The holiday season is approaching fast and that usually means increased sales for product-based businesses. What it also means is an increase in the number of returns, thrown away items ultimately ending up in landfill and the amount of stress placed on employees to handle the extra workload. Find out how you can maintain a healthy state for people and our planet without compromising your profit.
The biggest shopping days of the year
For decades, Black Friday has been causing chaos in the form of crazed mobs fighting over discounted items, exhausted employees and excessive consumerism.
What is Cyber Monday?
The term "Cyber Monday" was coined by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the U.S. in 2005 to name the rising number of online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when most people should be working and not shopping online. This year, it falls on November 28, 2022.
According to Comscore, consumers spent $9.81 billion on Cyber Monday in 2020 in the US alone - a 24% increase over 2019. In Europe, online sales increased by 86% on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In Germany, online sales increased by 50% on Black Friday and 16% on Cyber Monday alone.
However, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer just one-day sales. For several years, stores have been competing to get in on the action earlier and for longer periods of time, for example with Amazon's "Cyber Monday Deals Week." And because of the pandemic, retailers last year urged their customers to shop even earlier to avoid logistical delays and crowds in stores.
A study of 526 internet users across Europe conducted by Integral Ad Science (IAS) concluded that 59% of buyers were even shopping before November last year!
The dark side of the holiday season
While the potential for increased sales is empowering, the damage of excessive consumerism is immense. Not only to our own health and wellbeing, but to our environment.
If that wasn’t enough, shopping for others, especially for items such as clothes, is risky, and retailers are aware that the holiday season is accompanied with increased returns.
NRF reported that 13.3% of merchandise sold in the USA, approx. $101 billion, during the 2020 holiday season will be returned. Returns not only mean a loss of time and money, it also means an increase in thrown away items.
"88% of consumers think returns go straight back to the shelf and are resold to the next person. But in reality, the majority of returned items can't be sold as new," said Ann Starodaj, director of sustainability at Optoro, a returns process technology company. The company says landfill waste from returns alone adds 15 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
In a world where increasing sales means inadvertently harming our planet, your job as an online shop owner is to help customers make a conscious choice which results in decreasing returns and increasing satisfaction and loyalty. Help your products find a good, permanent home!
Lead the way to empower people, protect our planet and secure your profit
If you can't compete with the giants who have huge advertising budgets, Cyber Monday might not give you much of an advantage. And since you value green hosting from Raidboxes, you're probably taking more steps to protect the planet anyway.
So before you jump on the price-squeezing holiday sales bandwagon, I suggest you take a step back and consider where you and your brand align with the idea of over-consumption during the holidays. Ask yourself, "Is participating in Cyber Monday on-brand?"
There are only three answers to this question: YES, NO and MAYBE SO.
For example: If you regularly offer discounts, can compete with major online retailers and sell FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), Cyber Monday is probably a definite YES for you. In this case, you could still do your part for our planet and optimize your return policy, product descriptions, etc. to help your customers make a conscious choice so that they keep their products.
If you answered no or maybe, it's wise not to stay in the "eco-bubble" and ignore these major shopping days because of your ethical values. While this is serious, it won't help you become a leader for change. Let alone sell your products. It will only hurt you in the long run - and no one wants that.
In this case, you have an incredible opportunity to turn that question around and ask yourself, "How can I participate without doing more harm?" Whether you want to participate in these sales days or not, the following tips will help you and our planet.
The key to success: communication
In any relationship, communication is the most important thing. You and your customers are in a relationship and when you communicate honestly and with integrity and authenticity, your customers will trust you and be happy to support you. If you haven’t already done so, please read my last article about non-manipulative marketing to get an idea of how to communicate in an ethical way.
If you don’t want to participate in Cyber Monday with a discount, just say so. Tell them that your products are handmade and the price you paid for the materials were higher this year and therefore, you cannot discount the price. Whatever your situation, show your customers the true value of your high quality products, i.e. in a video highlighting your clean supply chain from A-Z, the people who made them, etc.
As a fan of Raidboxes, you care about our environment. That's why I invite you to find creative ways to raise awareness about overconsumption that align with your company's values and offerings.
10,000 trees for Green Friday
Here are a few examples to get inspiration from:
- On Black Friday 2015, the outdoor clothing company, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), started the #OptOutside campaign to boycott shopping and instead, spend time outside. Every Black Friday since, REI closes their physical stores, doesn't process any online orders and gives their employees the day off. With this campaign, over 150 businesses followed REI’s lead and hundreds of US state and national parks opened up for free to invite visitors to come with their friends and families and connect with nature.
- Vegan fashion brand, Angela Roi, is boycotting Black Friday for the 2nd year in a row and encouraging customers to instead donate any amount over $1 to @FeedingAmerica or a charity of their choice in exchange for a 20% discount on their next purchase.
- Everlane, a sustainable fashion brand in the U.S., also launched the "Black Friday Fund" in 2013 to combine customers' purchases with donations to various charities around the world.
- The Buy More Rubbish campaign by London-based retailer, Public Fibre, sold the top 10 ocean polluters on Black Friday last year and gave back to The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization based in Rotterdam with the mission to do just that; clean up the ocean by 90% with advanced technology.
- Starting this Black Friday, GiffGaff and LADbible are inviting you to Check Your Drawers for old phones in hiding. For every phone sent to them, they’ll reward you with cash.
- Instead of price crunching, Allbirds, a certified B-Corp sustainable footwear company, raised all their prices last year on Black Friday by $1, matched them by $1 and gave that money to ‘Fridays for Future’. In 2019, they closed all stores and offered free workshops to customers to teach them about sustainable consumerism.
In these examples, collaborating to raise awareness is necessary as well as creative and fun, so if you want to be a brand for good, get inspired by these ideas and think about how your brand can spread your message.
Optimize the customer shopping experience
What makes online shopping the preferred option for many customers is the convenience. Especially for holiday shopping, there’s no place like home as opposed to a shopping mall with hundreds of stressed-out people bumping into each other.
To make online shopping a positive experience, your shop needs to be safe, user-friendly, easy, quick and clear. Understanding why people bounce and return products is crucial to running a smooth and successful online shop.
To increase trust and decrease bounce rates and returns:
- Write honest and accurate product descriptions. Read feedback from your customers to gain even more insight. If your products are sold on other platforms, check there too. For more transparency, you can add a text paragraph like "this product is not suitable for you if".
- Design accurate body size charts. How many times has this tripped us all up while shopping for clothes online? I can’t even count. You can look at past returns to see if there’s a trend for a particular item to be too small or too big and communicate that in your product description if it doesn’t match your charts.
- Educate your sales and customer service team. As a society, we’re taught to sell, sell, sell and buy, buy, buy, no matter what. That’s a major reason why our planet is in crisis! By educating your teams to implement a philosophy to only sell items if it will benefit the customer, you will gain trust and happy, long-term customers.
- Use a follow-up process that goes beyond the "please leave a review" email request. For more expensive items, call your customers not only to build a relationship with them, but also to get important feedback on how the product is working and how you can improve it.
- Add a Q&A section to your products. Amazon offers this feature where customers can ask questions that aren’t answered in the product description. The best product descriptions are those that leave no more questions to be asked, but you only know what you know, so this will give you the opportunity to find out what customers want. If you have the resources, offer a chat option for quick questions. Even if it’s just over the holidays.
- Invest in return management software if you’re spending too much time on returns that should be spent nurturing your customers.
Be a role model and shop consciously
You’re not only a shop owner, you’re also a consumer and I hope one who is concerned about our future. Here are some tips that will help the way you shop:
- Support ethical brands. who have a clean supply chain and support the same cause as the receiver of your meaningful gifts. Use the hashtag #ShopEthicalInstead created by Ethical Hour.
- Gift experiences. Creating memories strengthens relationships and makes us happy. Stuff? Not so much. Studies prove that material goods only make us temporarily happy, supposedly only a whopping 20 seconds after receiving that item. This is good news for travel/tour agencies and the entertainment business (concerts, musicals, plays, etc.), not so much for product-based businesses. We still need our stuff though, but if you want to try something different this year, gift an experience and let the receiver buy their own stuff they feel they need. I almost guarantee that your experiences will never be returned.
- Make your own gifts. A classic fail for some, but a true gift from the heart for others.
- Give the gift of knowledge. Is there something your loved one wants to learn? Find a course or buy a gift certificate for Udemy or Masterclass or better yet, search for an expert in that particular field and support them directly.
- Give back. This solution may not fly for everyone and we don’t all have the ability to finance a wildlife organization for our loved ones, but in all reality, any amount for a good cause is so much better than a new knick-knack that will collect dust.
- Spread awareness. If you participate in a campaign such as #OptOutside or #ShopEthicalInstead, shout out about it on your social channels to inform your friends, families and followers. Every new adapter is a step in the right direction toward a healthier way of shopping.
You have the opportunity to turn the holidays into what they’re supposed to be about: Relationships and love. Wishing you an abundant and peaceful holiday season.