Beginner’s Guide to Preparing Your eCommerce Store for The Holiday Stretch

The holiday season is the best opportunity for any eCommerce store to hit their target sales and achieve growth. This is the time of year when people naturally open up their wallets and are ready to spend money on the best deals they can find.

Online sales are growing each year, and it looks like more people prefer to buy this way rather than fighting in stores for an Xbox. Last year online retailers reported a record-breaking $46.5 billion in revenue for the period of November 1 – December 31.

What should you know about the holidays?

Before preparing any holiday campaign for your eCommerce store, you should learn as much as you can about the end-of-the-year holidays. You should have a list of all important days and know how each one affects online sales.

The most important upcoming holidays are:

27 November – Thanksgiving: The day families gather and celebrate together. This year Thanksgiving is expected to be even bigger than Black Friday in terms of sales and to have better deals, according to a report from Adobe Systems.

28 November – Black Friday: This day is often marked as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It’s one of the busiest and most important days of the year for all retailers. In 2012, the online sales of Black Friday surpassed the 1 billion dollar mark for the first time.

1 December – Cyber Monday: The Monday after Thanksgiving. It is known as one of the most profitable days of the year for online retailers. In 2013, Cyber Monday reached $1.735 billion in desktop online spending, representing the heaviest online spending day in history and the second day of the season (in addition to Black Friday’s $1.198 billion) to surpass $1 billion in sales.

9 December – Green Monday: Very similar to Cyber Monday, the term was first used by eBay to describe its best sales day in December. In 2013, it was the 3rd day to surpass $1 billion in sales. Green Monday is important because it marks the last chance for online shoppers to order items without having to pay expedited shipping.

16 December – Hanukkah: The most celebrated Jewish holiday in the US. It is a great opportunity for online retailers to increase sales. For 8 days families gather together, party and exchange gifts just like on Christmas.

22 December – Super Saturday: The last Saturday before Christmas, often marking the end of the shopping season. It’s also a major day for online stores. At this point, retailers focus mostly on last-minute shoppers – the ones who want to take advantage of the best deals before the big holiday.

24 December – Christmas Eve: At this time people are ready to celebrate and most orders are already received. Online retailers shouldn’t expect to make lots of sales this day, but they must be ready to provide premium support to their clients. You don’t want to make customers angry because nobody is picking up the phone or responding to emails.

25 December – Christmas Day: Last year Financial Times stated that Christmas day is becoming a big one for online shopping. On this day people are actively searching for good offers and bargains to take advantage of.

31 December – New Year’s Eve: The last day of the year. The time when everybody is preparing to celebrate. At this point each store has a different policy – some are closed, some stay open until a certain hour. This is where you can stand out if you offer your service the whole day or for normal business hours.

 

Top spending days

Last year according to research done by ComScore, $46.5 billion dollars were spent online during the holidays in the USA alone. This is about a 10% increase from the previous year.

The following table shows the best spending days in 2013 compared to 2012.

The biggest days are as follows:

Cyber Monday – $1.735 billion
Green Monday – $1.401 billion
Black Friday – $1.199 billion
Thanksgiving Day – 0.766 billion
 

You should be aware of these numbers as you brainstorm your plan of action for the holiday season.

Develop your holiday plan

To ensure the success of your holiday campaign, you should plan ahead and think about all the little details in advance: from which products you’d like to offer to how you’re going to ship them.

This is our recommended list of things to do in order to develop a successful plan:

 

Learn from last year‘s analytics: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each year. Take a look at your analytics from the last holiday season to learn what you need to prepare. The information from the analytics will show you:

How much inventory you should have in stock?
How many orders to expect?
How many people to have available for your support team?
How fast you can ship and deliver?
What kind of issues you had last year and how to overcome them?
 

Chances are the situation this year will be quite similar. You should factor in an additional 10-20% to each figure to make sure you are prepared for growth.

 

Understand what people want to buy: This is one of the most important things to do for your holiday plan. If you know what people want to buy in advance, this will allow you to design your campaign and offerings according to them. People don’t need much convincing for something they already want to buy.

The question is, what are the things they desire in your niche? You might use the following ways:

Read the news: What people talk about the most is usually what sells the most. Websites like Mashable make reviews of tech gadgets, and when we browse the articles we find a review of Samsung Galaxy Note Edge.

The good news is that here you can even check how frequently the article is shared on social media, and you can check the comments to better understand how people are receiving the product.

Industry reports: Each year there are studies and reports on “Where people want to spend their money this holiday season”.

A great example is this list of 30+ toys kids want for Christmas:

If you‘re an eCommerce store selling toys, it would be in your best interest to have the items listed here as special offers for the holidays.

It’s also wise to check out ones from previous years and compare data and trends.

Check out your competition: A smart move is to check out the highest selling items on Amazon. This is what you see when you review the toys & games department:

Apparently, Cards Against Humanity, Disney dolls and LEGO rule this market.

Review Google Trends: You can use Google Trends to further investigate if there is an upward or downward trend for the items you’re selling. For example, if you check for LEGO, you’ll see a strong spike in the months of November and December each year. This means it’s a popular holiday item.

Check out communities and forums: There are always questions like these on Reddit:

In this post alone, there are 134 comments made by people sharing their ideas for Christmas presents.

Review social media channels: On Twitter you can review popular hashtags like #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday, or just search for “christmas present” and you‘ll find people sharing many of their ideas.

Review your Google Analytics: If you have set your Google Analytics right and turned on your eCommerce tracking, you will be collecting data about your product performance.

Simply go to Conversions -> Ecommerce -> Product Performance

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This data illustrates which products are in high demand, and it makes sense to make special offers for the ones people are already buying to stay competitive in the market.

You can also use the data for most visited pages to understand which products people are viewing the most.

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To do that simply go to: Content -> Site Content -> Content Drilldown.

Check your reviews: Review your category pages to find out which products have the most and best reviews.

For example, when checking out the headphones section on Walmart’s website, you will notice that Beats is the chosen winner here, despite its price.

Once you have the data, really think about where the match is between what people want and what you can sell them. This is where the gold spot is.

Make a pre-launch campaign

An important part of your holiday campaign is to let your audience know in advance that something is coming and they should expect competitive deals on your store starting on Black Friday.

Here are some great ways to do that:

Decorate your store: Make sure to redesign your eCommerce theme for the holidays. This is one of the best ways to get people’s attention, remind them Christmas is very close, and get them thinking about shopping and presents.

When you visit Best Buy you know for sure that something big is coming:

Their call to action leads to a page that shows their Black Friday deals in advance, so people know exactly what to expect on November 27th.

A great example for a beautiful Christmas theme is the one at The Christmas Jumper Store. You can see all the colors associated with the holiday – white, green and red – which helps amplify their message: the ideal Christmas gift for him.

Generate leads/email addresses: Displaying special, holiday deals on your site is often not enough to reach the sales you want for the season. People will often forget what they’ve seen so that’s why you need to remind them.

The best way to do that is to collect their email addresses in advance so you can market when the time is right.

To do that you can prepare landing pages like GuitarFingers.

When you build your landing page, don’t forget to include a strong value proposition, countdown clock and an opt-in form.

Engage your audience on social media: Engage your social media followings about the upcoming holidays.

Don’t forget to pin your most important post with all the special deals so it’s the first thing that people will see when they visit your Facebook page.

Have an email strategy: The most important thing to remember here is: don’t make your email look like a landing page. Or you will make the same mistake as Walmart.

Most email clients don’t download images automatically so when your email opens, it will look like this, a.k.a. not very pretty.

For effective email marketing campaigns, you can use personalization by sending emails with offers for products that people are already interested in buying.

What should you offer?

Once you’re ready with your pre-launch campaign, it’s time to think about what you’re going to offer to your customers for the holidays.

There are at least 6 things your eCommerce store needs to have so let’s cover them:

 

Discounts: Holidays are all about discounts. On days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, people expect to spend money and take advantage of good bargains.

That’s why you must do your best to provide your prospects with better offers than your competitors – this means both lower prices and careful selection of discounted products.

Your discounts will depend on your niche with a minimum of 25% off. Keep in mind that most customers don’t even get excited unless they see a discount of 40%. To be hyper-competitive, you should offer at least 50% off.

 

Bundles: Something even better than a discounted product is 2 products merged together on a promotional price. For years Xbox has been using this strategy to increase sales by offering a game with the console.

This strategy can be implied in any niche or industry: you just need to think about 2 products your customers would like to use together.

 

FREE shipping: Customers are even less likely to want to pay for shipping during the holidays. Also, they don’t want to spend extra time figuring out if they need to pay more for delivery. So it’s a good idea to make this crystal clear on your site.

Include your “Free shipping sign” above the fold, use big fonts and let it stand out so everyone can see it right away.

 

Gift cards: Many eCommerce stores are giving away gift cards with purchases over a certain amount. You can also allow visitors to buy them as presents for their close ones.

Last year Shopify introduced Gift Card functionality to its merchants, allowing customers to purchase cards the same way they buy products.

 

Christmas packaging: During this time of the year, most people buy products for presents. And when they do, their next thought is about how they are going to package it as a gift.

You will make customer’s lives that much easier if you offer to add free Christmas packaging to their order. In fact, it could be the main reason why people choose to buy from you if you offer it as a bonus to your products.

 

Faster delivery: Many online shoppers wait until the last minute to place orders – maybe because they missed a deal or they have simply forgotten to buy something. In this case, they’re always looking for a way to receive your products as soon as possible.

Amazon is great at this because it allows users to see exactly when customers will receive their orders – usually within the 1 day shipping range.

Revenue optimization strategies

Now let’s talk about some strategies you can use to increase your sales this holiday season:

 

Upsell: The most obvious one is to try to upsell to people already willing to buy from you. Customers have already decided they will spend money, so they’re probably willing to buy additional items if it’s at a good price.

A general rule of thumb is you should not try to upsell a product that’s worth more than 60% of the original order. Otherwise, the customer will feel alienated.

 

Quantity or early discounts: Another way to increase sales is to offer quantity discounts. If people buy more – they pay less. This will make them consider if they could use more than one, just in case.

A great example here is Moo.com, where customers get significant discounts when they order more business cards.

You can also offer discounts for people who decide to buy early. This is extremely effective for holiday vacation offers.

 

Personalized content: People are much more likely to buy products they have previously reviewed and engaged with, especially on your website.

When I visit Amazon, I see a list of Teddy Bears recommended for me to buy on the first page. In fact, this is what I was searching for the last time I visited the website.

 

Add Live chat & phone support: Zappos offers 24/7 customer service support via live chat, email and phone 365 days of the year – not just during the holidays.

This is extremely important for customers. They can rest assured that a customer service rep will be on the other side to help them in case of a question or a problem with their order.

 

Send shopping cart abandonment emails (if you haven’t done so already): Many visitors add items to shopping carts, but never complete the order for various reasons. The truth is some people just get distracted and forget, while others are unsure if they really want to purchase at that moment.

One of the easiest ways to win back these people is to send them email reminders about the product they were going to buy.

During the holidays you can add a sense of urgency to your message by telling people the offer expires in a few hours or that there are only a few items left in stock.

Conclusion

Preparing for the holidays is a challenge for any online store. It comes with a lot of stress and hard work, but it pays off. Remember: between the days of November 27th and December 22nd, you can make more sales than you do for the rest of the year.

To take full advantage of the holiday season, you need to plan and execute with perfection. Take the time to understand what customers are really looking to buy online and offer them the best deal you can. That’s how you’ll make money online.

Do you know other ways to improve your ecommerce store for the holidays? Please comment and share below.