Pay attention to free shipping and returns policies, and act quickly when a shopper abandons a shopping cart.

As the online retail environment becomes more competitive every year, technology advances have radically transformed customer’s shopping experiences, and have also empowered retailers to quickly launch campaigns and offers designed to turn browsers to buyers and repeat customers. Our research found that Black Friday 2015 marked a dramatic shift in the technology and retail ecosystem. In analyzing customer data from last year, we found there is a lot of room for improvement. By taking a closer look at the challenges retailers face, such as returns, cart abandonment, shipping costs and mobile shopping, they can apply lessons learned last year to the fast approaching holidays to make Black Friday 2016 a revenue record breaker.

Here are some tips that will help retailers prepare for Black Friday 2016 and beyond:

1. Identify product return behaviors and optimize to modify

People are buying more than they need because of free return policies, which have become a key competitive differentiator. Retailers can maintain their free returns, and mitigate costs, by gaining a better understanding of their customers that return products regularly and tweaking the experience to combat this behavior. For example, if you determine a customer is buying multiple sizes of the same item, offer a sizing guide to better educate them and reducing the chance that they buy two of the same items.

Likewise, if you know a customer always returns items of a particular fabric type, when they land on site automatically tailor the experience around the shopper and their past purchases by deprioritizing or removing those items from their search results.

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You can also alter your experience based on device and purchasing behavior. If you know your customer prefers to make multiple smaller purchases, streamline the experience of the purchase journey and offer simple one-click purchasing.

2. Reevaluate free shipping policies

Customers often add multiple items they don’t want to hit a free delivery threshold and then use free returns to send back items they didn’t want. Lowering the threshold may incur an initial cost, but could offer savings by reducing likelihood of product returns.

For Black Friday and holiday peak shopping periods specifically, limiting free shipping to loyal customers by only offering it to email subscribers can make visitors more thoughtful about their purchases and discourage them from intentionally buying items to return.

3. Get smart with product recommendations

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If you know people are “repeat returners,” use their previous purchase history to surface a product recommendations wheel that shows items that would complement those that they’ve bought previously. Encouraging customers to complete a personalized outfit, for example, offers a better tailored experience and also decreases the chance products will be returned.

4. Optimize for mobile to create a seamless experience

Mobile took credit for 57% of all retail site visits last Black Friday (Financial Times, November 2015). Ensuring you win customers depends upon having a flawless mobile digital experience at your disposal. It needs to be treated as an individual channel, with individual strategies, instead of being neglected in favor of the desktop experience.

Streamlining the purchase journey and cutting out unnecessary stages is key to ensuring customers “stay in the funnel.” The fewer steps between picking a product and purchasing it, the better. Also, limiting messaging to hyper-relevant communications decreases the chance of antagonizing the customer with irrelevant interactions and losing them as a result. Optimizing for mobile in this way ensures a swifter and smoother experience for the customer.

5. Analyze the data to shape the experience and decrease ‘drop-offs’

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Analyze customer behavior to understand what items they are looking for and where they are dropping out of the funnel. If you can capture customer preferences early enough, you can use that data to curate their search results and increase the chance that they’ll find exactly what they’re looking for. Personalization rooted in granular analysis of your visitors is critical to shaping their experience and ensuring they receive more relevant results.

By studying bounces and time spent on particular areas of your checkout process, you can isolate areas on your site that need improvement. Once you’ve isolated areas where people are abandoning it you can work to remedy those areas to repair the funnel. One strategy to decrease abandonment is to position pop-ups to offer assistance to support the customers in that area. Going one step further, you can look to cut out unnecessary stages that are causing site drop-offs, speeding up journey time and getting customers from A to B much more quickly..

6. Respond quickly post-abandonment

If you’re not trying to rescue abandoning customers fast enough, you’re making a huge mistake. Acting quickly can be difficult if resources are stretched to the limit, so it’s important to ensure you have strategies in place for Black Friday for return customers who are actively searching for products. Studies show that emails sent 20 minutes after carts were abandoned have an open rate of 46%; an email sent within 23 hours has an open rate of 40%; and an email sent a week after has an open rate of 27%.

The clear trend is toward fast action to re-engage customers. Email is a huge channel for Black Friday — driving more than 25% of transactions — and people are definitely checking their emails for deals (Litmus, December 2015). Bring the customer back to their basket and the chance of them making a purchase dramatically increases. . People who abandon on multiple occasions are 2.6 times more likely to make a purchase than those who abandon just once, so bringing them back and re-engaging these shoppers with offers and incentives such as free shipping can make all the difference to your results.

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While it’s true that Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year, ongoing retail success in a highly competitive market also means ensuring that beyond Black Friday you are continuously driving traffic throughout the holiday season. Identify the issues that are impacting your conversions during peak sales periods, and apply what you’ve learned to drive success throughout the year.

Qubit provides digital personalization and marketing technology.