How To Prepare For eCommerce Holiday Sales
We’re already well into October, 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, including online sellers. According to a study by RJ Metrics, the holiday season is the largest period of revenue for online stores, with November and December driving 30% more revenue than non-holiday months. Last year saw the largest increase in holiday ecommerce sales over the previous year since 2011, and 2018 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.
Table of Contents
Review 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 year?
- 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 year? 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 Promo Calendar
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 Biz Saturday
- Cyber Monday
- Green Monday
- Free Shipping Day
- Christmas Eve/Day
- Boxing Day
- New Year’s Eve
- New Year’s Day
- Invent your own totally-contrived retail holiday! Plenty of open days left, so why not?
Perhaps this is obvious, but I wouldn’t recommend waiting for Cyber Monday for your first promotion simply because you’re a “cyber” retailer. The whole five-day weekend of Thanksgiving 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 already making plans to shop anyway. 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. Take a look at the following elements of your website:
Although the theme template you’re using for your storefront may purport 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. As smartphone shopping continues to carve out increased marketshare during the holidays (think of all the surreptitious phone-checking that happens during Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s), there is no better time to ensure all your pages work seamlessly and look amazing on mobile. That even goes for shoppers (like me!) who use those old-fashioned smartphones that are still small enough to fit in a back pocket.
Online shoppers are incredibly impatient (especially when they know they could be caught online shopping at the aforementioned 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. 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. And enable lazy loading on your site; this way, images will only load as your customers scroll to them.
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.
First and foremost, never require your customers to create an account in order to check out. According to the Baymard Institute report containing the chart above, 37% 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 reported in the chart above as a checklist for examining your store before the holidays. One reason for abandonment that isn’t mentioned, however, is when customers can’t find any discount codes to use. To combat this issue, 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 ready.
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 the ecommerce platform you use, make sure your recovery email series is all set up and 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 — starting with your homepage and all the way through checkout. This 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.
Take A Look At 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.
|Service||Pricing||Business Size||Ease of Use||Next Steps|
|Free - $99/month||Small to Medium||Very Easy||Sign Up|
|$25 - $145/monthly||Small to Medium||Very Easy||Sign Up|
|$39 - $499/monthly||Small to Large||Very Easy||Sign Up|
- 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.
Beef Up 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.
A Few More Ideas to Consider…
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. 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. 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 further your marketing.
- Create A Gift Guide: If you keep a blog for your online store (and you absolutely should), 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.
What Are You Waiting For?
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!