The much-hyped Black Friday and Cyber Monday holidays have passed, and we’re now in the thick of holiday shopping season. For most merchants, this is by far their busiest time of year—holiday sales account for 19% of total retail sales, though this number can be considerably higher in some industries. 

Learn more about this time of year: Returns season

You’ve spent a lot of time promoting your site to shoppers—but it’s important to consider their shopping experience once they get there. Think about the last time you shopped online. Was it easy or frustrating? Streamlined or disorganized?

Just like in a brick and mortar shop, if your customers aren’t enjoying their time at your store, they’ll leave, even if they like what you sell. In order to build a loyal audience of recurring customers, it’s important to make sure that you’re giving them a superior customer service experience at every part of their interaction with your brand—from the first touch to the last.

Optimize your customers’ experience at every step. Here’s how:

1. Make it easy for shoppers to find what they’re looking for

Holiday promotions lure in many first-time shoppers—and if you want them to make a repeat visit, make sure you don’t confuse them or try to distract them from their mission. If they simply want to purchase a deep-discount item that they saw an ad for, make it easy for them to add the item to their cart and check out. Don’t push pop-ups on them or try too hard to upsell—you can always use follow-up messages to encourage them to shop with you again another time. If they’re not sure what they’re looking for, help them find it, with chatbots that can guide them to relevant links and respond with automated messages. By making your site as easy to navigate as possible, and providing clear support channels for assistance, you’ll make it easy for customers to accomplish their goals, helping you convert more sales.

2. Provide clear, real-time inventory updates

There’s nothing more frustrating for an online shopper than finding the perfect jacket, and clicking through every color choice, only to find out that they’re all sold out in their size. Rather than forcing your customers to play whack-a-mole looking for an in-stock product, make sure that your site only displays available inventory, giving customers the option to search by size, color, and other options. If an item they like is sold out, provide suggestions for similar styles in their size. By ensuring that they find something they like that fits their needs, you’ll be better able to keep them from leaving empty-handed.

3. Give customized shopping recommendations

Some customers have a clear idea of what they want to buy, while others are simply hunting for ideas for their friends’ and families’ gifts. Help them find inspiration by building curated shopping lists based on the type of giftee or their giftee’s interests. And when a customer clicks on a product page, provide them with “shoppers also liked” options so that they can explore alternatives easily. 

4. Communicate status and shipping updates immediately

Around the holidays, shoppers are anxious to make sure that their gifts will arrive on time. Don’t leave them waiting and wondering. As soon as they click on the “buy” button, they should be connected with your transactional messaging system and receive automated messages via their channels of choice (email, SMS, and/or in-app messages).

Every time there’s news to share about a customer’s order, you can use their favorite communication channel to send anything from their order confirmation, to shipping change notices, to delivery notices and more. If there’s ever a delay with their order, let them know immediately, with a description of what’s causing the delay, if possible. And, if it’s a significant delay, make sure to compensate them for their trouble by offering store credit, or even a refund on the product. 

5. Use technology to help you ramp up customer support

During the holiday season, you’re likely to encounter customers with more questions or problems than usual. The stakes are higher, the asks are more urgent, and if you don’t have a solution for them—or someone to help solve their problem, they’re likely to come away from your site with a negative experience. You’ll need to make sure you’re set up to help them quickly and effectively.

While you’ll likely need a small live support team, you can easily scale your customer support with the help of technology that can automate common processes and workflows, helping your team members close tickets more quickly. You can also make the most of chatbots and self-service support options that can make it easy for your customers to solve their own problems. Better yet, if you’re a Loop merchant, you have access to all kinds of automated and live customer support options through our partner, Gorgias.

Read more: 4 ways to improve the customer experience with automation

6. Give an extended returns window

While you may typically require items to be returned within 14 or 30 days to be eligible for a full refund, it’s important to be more lenient when it comes to purchases made during the holiday shopping window. Often, the customer has bought a product as a gift, and the recipient may not open it until near or after the end of the return window, so it’s important to give them time to send it back if they want to. For this reason, consider offering a 45 or 60-day return window during the holiday shopping season.

7. Make sure that returns and exchanges are easy and painless

Finally, with more holiday purchases come more holiday returns—so make sure that you’re prepared to seamlessly handle customers’ return requests with automated technology that makes quick work of the returns process. With a platform like Loop, customers can self-service their return requests and have the option to easily exchange the product for either a variant or for any other item in your store, with no need to initiate a new transaction. This intuitive process simplifies things for your customers, while helping you retain more revenue from returns—Loop customers typically retain about 40% of revenue from exchanges that would otherwise be lost to refunds. 

Follow these tips and you’ll be sure to spread cheer among your customers this gift-giving season and beyond.

How can Loop help you boost profitability by optimizing for exchanges? Learn more with a demo.