How to Overcome the ‘Unknown Unknowns’ that Make or Break Holiday Sales

Uncertainty has always complicated peak holiday sales. Months in advance, retailers hone tactics they believe will align with consumers’ needs — but how reality plays out has never been easy to forecast, from which toys will sell to when free shipping deals will resonate.

The only reliable prediction retailers can make about the 2022 holiday season is that it’s bound to be unpredictable.

This year, in particular, inflation and changing consumer behavior are making the holiday retail season even more unpredictable than usual. With no crystal ball, retailers need to adapt quickly so they can maximize peak season sales.  This means responding within hours as situations unfold, not waiting for weekly results to determine what tactics to deploy next. 

However, the complexity of today’s e-commerce websites actively works against agility by exponentially increasing the potential for integration errors and missed data handoffs. The average e-commerce homepage now has 873 elements; a typical page’s code makes more than 65 connections to other resources, increasing the chances that signals will misfire, while page weight has grown by more than a third in the past five years alone, prompting slower load times as devices download ever-larger files and process more code for each page. 

Agility isn’t just about detecting and acting quickly to resolve errors; companies also need to be able to pivot quickly to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities and new trends.  Retailers have traditionally monitored online performance through analytics tools that use tags and predefined actions to track success.  

That approach requires guessing in advance how consumers will navigate sites and mobile apps to accomplish their shopping goals. If shoppers stray from the digital path to a purchase that’s been signposted and tagged in advance for performance tracking, retailers can quickly lose sight of them — and the equivalent of a data “search and rescue” mission is required to discover how mishaps occur.  

Without knowing the unknowns in advance, it’s impossible for retailers to instrument exactly the right elements to accurately capture consumer behavior. But with time of the essence, retailers also can’t afford to retroactively assemble information to root out problems after they’ve occurred. When every click counts, real-time understanding is crucial. 

New Approach to Data Supports E-commerce Agility

Using modern autocapture tools powered by artificial intelligence, retailers automatically log all digital interactions across every visit — skipping the guesswork of tagging conversion events and gaining access to the entirety of the customer journey, no matter how unexpected. As patterns emerge, DXI platforms can group insights to inform retailers’ decision making. 

This new approach liberates retailers to innovate — even during the crucial holiday season — by  enabling the agility necessary to make changes in response to real-time events. With autocapture, retailers can:

Lay a foundation of privacy. Six in 10 retailers worry about the privacy implications of data collection and management, even as they seek more sophisticated understanding of consumers’ digital experiences, according to a recent study from Forrester and FullStory. When implemented correctly, autocapture can be “private by default,” collecting only the personally-identifiable information explicitly allowed in business rules, masking sensitive information, and identifying behavior patterns rather than individual profiles. 

Optimize core experiences and uncover new opportunities. Autocapture can enhance understanding of traditionally instrumented digital interactions, such as the flow from online shopping carts through checkout, by illuminating unexpected behavior patterns that may lead to glitches or dead ends. For example, stockouts on one major department store website led shoppers into a loop that prevented them from checking out – a glitch FullStory flagged so teams could resolve it quickly. 

At the same time, autocapture can uncover new “long tail” behaviors and capture sales as a result. These patterns are especially likely to emerge during the holidays, when consumers’ habits shopping for themselves are less likely to help predict how they’ll behave when finding gifts for others. During another period of unpredictability — the pandemic —  sales of garage mats on a home improvement retailer’s site spiked, a pattern FullStory detected and flagged. Deeper analysis showed customers were buying other items consistent with creating home gyms. The retailer’s marketing and merchandising teams adapted their strategies to capitalize on the new behavior. 

Experiment with confidence. Trying new channels such as livestream social shoppingcan help brands connect with new audiences, but quick feedback is essential to ensure retailers don’t over-invest in initiatives that aren’t moving the needle. Identifying the behavior patterns that arise from these new experiences and tying them to revenue events is easier with the full visibility of autocapture.

Similarly, new website or app features can break existing integrations in unforeseen ways, despite retailers’ best efforts to test prior to launch. Autocapture can quickly detect behavior patterns that signal a glitch before it becomes a widespread problem. That’s important, as 55% of consumers in a recent FullStory survey said they wouldn’t return to a website or app after experiencing a technical problem. 

When one of the largest global apparel retailers launched a high-profile customized shopping experience, FullStory alerted staff to issues occurring on the site outside of standard business hours. Using FullStory’s self-serve DXI data and contextual session insights, Gap Inc. was able to quickly diagnose the problems and prioritize the necessary fixes. With their previous analytics tool, zeroing in on the right data would have required professional support, costing the business valuable time and revenue.

Prepare to Pivot Through a Dynamic Season

The holidays aren’t just the peak season for sales anymore; since the pandemic, they’ve also become the most unpredictable months on the retail calendar. New patterns are emerging that require a new degree of agility. With a fresh approach to digital experience intelligence and the right tools in place to capture activity in real time, retailers can take the plunge into the peak season with confidence. 

Source: Retail Info Systems

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