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What’s Hiding in Your Shopping Cart?

Stefan Schmidt
December25/ 2014


Back in 2001, Coca Cola’s marketing team decided to retire the iconic ‘Holidays are Coming!’ advert. You remember the one. It portrays a caravan of bright red Coke-branded trucks lighting up the countryside, with Santa right at the back sipping a bottle of Coca Cola. Six years later, the company decided to bring it back. Why? Because apparently scores of customers phoned in to tell Coca Cola that for them the advert marked the ‘beginning of Christmas’. This little story illustrates just how deeply TV advertising is stitched into popular culture during the festive season.

This isn’t lost on the world’s biggest brands. Last year, US retailer Kmart was so desperate to ensure its holiday advert was appreciated by as many consumers as possible that it was released on September 8th. That’s a full 105 days before Christmas! Although, predictably, social media exploded with fury, it’s another example of how seriously retailers take customer acquisition in the festive season.

While this urgency is understandable – Christmas is ‘make or break’ for almost every retailer – it is perhaps a little myopic. According to statistics from Comscore, a staggering 66 per cent of online shopping carts are abandoned before customers ‘check out’. That’s right. At the exact moment that retailers are spending vast sums of money on advertising to attract potential customers, they are ignoring the would-be customers who are just a few clicks away from awarding them a sale. How’s that for irony?

We’re talking serious money here. According to Capgemini and IMRG, in December 2013 alone UK shoppers spent over £11bn online. Never mind 66 per cent, if just a small percentage of those abandoned baskets had been converted into a sale, there are a number of retailers right across the country that might have enjoyed a much happier Christmas. Perhaps the first question UK retailers should ask themselves this year is not ‘how many customers can I attract?’, but rather ‘how do I convert the ones that I already did attract?’

There are a number of different reasons that customers don’t follow through on an online transaction, however very few of those reasons are entirely unavoidable from a retailer’s perspective. Consumers are often distracted or interrupted midway through a purchase, and then forget to return. Sometimes a customer will place items in a basket, then go away to ‘think it over’ and never come back. Another common issue is that the product is out of stock, or the fulfilment option the customer is searching for isn’t available.

For the disrupted shopping journey, emerging omni-channel technology is increasingly capable of enticing customers back to a website to finish what they started. For example, retailers with a properly joined up, integrated e-commerce platform can remind a would-be-customer about a purchase via email, SMS, social media or in-app. They can ensure that a returning shopper knows there is something sitting in their basket and encourage them to go back and ‘close the deal’, recovering the lost revenue.

If a journey is abandoned because of stock or fulfilment issues, then, come January, retailers must take a long hard look at their omni-channel strategy. Using omni-channel commerce solutions, it is increasingly possible for retailers to provide customers with ‘endless aisles’, seamlessly source and ship out-of-stock products from other locations. In the 21st century, no product should be out of stock. It’s that simple. Secondly, every online retailer should have invested in technology that enables customers to receive their product exactly as they want, whether that’s in-store through click and collect, or perhaps a same-day delivery service. There’s simply no excuse not to.

Right now, with Christmas craziness well underway, retailers are simply knuckling down, strapping in and keeping everything crossed for a successful festival season. However, once the dust has settled, the inevitable inquest begins: did we hit our online sales target? If not, why not?

Come the New Year, some retailers will need to ask themselves a tough question: does it really make sense to prioritise a big budget advert – a billboard, a print ad, a TV spot – over ensuring our order fulfilment and basket conversion strategy is cutting edge?

Stefan Schmidt