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7 Tips for Conducting a Proper Holiday E-Commerce Post-Mortem

Conducting a post-mortem might sound like a fairly grim activity, but when done effectively, it is actually an important part of improving businesses. In the context of e-commerce, a post-mortem typically involves examining a project or campaign, figuring out the cause(s) of what occurred, and determining improvements for future iterations.

The holiday period for many retailers is a critical time of year, often making up a significant portion of sales. As a result, evaluating its success and what worked or didn’t work is very important.

Here are some tips you can use to conduct your holiday post-mortem and get insights into how to make it more successful the next time around.

1) Conduct your holiday post-mortem this month! Make sure you do your analysis while the holidays are still fresh in your mind.

2) Make sure you include all necessary stakeholders—IT, marketing, customer service, distribution center—so that your evaluation is complete and covers all channels and pain points.

3) Remind everyone of what your holiday strategy was and the reasoning behind the plan. The holidays already seem like ages ago, so make sure that when you present your analysis, you restate the promotions and products you focused on for the holidays, and any other key information, especially your metrics and goals, as well as important changes you made and how those turned out. Maybe you made a decision to extend your holiday shipping cut-offs or email your house file less often. Be honest about whether those decisions ended up being successful or not.

4) Analyze performance by customer segment, channel, and key pages. It’s not enough to know your overall revenue, sales, and traffic. In order for your analysis to be useful, the next level down is where you start to see patterns and clues you can learn from. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things you might find when looking at things in more detail:

You hit your revenue number, but an overwhelming percentage came from new customers. This indicates a troubling issue with your loyal customers—something you would want to address right away.

Your Affiliate Marketing channel ended up bringing in 10% more sales during the holiday vs. forecast, but customers who bought through that channel had significantly higher returns. Again, this is a finding that you would want to tackle in more depth.

Your homepage, which typically has a high bounce rate, was your top converting page during the holidays, while your special Holiday Gifts landing page performed poorly, *except* from traffic coming from Facebook. This might indicate that your online merchandising strategy for the homepage was especially effective, and that there was something special about the way you were promoting on Facebook that really worked well (give your social media manager a raise!). 

5) Don’t forget to focus in on operational processes. At the end of the day, your business is not just about what happens online. It is the sum total of a customer’s experience--what happens in-store or on the phone, and whether the shipment arrived in good shape and on time. You’ll also want to evaluate production and other internal processes as well—was your holiday plan well-executed? Were you able to respond quickly to holiday site emergencies? 

6) Provide industry context. Get stats and metrics about the broader market performance during the holidays and see where your business is similar and different. For example, were other sites in your space also seeing a downturn in average order value or an increase in sales from social networks? You’ll want to know that.

7) Be clear and specific about what you think you should do differently the next holiday seasonand make sure you refer back to these recommendations when you do your next round of holiday planning. All of these tips can easily be applied to any post-mortem you conduct throughout the year, not just for the holidays. Analyzing key promotions and strategies is an absolute must and should be built into your overall process. We’ll talk about how to do that in an upcoming post. In the meantime, get going on your holiday post-mortem. Time is of the essence and before you know it, Holiday 2016 will be around the corner! 

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