Succeeding in the new face-to-face — a guide to preparing your digital storefront for peak season

(This is Part 2 of our series, “Preparing your site for peak season.” If you haven’t already read “’The 5 Ps of peak season performance’ -- a guide to preparing your infrastructure for high traffic,” we recommend reading that article first.)

After two and a half years of weathering COVID-19, companies that joined the ecommerce wave are starting to see a slow but steady return to brick-and-mortar shopping. Although consumers are going back to in-person shopping, they aren’t totally reverting to their pre-pandemic habits and are approaching their purchases with new expectations. Customers are looking for a seamless omnichannel experience that balances online and in-person options, with 75% of US consumers deliberating and making their purchases across both channels.

If your company only lives in the digital space, there’s no need to worry. Ultimately, these new preferences demonstrate the lasting impact of ecommerce, as well as the stickiness of some behaviors formed during the pandemic. Most notably, customers will continue to demand a smooth shopping experience online, and businesses that can’t meet this baseline will lose potential sales.

To ensure success during peak season amidst these trends, we encourage you to read about the following common best practices for the front end of your site, including curated product recommendations, an engaging homepage, and/or the ability to defer payments (buy now, pay later).

Merchandising

Facilitate browsing with category landing pages

Merchants can improve the shopping experience with minimal technical investment by building the right pathways for customers to browse digitally. Prospects often navigate to your site with a pre-existing idea of a person, experience, or product that they want to find. To support these expectations and create opportunities for new discoveries, category landing pages group your merchandise so customers can browse for related options they might not have considered.

Category landing pages are typically grouped around the product, such as socks, bikes, or baking products. But don’t be afraid to create conceptual landing pages as well. For example, a category focused on “camping” that includes outerwear, sleeping bags, small-batch ground coffee, and other loosely related items can help a shopper capture a more complete view of their options. If you want to build these pages quickly, Page Builder in Adobe Commerce is an easy and efficient tool to leverage.

Be relatable

Product recommendations also help customers to make new discoveries, locate products that most closely fit their needs, and drive sales. An AI-powered product recommendation engine is a core part of the Adobe Commerce platform. It utilizes Adobe Sensei, a proven machine learning algorithm, to analyze shopper behavior and make relevant recommendations within seconds. Additionally, the engine continually learns as it collects more and more shopping data so that recommendations become refined over time.

You can also use Page Builder to easily add a variety of product recommendations — such as “also viewed,” “also bought,” “best-selling,” and so on — to virtually any page in your web store. If you don’t currently include product recommendations as part of your shopping experience, we suggest adding and testing them before peak season.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use the native product recommendations tool, you can connect your Commerce instance to a homegrown model or one of the many third-party solutions available in Adobe’s Commerce Marketplace.

Site Content

Make home a welcoming place

Your homepage serves as the first point of contact with a prospect, and therefore needs to be well designed to make a great first impression. First, check that your most popular categories and products are featured along with your latest promotion, and post quick links for answers to commonly asked questions. An effective homepage should also prominently display a simple, one-sentence description of your shipping and return policies (linking out to more details), and mention curbside or in-store pickup (if you’ve made these options available).

In addition to presenting key information to new visitors, eliminate friction as much as possible to move customers to another step in the shopping experience. Calls to action — such as “see products on sale,” “find a store,” and so on — should be prominent, engaging, and clickable.

Be where your customers want to land

Spend time researching and analyzing the most common landing pages that your customers visit based on search engines and referrers. If your homepage is high on this list, be sure to also identify the top 10 pages that customers visit when they come across your site for the first time. Just like the homepage, optimize content on the 10 pages by sharing accessible information on shipping, returns, and sales. Take a moment to verify that the content on these pages (e.g., descriptions, color options, customization, and images) are all within your current brand guidelines.

When conducting this page analysis, gather insights from both current and historic trends. We highly recommend evaluating how your site performed during the same period in previous years, so you can identify which pages drive the highest conversion rates.

Don’t slip when it’s time to ship

When it comes time to complete their purchase, customers don’t want to be surprised about the price, timing, or options for shipping. Clearly communicate shipping expectations throughout the customer journey and prominently display shipping information on product detail pages. At a minimum, customers should see information on shopping options, prices, and delivery timing.

We also highly recommend offering alternative shipping options, such as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup. Providing shoppers with the choice of how they receive their goods empowers them with the speed and timing that’s most compatible with their day-to-day lives. You can learn more about how your storefront can offer BOPIS with Store Fulfillment, which is our mobile-enabled BOPIS solution for omnichannel fulfillment.

Also, it won’t hurt (and can even help) your sales to have a free option for shipping — this kind of promotion has proven successful for ecommerce businesses in virtually every industry.

Engagement

Make sure you’re searchable

Adobe Commerce offers Live Search, a native search capability that delivers lightning fast, hyper-relevant results by utilizing Adobe Sensei to perform a deep analysis of aggregated visitor data. This data, when combined with your site’s catalog, results in highly engaging, relevant, and personalized shopping experiences. If you aren’t using Live Search yet, we suggest adding and testing the feature before peak season.

Don’t let sign-up be a letdown

Requiring customers to sign up for an account before purchase can cause many shoppers to abandon their orders. If you don’t already offer a guest checkout option, we strongly suggest setting one up before peak season. Guest checkout has proven to increase conversions.

Once the guest option is in place, persuading (but not forcing) customers to sign up for an account or opt-in to a newsletter during the checkout process can be a great choice. Rather than just asking directly, include context about the benefits of signing up for an account or newsletter.

For account signups, explain how an account can enhance future shopping via order recall, faster returns, loyalty program eligibility, and easier checkout. If you don’t already have a loyalty program in place, you can build one quickly with native features in Adobe Commerce. Also, let customers know whether the newsletter includes discounts or coupons. In either case, be sure that your sign-up process uses the reCAPTCHA tool for security.

Another way to streamline customers signing up for an account is to let them create one with their social media credentials. You can find a wide variety of social integration extensions on Adobe’s Commerce Marketplace.

Chat with your customers

Providing a live chat feature offers an effective alternative for personalized, quick communication with customers. When selecting the right tool for your digital storefront, consider whether you need preformatted answers, how you’d like to configure your administrative interface, and how live chat might integrate with other extensions on your site.

Multiple extensions are available in Adobe’s Commerce Marketplace. Additionally, Adobe Commerce 2.3.4+ offers Live Chat powered by dotdigital.

Payment Options

Think outside the credit card

Even though credit cards are crucial for online shopping, offering multiple payment methods can speed up customer checkout and reduce cart abandonment. It has never been easier to accommodate the many ways that customers pay online, so we recommend exploring integration options for PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and the full spectrum of products offered in Adobe’s Commerce Marketplace. Learn more about setting up payments in Adobe Commerce.

Don’t be afraid of deferral

In difficult economic times, deferred and structured payment systems can help convert customers who might need some assistance to complete transactions. Extensions such as Klarna and PayPal Credit offer deferred payment options to customers during the checkout process. Adding these flexible payment methods will attract customers and improve the overall shopping experience.

One step to success

To reduce abandoned carts, we recommend leveraging tools that help customers accelerate the sales process. Adding Onepage Checkout, which is native to Adobe Commerce, can drive conversion by reducing the number of clicks during checkout. Instant Purchase can also expedite checkout for registered customers by using information saved in their account. You can find many more extensions to optimize the checkout experience in Adobe’s Commerce Marketplace.

Need more guidance?

If you’d like more content on preparing your site for peak season, check out part three of our series in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we also recommend the following articles for further reading:

Author: Corey Gelato is a senior commerce strategy consultant at Adobe

Co-author: Sarah Ohta is a digital engagement strategist at Adobe