans or financing. The pandemic has impacted many shoppers’ primary source of income. This would be a major differentiator from your competition and likely enough to secure many more sales.  

Double Down on Self-Service 

Gone are the days of waiting on hold for 30+ minutes to speak to a customer service associate.  At the end of the day, the primary goal is to provide shoppers with the right information at the right time so there is no need to reach out for additional support. Whether it’s returns, product questions, or order tracking, you need quick and easy answers for your shoppers.

One of the most valuable and cross-experience improvements you can make ahead of holiday is to launch a smart chatbot solution. This will enable you to scale up your call centers virtually, without adding more human agents. You’d be amazed at the different kinds of questions chatbots can answer today, including facilitating returns, helping shoppers answer questions about products, and providing order tracking information.  

Lucidworks has developed a chatbot enhancer which applies all of the machine learning and natural language processing inherent in Fusion (including natural language processing, machine learning, signals collecting) to the chatbot experience. Better self-service frees support and helpdesk agents to focus on the complex and valuable questions that matter for retaining customers and supporting employees. 

Read more about Lucidworks Smart Answers here.

Overhaul Your Returns Process

Spaghetti is to meatballs as returns is holiday shopping. Nearly 30% of apparel purchases are returned. This is my least favorite part of online shopping. Who do I call? I have to call someone? When will my credit arrive? Where do I find the status? For many reasons, this is a huge challenge today.  As we approach a holiday shopping season in which we may not have physical stores to return products AND with a new influx of online shoppers, we need to give the returns process a serious overhaul.  

Statistics from Baymard; There is a huge opportunity to edge out the competition with a thought-out and effective return process.

A couple of recommendations: 

  • Provide free returns
  • Make processing simple by way of a link on your homepage, in a shipment confirmation email and order history
  • Provide store credit in advance of actual credit
  • And… advertise this!  

Get the word out about how easy and fast and free returns are on your site.  Shoppers will notice and confidently shop on your site this holiday season.

Happy Holidays 

Holiday season 2020 is going to be critical for the apparel industry. Many brands struggled this year due to the pandemic. Consider implementing some (or all!) of these creative strategies to ensure you edge out the competition and position your brand for success.  

Interested in more tips to improve your ecommerce site? Check out this article: 4 Quick Ways to Audit Your Site Ahead of the Holiday Shopping Season.