Better In The Loop, Than Out Of Mind
The holiday season can be maddening for sellers for multiple reasons. Over the course of this blog series, we’ve tried to address each of these key reasons.
Our last blog saw us deal with what may seem to be an innocuous issue like shipping. But as we read in that blog, even simple things have the potential to get out of hand when things get busy around the store both offline and online.
In this final part of the series, we’ll look at the last step to monitor once the holiday season finally kicks off – keeping customers in the loop about the stock of your products.
Understand The Difference Between ‘Clocks’ And ‘Clouds’
When it comes to producing an item, nothing is particularly ‘easy’. Even products that may seem easy to make such as a t-shirt has to go through several layers of production from selecting the material, to stitching the shape, to adding the colour. You may already be aware of this as a seller, but for your customer understanding the difference between production cycles of different items may be harder than you imagine.
But there is a simple rule-of-thumb you can stick to when trying to explain inventory shortages to your customers. There will always be certain products that are ‘clouds’ i.e. they have a production or delivery cycle that matches most products but consumers think they are quick or relatively simpler to make.
Then there are products, which customers see as ‘clocks’ i.e. they recognise the difficulty in producing these items and are a bit more willing to wait to see these items get through their schedule, before they reach store shelves.
Your job is to try to identify which products are perceived as ‘clouds’ and try to convince customers that they are in fact, ‘clocks’. This brings us to our next point.
Don’t Be Afraid To Acknowledge Shortages
Every seller reaches shortages at some point.
Especially during the holidays when demand for certain products spirals upwards in a relatively short timespan. What is important to remember is this – customers are aware that shortages occur and most of them are willing to be reasonable with sellers when this happens. But there is a caveat. Sellers have to be upfront in acknowledging their shortages and give their customers a compelling reason to wait for the item to come back in stock.
Now, as a seller when you do acknowledge the shortage, try to keep the following in mind:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to make an announcement: If you have a good idea that certain products will be going out of stock soon, start prepping customers for the news as early as possible. You can do this by setting up a countdown for the number of items you still have in stock for a particular SKU or even estimate the number of days you believe current stocks will last.
- Don’t play the blame game: Every seller wants to maintain a good reputation with his customers. But many imagine (wrongly) that the best way to achieve this is by diverting the onus of stock maintenance on someone else. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If you make an honest admission that you failed to anticipate as much demand for a particular product as you are now seeing, customers will respond to your brand’s honesty and reciprocate with patience.
- Try to switch perception: Like we mentioned earlier, to convince customers to wait, you have to make a ‘cloud’ sound like a ‘clock’. You can do this by explaining just how the product is made and hence justify the time delay. Or you can outline how your end-to-end delivery systems are strained during the holiday season and thus shipments which would have come in faster in the rest of the year, slow down considerably during this season.
Don’t Just Be ‘Sorry For The Delay’
Once you have admitted to the shortage, you have to be prepared for a certain amount of customer ire.
At this time, the worst thing you can do is hand out platitudes such as “being sorry for the delay”. This kind of stock messaging only makes your brand sound automated and less concerned about the inconvenience being experienced by your customers.
Instead, you need to empathise with your customers during this period. Send out messages on your social media channels stating how you are genuinely concerned about the delay. Maybe share a possible story from your own experience about waiting for a product. Or even just setup a countdown (if you have exact delivery dates) for when the coveted product will be back in stock.
Each of these small steps helps divert the customer’s attention away from being angry. It also shows them that you’re not just a money-grubbing seller but also a customer just like them. A customer that understands the agony of waiting for a product to arrive and thus among the least likely to inflict such behaviour on someone else.
Focus On The Experience, Not Just Time
Now that the shortage has been admitted and you’ve outlined your concern for your customers, it’s time to move to the next step – handling the actual waiting period.
According to the Customer Experience Report by RightNow, most customers abandon a brand altogether due to poor quality of customer service, citing this 18 percent more often than slow or untimely service.
Now, if you’re asking, “How do I service a customer who’s just waiting?” that’s the first step to correcting your mistake. You see, through the year, you might be able to get away with offering a sincere apology and giving customers an accurate timeline for when products will be back in stock. But during the holidays, this just isn’t enough to keep a customer satisfied.
What you need to understand is during the holidays; customers are on their own deadlines to buy gifts for their loved ones. And even a single day’s delay might not be time the customer has to wait around. This problem is exacerbated further by tight delivery deadlines. This means that if a certain product isn’t immediately available during the holiday season, most customers are happy to take their shopping somewhere else. And in the mobile era, that action is literally an app click or a browser tab away.
So, once you’ve told your customers the delay is genuine and your product is worth waiting for, you need to have a plan for the impatient ones. Here are some tips we suggest:
- Offer them a better deal on the item: This is the first step you must take when trying to retain a near-sale. Try to convince the customer that you are actually paying for the time they have to wait by offering them a discount on the item that’s out of stock now.
- Offer the next best thing, cheaper: In some cases, a discount may not cut it or if the item was not too expensive, then a discount doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t add any value to the transaction. In such a case, you should look deep into your inventory. Search for any similar products (either in utility or within the category) that you could offer at a lower rate.
- Offer them a storewide discount: This may sound a tad lazy but at a time when every customer is bargain hunting because they have multiple purchases to make, offering a discount might just do the trick to keep them from migrating to another seller.
Think Of Loyal Customers Differently
While waiting can be laborious for any customer, not all waiting times are equal. The time spent by a loyal customer waiting for a product to come back in store is worth much more that the time spent by just a casual one-off customer.
And as such, you need to recognise and reward loyal customers differently for taking the time to wait for your products. This helps build precious brand loyalty and depending on what products you offer, might even increase the ticket value of the sale when the customer finally comes back to complete his purchase.
With that we come to the end of our #HolidaySales blog series.
We hope you found each of these tips useful and have already begun incorporating them into your business plans for the season. But in the midst of all this planning, just remember not to lose sight on the joy that comes with the holiday season. Be sure to take time out for yourself and your family and try to have fun while selling this holiday season.