If there’s any year that’s left us all with no margin for errors, it’s 2020 – a year in which unbelievable circumstances have rendered “business as usual” as a phrase that’s almost impossible to argue the definition of. All at once, businesses of every shape, size and scale have had to pivot their operations to a more online-centric solution or face a slow march into collapse and obscurity – a battle in which clear winners and losers are already starkly apparent.

For OnBuy, the world’s fastest-growing marketplace, these first nine months have been challenging, yet also filled with opportunity. Marking 600% revenue growth for the second year running for our business and for our sellers, we’ve tripled our workforce, ramped up our plans to expand into over 140 countries, and focused on bringing our brand to ITV viewers and shoppers across the UK throughout the fourth quarter.

As anyone who’s been in eCommerce long enough knows, Q4 is where so much of the magic happens – and with shopping habits having made a huge shift to online stores and marketplaces due to the events that have shaped this year, this promises to be a season to remember.

To prepare for that, eCommerce businesses are wise to keep a few strategies in mind as we enter a Q4 unlike any other in the history of our industry.

Multichannel, omnichannel – it’s all about agility

2020 has done plenty to distinguish which businesses are the most nimble when it comes to unprecedented challenges to the status quo. Even corporate giants weren’t spared the disruption, much less smaller businesses – yet it all served to hone the focus on eCommerce as never before, accelerating the growth of the industry to tremendous heights. Today, adoption of eCommerce on both the customer and commercial side is perhaps years ahead of where it’d otherwise be, and keeping pace with this fast-moving market is key.

It’ll be all the more important in Q4, too. Even if your brand loyalty is strong, shoppers – whether they’re watching their spending due to economic fears, or simply motivated by circumstances to shop around – are more likely than ever to let convenience, product availability and the purchasing experience dictate where they shop, and with whom.

For large businesses especially, the need for an omnichannel shopping experience to sidestep the complications of a post-pandemic Q4 is well documented. Omnichannel is when businesses with a physical presence adopt their eCommerce offering as part of that same business, rather than the classic outlook of seeing them as separate entities beneath a corporate umbrella.

For eCommerce players though, the conversation instead turns to multichannel marketing. The time when one could pitch the proverbial tent up beneath one marketplace’s flag and do business uninterrupted is sadly over, as 2020’s springtime months were only too keen to remind us. Third-party sellers left out in the cold as essential goods became the only commodity, or eCommerce merchants whose uptick in sales overwhelmed their logistics partners and left them with plenty of profits but no means of fulfilment, are stark reminders of the pitfalls of an eggs-in-one-basket outlook.

Multichannel eCommerce means letting multiple marketplaces help you get your goods in front of widening audiences, and the right choices here can ensure that you’re able to monitor your inventory, customer base and marketing activities across a range of routes to sale. It also means problems with one marketplace can be offset by leaning more on another until the troubles have subsided, minimising disruption to business.

As we advance into the most critical quarter of the calendar year for retailers, firing on all cylinders to multiple marketplaces and logistics specialists is the way forward – don’t be scared to seek advice and assistance from thought-leaders in making this happen, either.

An unpredictable Black Friday

For the last few years now, both consumers and retailers have been quietly aware that it’s not so much a question of “Black Friday” anymore – instead, it tends to be more of an interval of sales and promotions, spread over numerous days. Remarkably, in the United States, Home Depot has effectively thrown all conventional Black Friday pretences out the window and announced a multiple-month Black Friday season of discounts.

This is far more than simply shrewd marketing. Home Depot’s move is one that has been made to reassure the tired, anxious customer base of Q4 2020, reacting to their concerns about crowding, the pandemic, their spending power and the pressures of the season, all with a well-presented solution.

While there are countless ways to ensure your eCommerce business is ready for Q4 2020, preparing for a very different kind of Black Friday ought to form a big part of your strategy. While eCommerce and online shopping has dominated Black Friday for years now, in 2020 that dominance will be far more overt. Customers simply have no appetite for braving the crowds and enduring regimented bricks-and-mortar shopping experiences.

It’s expected that many other retailers around the world will be following Home Depot’s example in the weeks and months to come, spreading Black Friday out to capture stretched-thin spending power and the hunger for online deals present in the consumers of today. Those eCommerce players willing to demonstrate the best pricing, most reliable fulfilment and the most transparently ethical approach are likely to enjoy very strong returns during the new “Black Friday interval” that’s shaping Q4.

Encouraging customers’ confidence

Job insecurity and economic doom and gloom, to say nothing of the international recession promised to all of us, has done plenty to dampen customer confidence as we move into Q4.

What purchases are being made outside of essential goods, however, tie into themes of longevity and value more and more. Toys and games for kids that do far more than fulfil the need for impulse-buying are becoming the must-haves of Q4, just as much as they’ve shaped the year overall. Activities and means of creative play or spending quality family time together are enjoying a renaissance, while entertainment options like movies and video games have spiralled upwards in popularity too.

Customers in Q4 want reassurance, which means ensuring your levels of service across your eCommerce offering are at their best. Scaling your operations to meet that demand might feel intimidating, yet these strategies are ultimately worth taking the plunge for – especially given many of the changes to eCommerce that have taken place in 2020 will become permanent behaviours in our industry.

The position to take for a bumper Q4

Customers may be reeling after the first nine months of 2020, but they’re more confident in eCommerce than ever – providing it’s done right. Aligning with the goals of Q4 growth means refining your existing frameworks as much as scaling up, where necessary, to meet new demands in inventory, fulfilment, customer service and after-sales care.

It’s a lot to take in, but you’re not alone, and you have one of the greatest opportunities of your eCommerce career ready and waiting for you. By embracing multichannel sales through all the right marketplaces, and shaking hands with the professionals you need to scale and keep pace with the heightened expectations of the season, there’s every reason to enjoy Q4 as one of the most successful in recent memory for your business – no matter what other surprises this year may have in store.