According to new research from Mintel, online retail sales will double in Europe by 2019 and this year alone will see a 17 per cent surge in web-based sales as m-commerce plays a significant role in compounding growth, whether it?s via smartphones or tablets.With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, e-businesses are bracing themselves for a feast of enquiries running up to Christmas. Indeed, some industries are expecting even greater numbers, such as clothing and footwear, regarded as the most popular category of goods bought online, with 70 per cent of UK internet shoppers having bought these types of products in the past 12 months. Yet, as with many businesses, demand is rarely static and will naturally be subject to peaks and troughs throughout the year. What may be a feast now may turn to famine later, so what?s the best strategy for online operators to adopt so they can maximise on the flood of opportunities now and store up ongoing business for the future? The good news, of course, is that advances in technology and the ease in which customers can now make online purchases ? whether it?s via an app or browsing on a tablet or smartphone ? means that automation can help to relieve the added strain of higher volumes. After Italy, the UK has the highest number of internet users using a smartphone at 41 per cent, and is the European leader when it comes to tablet shopping, at 35 per cent. However, with the average rate of online abandoned baskets sitting between 60-70 per cent, there is also a huge volume of lost revenues that will impact orders now as well as lost income from future purchases, as dissatisfied shoppers look elsewhere. While some of these abandoned transactions can be blamed on a poor internet connection or a frustrating or over-complicated website, there are some exceptions where customers may simply just need assistance or advice from the service team on route to checkout. One example is clothing, where someone needs to check on sizing, colour or material. Likewise, if someone is having problems in verifying payments, either a phone call or webchat could ensure the transaction is completed. If you can offer this vital human interface it has the potential to dramatically improve the likelihood that customers will complete their orders and become repeat buyers. The stakes have been raised further as research reveals that the levels of online spending are also set to increase, as 33 per cent of respondents spent anywhere between ?151 up to ?500 on online shopping last Christmas and 37 per cent expect to spend more this Christmas. If your web stats show that your business is under-performing and is failing to convert browsers into purchasers, then part of the reason could be that customers are perplexed or confused. By providing a helping hand, whether on the phone, chat, email or social media could make all the difference. As consumers continue to favour tablets, then you should also consider offering out-of-hours, 24/7 support. Research shows that the most likely time for an online shopping cart to be abandoned is between 8 and 9pm, so with anytime, anywhere buying becoming more popular it makes sense to provide additional service cover outside of the conventional 9 to 5. Equally, your post-sales experience is just as important if you want to maintain high levels of satisfaction and nurture long-term loyalty. The busiest shopping day of the year may be fast-approaching, but there?s still time to prepare your resources to fully exploit the opportunities during the feast and optimise your revenues for leaner periods during the year to come. Dino Forte is the managing director of Ventrica.
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