Optimize Holiday Sales With Design Thinking in 5 Easy Steps

By Emily Rose Patz


The main ingredient in design thinking is people, and it’s no surprise that keeping your focus on the people who will make your company’s mission possible will result in successful holiday sales.
Spend about three seconds in the Promotions tab of your Gmail inbox, and you’ll probably ask yourself, “What’s not on sale?” During a season when standing out isn’t as easy as offering deep discounts, your team can benefit from understanding your customers’ point of view on what makes the perfect holiday sale and how your website can support it. While “revolutionary” might not be on the table, “relatable” and “resonant” certainly are. The key to pinpointing the sales structures that stick can be found through a process that marketers, engineers, and educators alike adopt to achieve success: design thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

While it’s a simple, and as many would see it, obvious approach to just about anything one would create, design thinking goes against our human nature to base our decisions on what we think, experience, and feel. Design thinking is a people-centric process that helps us solve problems by deepening our understanding of our customers.

Empathetic in spirit and endlessly iterative, design thinking challenges us to rethink our assumptions by:

  • Connecting with customers and gaining their perspectives
  • Building strategies to reflect those perspectives
  • Testing our strategies to measure their performance
  • Analyzing our results to refine our approach
  • Starting the whole process over again

This last bullet is perhaps the most important one, as design thinking is more of a mindset or a culture than a framework for a single, one-time initiative. While a culture shift may seem like a difficult feat, repeating this process over a series of projects will encourage its adoption as a reliable method for solving problems. 

Five Steps for Applying Design Thinking to Your Holiday Sales Structure

The best part of design thinking methodology is that it’s endlessly adaptable. While different industries may add their own tweaks to approaching it, design thinking is most often composed of the same customer-centric steps. To help you leverage it for your holiday sales, here are five steps that outline how to “design think” your way into an innovative sales structure that’s tailored to your customers’ needs and aspirations.

Step 1: Learn How Your Website & Promotions Make Your Customers Feel

The first step to design thinking? Stop guessing and start asking. Talk to your customers. Assign several team members a short list of customers and send those customers an email request to set up a time to connect by phone. In your email, let them know that you value their opinion and you’d like to learn about their preferences so you can improve their online shopping experience. You can also consider sweetening the deal by giving them incentives like gift cards or site credits for their time. 
Before your call, be sure to have customer data on hand so you can reference sales that they’ve responded to in the past. Your 20-minute phone call can address the following questions:
  • How does shopping on [COMPANY NAME]’s website make you feel?
  • When you shop on our website, where do you look first?
  • Which website promotions do you enjoy?
  • Which promotions do you typically pass on? Why?
  • How would you describe the perfect online holiday sale?

One-on-one feedback sessions take time and resources. Fortunately, you can pair this effort with an automated way to track customer behavior on your website. Heat-mapping tools like Hotjar provide marketers with critical insights that reveal how shoppers engage on your website. From page clicks to scroll stops, every move a visitor makes can be captured and translated into actionable analytics. While this is not a replacement for conversations with your customers, it can provide valuable data that influences design, copy, and website structure decisions as you seek to optimize your digital experience for holiday shoppers. 

Step 2: Use This Data to Craft Sales & Let Customers Pick the Top Two

When interviews have concluded, aggregate customers’ emotions about what it’s like to shop with your company into a powerful statement. Next, pull insights from your heatmap analytics. This data will serve as the foundation for a holiday sale brainstorm that can boost website conversions, encourage repeat purchases, and provide a reliable revenue stream into the new year.
Your brainstorm will yield lots of great ideas. Narrow them down by choosing the ones that best reflect the data that reveals how your customers feel and behave. Once your team has chosen three to five sale ideas, survey the top 10 percent of your customers and ask them to pick the sale that most appeals to them. 

Step 3: A/B Test the Sales Most Preferred by Top Customers

With two holiday sales structures handpicked by your most valuable customers on hand, you can conduct an A/B test that reveals which sale will be the most appealing to your customer base overall. Start small by running your A/B test on a select but statistically significant set of customers so you can save the winning sale for a more extensive campaign launch that extends to everyone.
To gain the freedom to experiment with your top two holiday sales structures, consider advertising them through a pre-sell landing page that’s separate from your website.

Step 4: Determine Which Holiday Sales Structure Performs Best

Measure engagement on the channels you use to communicate your sales, including social media, emails, your website, and direct mail. While revenue will be your top metric, note average sale, items per sale, email opens and clicks, social media post likes and comments, and more. 
By tracking a series of engagement metrics, you can determine not only which sale drives greater conversions but also which channels deserve your time, resources, and marketing dollars. Best of all, you can immediately leverage this data as you construct your campaign in support of the winning holiday sale that will reach all of your customers and prospects. 

In addition to your holiday sale campaign, take action on the website insights you gained from customer conversations and heatmaps. What did customers say about shopping on your website? Did they suggest improvements? What did your heatmaps reveal about how shoppers navigate your website? Look to these five light-lift updates for inspiration on how you can make quick improvements in time for the holidays.

Step 5: Return to Step One & Improve Your New Holiday Sale Model

As mentioned before, design thinking is a continuous process that influences the culture of your work, your team, and your company as a whole. Once your holiday sale is over, return to step one and continue to iterate upon the concepts that resonated so that future sales can help your business achieve the same growth.

Consider Design Thinking the Ultimate Problem Solver

When design thinking is executed properly, it can solve just about any problem. There’s no need to complicate it. In a nutshell, design thinking is a simple, straightforward process of asking customers what they want, testing to make sure that their replies truly reflect their wants, and then releasing an optimized version of that sale, product, or service and measuring their engagement. The main ingredient in design thinking is people, and it’s no surprise that keeping your focus on the people who will make your company’s mission possible will result in your success. 

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