How To Prepare Your Online Store For The Holidays
We’re already well into the holiday season, and grocery stores everywhere are preparing to replace their aisles of Halloween candy with ornaments, candy canes, and cheaply made stockings. Yuletide is almost here, and if you haven’t yet begun, it’s time to start preparing.
It’s no secret that this is an important time for many merchants. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season is the largest period of revenue for retail, with November and December generating between 20%-30% of a seller’s annual revenue. What’s more, online holiday retail is a growing market. Last year saw a significant increase in holiday eCommerce sales over the previous year, and 2019 is predicted to achieve a similar increase (see the chart from Statista below).
With such a huge potential for growth, it’s crucial that you do everything in your power to make this holiday season successful for your business. In this article, we’ll cover a few of the best ways you can prepare your business for the Christmas rush. Here are seven holiday eCommerce tips you won’t want to miss.
Table of Contents
Analyze Last Year’s Sales Trends
Assuming you have at least a year of holiday retail insanity under your belt, reviewing your past experiences is the key first step in preparing for a new season. Look over your sales reports, shipping expenses, and inventory reports from last year, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which products did I sell most last holiday season?
- How should I stock this year considering last year’s sales?
- Was my fulfillment strategy successful? Did packages reach their destinations quickly at a reasonable expense?
- How did customers respond to my marketing techniques last holiday season? What worked? What didn’t?
Record your thoughts throughout this process, and keep your past experiences in mind as you approach this year.
Create A Holiday Calendar For Your Business
With so many holidays and sales to consider, it can be difficult to keep track of all your promotions and email blasts. To begin, you should decide which sale days your store will participate in. Here are a few to consider:
- Black Friday
- Small Business Saturday
- Cyber Monday
- Green Monday
- Free Shipping Day
- Christmas Eve/Day
- Boxing Day
- New Year’s Eve
- New Year’s Day
Or, you can invent your own totally-contrived retail holiday! Plenty of open days left, so why not? The important thing is planning for the holidays ahead of time so you can have a gameplan for marketing and promoting your holiday deals.
For example, don’t wait until Cyber Monday for your first promotion simply because you’re a “cyber” retailer. The whole five-day weekend of Thanksgiving, now being called Black Fiveday, is fair game for online stores and can be particularly lucrative for small businesses.
Once you’ve decided which days your store will promote, dive into your email marketing software and get planning. Email promotions may seem a bit antiquated in the era of social media and SEO, but good old electronic mail can still be pretty darn effective when people are making plans to shop anyway. In fact, according to research by Adobe Analytics, in 2018 email marketing drove 24.2% of total Cyber Monday sales. So, get drafting those emails, and make sure your email blasts begin advertising each promotion at least a week before the sale day.
Give Your Site A Checkup
While promotions are important during the holiday season, you shouldn’t spend all your time perfecting your email blasts and website banners. No matter how good your promotions are, if your website is difficult to use, your sales will suffer.
Now is a perfect time to give your site a general checkup to ensure things are working smoothly. You’ll want to pay particular attention to your site’s:
Here are our tips on how to improve these four areas of your site to ensure that your customers have a seamless experience during their holiday shopping.
Although the design template you’re using for your storefront may claim to be “fully mobile responsive,” we all know from browsing the web on our own devices that the end result of this claim can vary dramatically.
According to Adobe Analytics, 51% of all site visits came from smartphone users in the 2018 holiday season. As smartphone shopping continues to carve out an increased marketshare during the holidays, there is no better time to ensure all your pages work seamlessly and look amazing on mobile.
Online shoppers are incredibly impatient (especially when they’re trying to covertly browse sales from the Thanksgiving dinner table). Studies show that 40% of web surfers leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. With such a short grace period, it’s critical your site loads as quickly as possible.
One quick way to improve your site’s loading speed is to eliminate bandwidth-draining images and enable lazy loading — this way, images will only load as your customers scroll to them. If you feature multiple large images on your landing pages, you might be slowing down your page speed. Consider reducing the number of large images you feature.
You could also consider investing in a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN is a system of servers located worldwide which distribute your site’s information. Using a CDN will bring your site closer to your customers, shortening the time it takes for your site’s files to move from the server to their web browser.
As you likely know, your checkout is the most important page of your online store. Unfortunately, it’s also the page where you likely see the highest abandonment rates. According to multiple studies, somewhere in the ballpark of 70% of all potential eCommerce orders never make it through checkout.
This astronomical abandonment rate is due to a variety of factors, some of which you’ll never be able to eliminate. However, there are a few steps you can take now to retain at least a few of those customers who would otherwise bounce. Here are the most commons for cart abandonments during checkout:
First and foremost, never require your customers to create an account in order to check out. According to one Baymard Institute report, 31% of customers admitted they’d recently abandoned a purchase because they were required to create an account. Instead, you should give your customers options; let them check out as a guest or choose to create an account.
When your customers are finally on that all-important checkout page, make sure you don’t scare them off by asking for too much information. Only ask for the data you need to process the order, such as:
- Full name
- Shipping address
- Billing address
- Email address
- Payment information
Generally speaking, I’d encourage you to use the “reasons for cart abandonment” chart above as a checklist for examining your store before the holidays. One reason for abandonment that isn’t mentioned, however, is when customers navigate away in search of a discount code. To combat this issue, make sure you don’t remind customers that they should suddenly stop paying and go looking for a promotion. Bury your promo code field in a link that customers can click to open if they already have a code.
And finally, remember that all is not lost when some carts are inevitably abandoned. If you have an abandoned cart recovery feature as part of your eCommerce platform, you should make sure to leverage this feature by setting up an abandoned cart email series that is tailored for the holidays. If you don’t have access to this feature, consider upgrading your software subscription to a plan that offers it, or look for a separate integration.
Maintaining your site security is not only important for your customers’ safety, but for yours as well. Security breaches can increase during the holidays, so it’s a good idea to take some time now to check your site for any holes.
Savvy shoppers will be looking for the little padlock icon preceding your URL and the accompanying HTTPS protocol for the address (plus, having an HTTPS certification on your site is better for SEO). Setting this up involves obtaining a site-wide SSL certificate if you don’t have one already. If you operate on an open-source platform, look into your platform’s support documentation to ensure you’ve downloaded and installed all of the recent security patches. Do what you can now to protect yourself and your customers.
Stock Up On Inventory
We’ve said before and we’ll say it again, being prepared for the holidays is the best thing you can do for your eCommerce sales.
Thanksgiving weekend, in particular, is a huge deal in terms of sales, and that means that within that brief five-day period, you need to be on your game in order to fulfill all orders as they come in. One of the most important factors here is ensuring that you have enough inventory to fulfill orders! Now is the time to stock up on inventory for the selling sprint that is Thanksgiving day through Cyber Monday.
If you’re a crafter, that means buckling down and creating as many hand-made products as you anticipate selling. For other sellers, that might mean ordering extra products from your manufacturers or ensuring that your in-house manufacturing is on track to produce plenty of inventory before sales days.
Worried about how you’re going to pay for your holiday inventory?
For some sellers, purchasing or manufacturing additional inventory in advance of the holiday season could be a financial strain. Maybe your working capital is tied up in invoices and other investments, and you don’t have enough liquid capital to stock up on products before the rush. If that’s the case for you, you should look into working capital loans. These loans come in many different forms and can get you the cash you need to make those advance purchases. For more information on working capital loans and for a little advice on some of our favorite providers, check out our article Working Capital Loans: What They Are And Where To Find Them.
Review Your Holiday Fulfillment Strategies
Remember when I asked you to review your last holiday season? Now is the time to pull those notes out.
How well did you handle the shipping rush last year? Did you get your packages delivered on time? Were you able to cover the costs of shipping? How has your business changed since then?
Depending on your answers to those questions, you may need to look into new fulfillment strategies for these upcoming months. A few strategies you may consider:
- Invest In Shipping Software: If you haven’t subscribed to a shipping platform yet, now’s a good time to try one out. Shipping software helps you process orders faster by automating shipping calculations and allowing you to purchase and print postage in bulk online. They also frequently offer discounted shipping rates with select carriers. Take a look at a few of our favorite shipping solutions or view our comparison page for a side-by-side analysis.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
- Hire A Few Extra Hands: If you already have an excellent shipping strategy in place, but you don’t have the time to carry it out, now is the time to hire seasonal help. Your time is better spent monitoring your site and promoting your sales, not packing boxes.
Bring Joy To The Season With Great Customer Service
Another great way to encourage sales is to ensure excellent customer service during these months. Make sure customers have a phone number they can call with any questions or concerns. If you can, provide a live chat option for customers who are currently browsing your site.
Again, you may consider hiring a few seasonal employees to handle customer service during this time, depending upon your business’s needs. If you do hire seasonal employees, make sure to train them in your eCommerce platform’s backend so they feel comfortable manually creating orders on behalf of customers or checking in on an order’s status.
Remember that when it comes to customer service, a little extra love goes a long way.
5 More Tips To Boost Holiday eCommerce Sales
Until this point, I’ve tried to focus on the most important ways to prepare your online store for the holidays. I’ve skipped over specific marketing strategies — in part because you can find lots of marketing advice elsewhere — and also because marketing means very little if you’re still losing customers to cart abandonment. Plus, strategies can vary from industry to industry.
However, now that we’re at the end of this article, it seems a good time to introduce a few of the more creative marketing tips I found during my research that could help all types of businesses. Here are a few fun ways to improve your marketing for the holidays:
- Partner With A Complimentary Brand: Look for a brand that sells products that compliment your own. For example, if you specialize in handmade soaps, look for a company that sells handmade ceramics. Partner up to offer a discounted (or free) handmade soap dish with every purchase. Combine forces to boost your marketing.
- Create A Gift Guide: If you keep a blog for your online store (and you absolutely should have a blog for your business), write an article featuring a few of your best gift-able items.
- Deck The Halls: Remind your customers of the holiday season by wintering-up your website. Add in some playful snowflakes or holiday-themed banners to put shoppers in a festive mood.
- Offer Competitive Shipping: While most of us can’t replicate Amazon’s free-two day shipping model, everyone can offer competitive shipping rates. Take a look at your current shipping expenses and make sure they are both timely and reasonably priced. During the holiday season, consider using free shipping as a promotional tool. Pick a dollar amount that’s just slightly higher than your average order total, and offer free shipping when customers spend that amount.
- Beef Up Your SEO: Don’t forget about the importance of organic traffic! Take some time to look over your product descriptions, meta tags, and URLs, and make a few tweaks to ensure they’re in line with industry best practices.
- Hype The Holidays On Social Media: Make your customers feel like kids counting down the days till Christmas with some clever marketing on social media. Use Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to promote your sales and to inspire customers as they consider gift options. And don’t forget to include plenty of holiday vibes in your posts! Bring on the cozy sweaters, cheery decorations, and holiday tunes!
Happy Holidays & Happy Selling
With the winter holidays quickly approaching, you’ve got no time to lose! Autumn may be late in the game to start preparing (we forgive you, you’re busy!), but it isn’t too late to have a successful season.
Get moving and make sure your promotional materials are on target, your sales funnel is smooth as silk, and your fulfillment strategies are primed to go.
Let us know in the comment section below if we’ve missed any of your favorite holiday prep strategies. We love to hear what works for you!