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e-Commerce Merchandising Strategies for Q4 2021

‘Tis the Season to Get Busy!

While children everywhere, naughty and nice, wait for Santa Claus to make his list and check it twice, we’ve been making a checklist of our own to help consumer brands sell more online during Q4 2021.

Winning the Golden Quarter requires a special recipe of early planning, brilliant digital merchandising and of course, the tools for measuring e-commerce success. Digital shelf analytics will not only help you remain agile when executing your online merchandising plan but also in setting goals and expectations, allowing you to apply the successes of previous years to your Q4 2021 e-commerce merchandising strategy.

What’s different from Q4 2020?

In 2021, with e-commerce still in accelerated growth, consumer expectations high, and continuing issues in the supply chain, never before has it been more important to get your seasonal catalog in good shape ahead of time.

Your e-commerce tools are there to help. While the competitive landscape becomes increasingly complex, the world of data and analytics is maturing - steaming ahead with ever-sharper insights and processes that help take the strain from e-commerce teams looking for advantages.

As a point of reference, let’s get the key dates for Q4 2021 into perspective.

  • October 31 - Halloween (US, Canada, Australia, UK, some EU)
  • November 4 - Diwali (India)
  • November 11 - Singles Day (China, Japan)
  • November 25 - Thanksgiving (US)
  • November 26 - Black Friday (US, Canada, Australia, UK, most of EU)
  • November 28 - December 6 - Hanukkah (Global)
  • November 29 - Cyber Monday (US, Canada, Australia, UK, most of EU)
  • December 13 - Green Monday (10 shipping days before Christmas)
  • December 25 - Christmas (Global)
  • December 26 - Boxing Day (UK, Australia, NZ, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, parts of EU)

Each of your e-retail partners and marketplaces will have their own deadlines for submitting deals, placing media and supplying inventory. These will need to frame your planning timeline. Look out for the deadlines for submitting inventory to Amazon fulfillment centres for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Christmas Shopping and 2021*.
*Dates not yet confirmed at the time of writing

Let’s take a look at the kind of decision support your digital shelf data and analytics tools can provide for Q4.

What am I promoting, where and when?

If you have a wide catalog, it makes sense to narrow your focus to priority products during peak sales events. Your seasonal catalog will likely consist of a healthy mix of Best Sellers, Rising Stars, seasonal lines and perhaps products nearing end of life. Using historic analytics, you should be able to track which products are annual top performers as well as the impact your pricing, promotions and media tactics made on sales during previous events.

When working with your e-retail partners in the run-up to Q4, it’s important to give particular attention to those most likely to invest in promoting your products over your competitors. These e-stores are likely to also be where you enjoy the highest volume of sales.

With regard to timing your promotions, if supply issues remain a problem and early shipping costs are inflated, can you afford the depth of promotion you enjoyed last year at the same point in time? Could your window for promotion change to either post- or pre- last year’s dates to allow for more aggressive pricing at a different point in time?

Once you have identified your catalog, you can begin to look at the position of the products on the digital shelf and begin your tactical plan to shuffle them into prime spots.

Of course, it’s all about Stock

If you want a “sell-out” Q4 in 2021, you will need to make sure you have enough stock in the right place at the right time. In light of ongoing shipping disruption, Q4 2021 may prove trickier than previous years when it comes to inventory, so choose your catalog with this in mind.

Pricing and Promotions - find your window

Although your pricing decisions should be made well in advance and in line with MAP policies, brands are faced with needing to alter pricing strategies to counter rival moves as the season progresses. Make sure you are closely monitoring pricing fluctuations and trends across the category.

In situations where MAP is difficult to execute, such as during Amazon Q4 sales events, consider offering bundles that give you greater control over price.

iMedia monitoring - multipurpose intelligence

You will need to decide which products to promote, when and on which channels and make your submissions within the deadlines set by your retailers. Additionally, why not use historic iMedia measurement data to support your search strategy? Your digital shelf analytics tool should be able to test, track and refine both paid and organic search strategies so that each can inform the other.

Don’t forget to check that your retailer has implemented your iMedia plan as agreed.

Ratings & Reviews - keep your finger on the pulse

Continuing the momentum with your Review strategy right through the season will reap rewards as shoppers increasingly make important purchase decisions by recommendation. While sales are at a high, you will find the volume of your reviews and ratings follow a similar trajectory. If your Ratings fall suddenly, it could lose your hard-earned Amazon Choice badge.

Unfortunately, Amazon Brand Analytics no longer offers manufacturers detailed SKU-level analysis on Ratings & Reviews. If you can track this using your digital shelf analytics platform, you should be in a good place to keep your strategy on track for your seasonal catalog.

Winning in Shopper Search and in Category

There are few approaches to improving findability (other than ‘pay to play’) that can be implemented effectively in a short period of time. Like a tidal wave, these strategies gain in strength over time. The earlier you start, the easier it is to achieve your goals because the challenge is not so great. Early execution in Q3 or before will serve you well when Q4 events require you to be highly visible.

It’s important to win in both search and in category rank. When it comes to search, don’t forget to seasonalize your keywords, for example, candles can be Christmas candles, Hanukkah candles or Diwali candles too. When it comes to taxonomy, always check for sub-category opportunities where there is less competition and easier to achieve a Best Seller position.

Content is Crucial

Alongside Availability and Traffic, Content has to be one of the three things you can’t afford to get wrong. You will want to make an early start on your content adjustment, making sure it is rich, consistent and seasonal.

And “Mobile First!” should be your mantra. At the very least, your Hero images should be optimized for mobile devices and you should be tracking activity on e-retailer and marketplace apps as well as websites.

Rich content across all your channels will unquestionably convert more sales however, making it consistent is a trickier challenge but one that is equally important. As more and more consumers are shopping cross-channel, it is vital that your product can be easily identified, matched and compared for price, delivery and any other influencing factors that will get the sale over the line, wherever your shopper chooses to place their order.

Operationalizing your Q4 Strategy

Winning Q4 is something your whole e-commerce organization will enjoy and it is important to review roles, responsibilities and areas of focus in the early days. For example, each team member deserves a specific set of KPIs that may be differently adjusted to reflect your seasonal focus.

At any point, you may need the team to pivot and either roll with the blows or seize an emerging opportunity. Winning teams will be agile and well-informed so make sure that intelligence is available in near as possible real-time, for example, Amazon’s Best Seller rank changes hourly, prices fluctuate, and inventory should be on constant and high alert.

Ahead of time, design data dashboards that your KAMs and other team members can access. After all, they will be living and breathing performance data for weeks, so make it good and remove any obstacles that hinder engagement, be they interface-, training- or data-related.

For an in-depth look at each of these strategies, download our complete checklist which also includes a list of hacks that brands can use to improve their e-commerce merchandising strategy in Q4.

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