The run-up to the holiday season is the busiest time of year for most online retailers. But how can you ensure you don’t suffer too badly from a post-Christmas slump in sales, especially while your sales staff and marketing teams are relaxing away from the office?
Online shopping is now a 24/7 experience, so there’s no need for your store to shut down even while your employees are winding down. By making the most of the technology available, you can ensure persuasive marketing messages are being sent out, and your most valuable customers are returning to buy from you. Inquiries and orders can still be handled effectively and efficiently, and with the right tools, your online store will constantly be evolving to meet the changing demands of consumers at this time of year and into January.
Let’s explore five ways that artificial intelligence can help keep your sales momentum rolling well into the new year.
Intelligent split testing
If you really want to be making the most of your website and its ability to earn you sales, then there’s a good chance you know all about conversion rate optimization (CRO). CRO is the practice of optimizing your site’s appearance and functionality to ensure that it has the best chance of persuading your visitors to purchase from you. Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who take the desired action on your site. In the case of an ecommerce site, this usually applies to the percentage of visitors who buy something, and improving this metric can be a key step to growing revenues for your business.
Split testing is one of the key techniques used for optimizing a site, and involves presenting different versions of a page or your store, and splitting your traffic to see which version gets the best results. You can then roll out the winning designs to all your visitors, to hopefully grow your conversion rate. The best-known types of split tests are A/B tests and multivariate tests (MVT). With an A/B test, your visitors are split in half and presented with two versions of your site, version ‘A’ or version ‘B’. For multivariate tests, multiple changes on a page are tested at the same time creating many more than two versions, allowing you to try out various combinations of elements to see which work best.
The limitations of traditional split testing software mean that the tests are often quite a hands-on process and it can be difficult to deliver real improvements until the test is finished. You need to define your audience split in advance, are limited in making changes during the test if you want statistically reliable results, and must wait until it is completed before you can apply winning designs to a wider segment of visitors.
This approach can be tricky during the holiday season when your marketing or optimization team are taking time off. You might be running tests over Christmas and New Year, but it’s unlikely that anyone will be around to check the results or apply any changes until the office opens back up again in January.
Sentient Ascend is an AI-powered optimization platform that addresses some of these limitations and allows you to get quicker results and bigger wins from your multivariate tests, without needing hands-on involvement throughout the duration of the test.
By using evolutionary algorithms, it can run thousands of combinations of design changes, many more than could be manually set up. But the ongoing analysis also allows the test to intelligently learn which combinations are showing the most potential, promoting the design variations that are most likely to bring an uplift, ensuring you get results quicker, but also see more positive performance improvements during the test itself. This means you can set your tests up before finishing for the holidays, safe in the knowledge that the optimization process will be running throughout, with an artificial brain making conversion-boosting design decisions on your behalf.
The clue is in the name with marketing automation, as it allows you to automate a lot of your marketing activity and crucial communication with your customers or potential customers. The boom time of the pre-Christmas shopping rush means you should have captured more email addresses and customer details than ever. This represents a big opportunity to get your communication loops running effectively across different channels to ensure you get as much repeat business as possible. And the beauty of it is once it’s set up, it runs itself, so you can be sure that messages are going out to do the hard work of selling even while your team is enjoying a break.
Automation platforms allow you to set up a variety of rules to trigger communication with your customer database. For example, this could include post-purchase messages, basket abandonment reminders, new product notifications, or email campaigns letting people know about your next promotion or discount sale.
It is not limited to email either, with text messages, push notifications or instant messaging all effective channels for staying in touch with your customers.
If you’re planning to launch a sale after Christmas, then you can set up automated notifications to email your past customers with details of the special offers. More sophisticated platforms will also allow you to segment your audiences based on their previous orders and send them details about deals on the products that are most likely to appeal to them, with personalized content standing a better chance of leading to a sale. You can also reward your loyal customers with discount codes or offers to thank them for their business during the build-up to the holidays.
Tapping into your database is one of the most cost-effective ways to drive further revenue for your store, so it is essential that you keep in touch with your previous customers and remind them that you are around, what you offer and why they should purchase from you. Marketing automation means you can keep this communication running even when your staff members aren’t working, triggering emails and messages to send at the most effective times.
Retargeting is another key tactic for keeping your store front of mind with previous visitors. It allows you to serve specific, targeted display advertisements to web users across different sites, apps, and social media platforms, encouraging them to return to your store and purchase from you.
Similar to marketing automation, it can be set-up with specific rules and triggers, so that once you have a campaign set up, it can keep running without needing too much manual input, which again makes it a great way to keep sales rolling throughout the holidays and during the post-holiday period.
You can target ads to people who’ve visited your site but not yet bought from you, people who viewed specific product pages, those who added items to their basket but never completed the purchase, or previous customers who might be interested in new ranges that you are launching. These are just a few examples, but there are endless options for content and targeting to help your retargeting campaigns deliver ongoing results.
Machine learning is helping to make retargeting more effective and efficient than ever before. It can make the most of all the data available about your products, customers and site visitors to ensure advertisements are shown at the right time and with the most relevant content. Dynamic ad content can be personalized to make it as persuasive as possible for each user.
Setting up a series of automated, dynamic and hyper-targeted ad campaigns can ensure you keep attracting high quality and high converting traffic to your site, even once the Christmas rush has ended.
Personalized ecommerce experiences can have a significant impact on the performance of your site, ensuring each user sees relevant products, finds what they are looking for as quickly as possible, and is encouraged to keep coming back to buy from you.
Personalization has developed quickly in recent years, with artificial intelligence allowing retailers to tap into the vast amounts of data available, using live and in-the-moment signals from site visitors to present individual product recommendations and messaging to each visitor. It can be particularly accurate and persuasive for returning visitors and previous customers, which makes it a powerful tactic to use beyond the holiday season, presenting unique versions of your pages to all those new customers you have acquired during the pre-Christmas spike.
The ability to instantly change the products and themes promoted on your site is also crucial at this time of year. People will also be in a different buying mindset during and beyond the holidays. January and the post-Christmas comedown period often lead to different priorities, with consumers looking for health and fitness products, January sale discounts, productivity and goal-planning accessories, replacements for gifts that didn’t fit, or inspiring items to help them combat the January blues.
Being able to quickly adapt to your visitors’ changing demands will help you keep them on your site longer, offering them the most relevant products to suit what they are looking for at any particular time. Personalization allows you to instantly showcase the products that each user is most likely to buy, recognizing what they’re looking for within a few clicks and swipes, and even pre-selecting the correct sizes.
Personalized product recommendations use deep learning algorithms to be able to adapt what is presented depending on the signals each visitor displays. In Sentient Aware’s ecommerce recommendation engine, these algorithms are powered by evolutionary AI, allowing stores to make in-the-moment recommendations by immediately analyzing each tap and swipe and instantaneously scouring your customer data and product inventory to make the most persuasive recommendations.
Personalizing product recommendations can be useful across homepages, category sections, checkout pages, or even in email communications and other off-site messaging to your customers. Allowing your site to constantly change to meet to the demands of each customer creates a persuasive and evolving experience, which can keep earning sales even without your marketing team in the office to constantly update your site layouts and messaging.
The advancement of artificially intelligent chatbots has given retailers a new tool to improve customer experiences from service to sales, but without needing to employ an army of extra customer service staff. Chatbots can also take care of some of the work on behalf of your sales team while they are enjoying a well-earned break over the holidays.
Bots use natural-sounding language to communicate with customers over live chat, social media or messaging apps, and can mimic human sales assistants, even while your other staff members are still sleeping off their Christmas dinner.
For example, beauty brand Sephora launched a chatbot on messaging app Kik, sending personalized beauty tips to customers, handling product questions and allowing shoppers to buy recommended items directly through the app.
Similar developments have seen retailers using bots to recommend products based on images submitted by consumers, food delivery services taking orders over Twitter, or online retailers setting up new customer accounts and taking payments all via Facebook Messenger.
Such strategies mean your artificial assistants can continue to secure sales without customers even having to leave their favorite messaging app to visit your store. You can essentially take your store to wherever it is most convenient for your potential customers and on the platforms where they are already spending their time.
While you may be looking forward to putting your feet up after a hectic holiday season, there’s no reason why your ecommerce site has to take a rest too. Customers are still looking to buy, and by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and the ever-developing automation tools at your disposal, you can ensure the hard work will still take place, even while you’re taking a well-earned rest.