Even though the calendar (and thermometer) says it’s still summer…
...now is the perfect time of year to ready your ecommerce business for the holiday selling season!
Because the sooner you prepare, the better chance you have at getting your customer’s attention and convincing them to spend their holiday budget with you.
And to help kick your seasonal ROI into high gear, we asked 21 of the world’s brightest ecommerce minds for their best tips on preparing for the biggest selling season of the year.
(These ecommerce experts have generated millions of dollars in combined Q4 sales over their careers, so when they talk… online sellers should listen!)
Their valuable advice will spark some ideas, confirm your suspicions and better define what you should be doing right now to finish 2015 on a high note…
...ensuring you’ll be well positioned to cash in on your share of the Q4 holiday pie!
1. Don’t Get Caught With Your Feet Up
"For many businesses summer is the best time to prepare for the holiday season, while sales and customer demands are at a seasonal low. It's tempting to put your feet up, but trying new software, sales channels and marketing techniques might never be as feasible and low-risk as it is now. Things will soon start swinging back into gear and if you aren't prepared in advance the biggest opportunities could be lost for a whole year."
2. Learn to Ask for Help
"For those of us who sell products on Amazon and eBay, the final three months of the calendar year are by far the busiest and typically by far the most profitable as well! One of the most common mistakes my team and I see made by those who are preparing for this busy season is trying to "go it alone" in their business thinking that they don't have time to hire help. Worse yet, they think good help just isn't out there to be found.
Don't make that mistake!
The holidays are a great time to bring on some paid help if you don't have any hired workers yet. Having extra hands on deck allows you to do the things that ONLY you can do while paying someone else to do the things anyone else can do (like put tape on boxes). For many sellers it's easier to practice the discipline of outsourcing and delegation around the Christmas shopping season because that's when your business is most likely to be the most profitable so you feel more comfortable spending a few dollars on paying for help.
You'll also have an added benefit of telling your workers that they might only be around for the holidays - but keep in mind that if they work out well you should keep them around permanently! Your business will never grow to its full potential if you try to do it all yourself. Begin the practice of only doing the things that only you can do in your business. The fourth quarter of the year is the ideal time to start outsourcing and delegating if you haven't yet."
3. Stand Out From the Crowd
"The single most important thing you can be doing to prepare for the holiday season is to consider how you'll stand apart from the deluge of emails and promotions that are offered by other businesses. Email boxes are already cluttered, but they're especially stuffed with promos during the holidays. How are you going to stand out?
Consider running campaigns that don’t just offer great deals but are humorous, highly targeted, entertaining or in some way completely unique. You should be striving to do this in all your marketing, but it's especially important to rise above the fray during the business holiday season."
4. Create a ‘Done-For-You’ Shopping Guide
You’ll appreciate this great idea from Catalin Zorzini, founder of Ecommerce Platforms. Using his practical tip you could instantly become the favorite holiday marketing and ecommerce partner of several highly influential bloggers in your niche!
"I would start the research in advance for a comprehensive shopping guide aimed at your audience in the form of a blog post draft, with at least 30-40 products, plugging not more than 3-4 of yours (but in prominent positions).
Starting to work on this a couple of months before the holiday season is not that crazy actually, but make sure the information and prices are accurate before pitching it!
Then reach out to highly influential blogs related to your niche (ie: if you're selling cycling gear, select top 100 blogs offering lifestyle advice for men, not only blogs about cycling), and pitch them a brief version of the guide. Then ask if they'd be interested in having you help them with an exclusive, thematic guide for their blog. I would do this in early November.
Once you get a few replies, start adding the finishing touches to your guide, emulating the style of those particular blogs as much as possible. If you're creative (and persistent) enough you can create as many as 10 different pieces of content based on your initial research."
5. Create Holiday-Themed Content
“Make shopping for others easy for your visitors by publishing lists of gift ideas that relate to your target audience. The list can consist of products or services that you offer, or not; the main goal is to promote or distribute a resource for visitors to share with family and friends and reference later when it’s time to make a purchase.
Even if visitors don’t make a purchase right away, your trusted and valuable content will be remembered for the future. Such guides are helpful because shoppers actively look for them during Q4 events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Even though holiday-themed content has a short shelf-life, the potential boost in traffic and sales is too big to pass up.”
6. Plan With Data From 2014 Holiday Season
"The single most important thing to do right now is to have a thorough analysis of your performance from last year's holidays: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and pre-Christmas.
Stock Control and Management:
Did we run out of stock for certain products too quickly? What products should we have sold more but could no longer source? Was stock visibility to shoppers in real-time? And was it accurate? How did our stock systems cope with online transactions at peak periods?
What were peak traffic times and their referral sources? Did our servers and the website cope with traffic spikes? What were conversion rates by channel? Which channels generated the highest conversions? Compare these to the year before.
Marketing & PR:
Did the product(s) we prepped for PR coverage get adequate coverage prior to the holidays? List the publications you secured coverage from. List the journalists that wrote about your products or company over the holidays. Repeat this for blog coverage from bloggers. What was our Pay-Per-Click budget over the holidays? Was it sufficient? What keywords converted particularly well for both paid and organic search?
One tip for PR and marketing: consumer magazines are taking holiday product features now (yes in August). So be sure to drum up your holiday PR now!
What were sales like on each marketplace? What product ranges did particularly well? What about customer reviews and feedback from orders over the holidays? Was inventory sufficient? What products sold out too quickly (on each marketplace)? What were the best performing offers on each marketplace? Were there any international orders from marketplaces?
Website Sales, Discounts and Offers:
Did we sell out certain products too quickly? Did our Christmas/Cyber Monday landing page convert as expected? Which categories and products sold particularly well? What were our best performing holiday offers?
Did we get the shipping cut off dates right? How many customers didn't get their order on time? What dates did our logistics partner need us to commit shipping volume? How did our fulfilment partners perform? What was the most common shipping option chosen by shoppers? (next day, two days) Did we get shipping cut-off dates right for international shoppers? What were our fulfilment and shipping costs?
Costs - what were our cost of goods, supply chain costs, shipping costs, cost of addition warehouse staff, marketing, Pay Per Click, etc. Sales - what were our sales by channel; website, marketplaces, phone, store (for multichannel retailers)? Margins - what were our gross and net margins by channel? What was the ratio of sales over the holiday period in November+December Vs the rest of the Year
Now that you are armed with this data, make forward projections for the year ahead."
7. Evaluate Performance of Last Year's Campaigns
You may find yourself shaking your head after hearing from Ivan Mazour, CEO of Ometria, wondering how you could’ve overlooked such a practical and proven approach to preparing your holiday marketing campaigns!
"Last time you had a sale, you would have carefully prepared a set of marketing campaigns, promoting the sale and trying to drive the highest possible revenues. The best thing you can do now is to evaluate the performance of each of those campaigns, to see which of them resonated well with which customer segment, and then to use that knowledge to be much more targeted and personalized with the messaging you do this time. So, for example, making sure that your hero customers get to see the sale first, and that your at-risk ones get a special offer in order to win them back."
8. Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
Pamela Hazelton, ecommerce consultant and writer for Practical Ecommerce, points out that online sellers have the perfect opportunity to share the spirit of the season with their customers. Over-deliver by giving away something valuable this holiday season and you could win a customer for life.
"Find a way to offer free shipping and shareable content so you can build a loyal customer base for years to come.
9. Bundle Products and Offer Coupon Codes
“Put your entire e-commerce network to work for you. By that I mean all of your web assets - your Amazon or eBay store, Facebook page, your own site, blogs, Pinterest board, YouTube channel, etc. Some promote, some drive traffic, and some sell directly. All need to reflect your brand message and all need to work together.
First, develop your marketing plan, which will vary depending on whether you’re selling on your own site or using a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay. Look at last year’s sales and popular products, and the strategies you used; decide what to promote this year.
For an asset like Amazon, look at bundling products and offering coupon codes. If you have exclusive listings or private-label products, consider YouTube promotions and Facebook ads as well. If you have your own site, develop a holiday email marketing plan and implement a comprehensive retargeting campaign to bring ideal prospects back until they buy."
10. Overstock Your Inventory
Don’t get so preoccupied with creating the perfect holiday promotion that you overlook the bottom line. Skip McGrath, publisher of Ebay & Amazon Seller News, brings us back to the basics – making sure you have plenty of what your customer wants!
"The most important thing you can do to prepare for holiday sales is to increase the number of SKUs and the quantity of each. Last year I doubled the ordered quantities of my top selling item and still ran out by early December. This year I plan to triple order."
11. Don’t Doubt Amazon's Selling Power
"Send more inventory than you expect to FBA. Don't underestimate Amazon's sales."
12. Streamline Internal Systems Now
"It’s not unusual for many merchants to do more than 50% of their business in Q4. That means order volume doesn’t just double over Q4, it triples (50% in 3 months as opposed to 50% over 9 months!) Your systems, staff, and processes which have held up all year may break down under dramatically increased order volumes.
If you're struggling to keep up with operations now there's still time to make strategic investments in your systems to help streamline operations. Let technology to do the heavy lifting for you. (inventory control, pricing/re-pricing, order management, purchasing/FBA replenishment, etc.) This will allow you to stop 'chasing your tail' all day just trying to keep up and focus on initiatives that will drive growth in your business this holiday season."
13. Have a Backup Plan
Corey Ferreira, content marketer at Shopify, offers some excellent advice on making sure you’ve checked every aspect of your ecommerce machine... because all it takes is one misfire for everything to grind to a halt.
"The simplest and maybe the most obvious but often neglected piece of advice I can give is to simply ensure you are prepared for the volume of sales and have a backup plan. Often we stress too much on the marketing and sales of the holiday season that we forget to ensure that our websites will function properly, the servers can handle a surge in traffic, there's enough inventory, and the shipping and fulfillment system won't fail during the most important season for most retail businesses. Having a good backup plan is key, too. Can you call your server admin or web designer for an emergency fix? Do you have an alternative shipping company you can work with if your primary one becomes unreliable? Think about the worst-case-scenarios and what you would do in case they were to happen."
14. Test Site Performance
James Gurd, founder of Digital Juggler and ecommerce consultant, raises some very pertinent questions about how shoppers experience your store… and offers practical advice on how to fix potential issues before they become real holiday nightmares!
On Site Performance:
"Plan for worst case scenarios – what happens if your site crashes? How do you handle customer inquiries/complaints? You need to get excited by performance monitoring tools and charts. Every second counts, especially on mobile, and patience is reduced when people are busy hunting for gifts. Use tools like Webpagetest.org, Pingdom, and Google PageSpeed Insights to assess how well your webpages load on different connection speeds. Look at server response times – benchmark against competitors. If you’re not performing well, use the advice from the PageSpeed Insights tool to work with your developers to improve ahead of peak trading.
A Few Pointers:
Load test servers and work out where the breaking points are – does it give you enough capacity or do you need to scale-up during peak? If so, make sure your hosting solution is ready to scale.
Review core conversion processes – find any bugs, even if browser specific, and iron out with your developers before the holiday season starts."
15. Improve Customer Experience
"Use analytics to get product mix right. Improve/increase pictures. Make sure mobile works perfectly. Also, make sure click-to-collect is in place…”
16. Get a Head Start and Get Organized
Richard Lazazzera, ecommerce entrepreneur and founder of A Better Lemonade Stand, brings us full circle with his expert insights on when and how online sellers should plan for the most profitable season of the year.
"When it comes to preparing for the holidays, soon is always better than later. For many people it seems crazy to start preparing for something that still feels so distant, however, if you look at last year in Google Trends, you can see that people actually started searching for “Christmas Gift Ideas” beginning in August - well in advance of Christmas, a good reminder why you should begin planning now.
The most important thing to do to begin preparing for the holidays is to take the first step and actually create some type of outline and plan for the holidays. Here’s how you should begin:
1. Decide which holidays you want to participate in.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to decide which holidays your store will participate in. There is some type of holiday almost every week in the last two months of the year. Participating and preparing for all of them would be madness so you’ll want to strategically choose your battles.
2. Create a promotional calendar.
Now that you know which holidays you want to participate in, it’s good to start mapping things out. A promotional calendar simple allows you to plan out the steps necessary to execute your campaigns. When you set up a promotional calendar, you want to add things such:
- Dates and times you will you update the graphics and banners on your site
- Dates and times of your promotional email deployment
- Dates your start and stop advertising for each promotion
Once you have a promotional calendar in place, it begins to hold you accountable so you don't find yourself overwhelmed in November with no time and plan."
17. Create a Holiday Marketing Plan
Seasonal marketing should focus on surprising and delighting your customer! And Leighton Taylor, founder of Envision, ecommerce designer and consultant, offers a number of terrific ideas that will help you do just that.
"Create a holiday marketing plan now and then stick to it. Here's an example of what your plan could look like:
- Create a schedule of promotions for the holidays and a series of emails to send to your list about each promo. Use any excuse you can come up with to offer a promotion--there are tons of opportunities (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, last weekend before Christmas, after Christmas, New Year's, etc.). Make sure to write your marketing emails now as you'll probably be too busy during the holiday season to put much thought into them.
- Send a special email only to your top customers (those who have ordered multiple times or over $x) and thank them for their loyalty, giving them an exclusive discount code for holiday shopping.
- If you don't already offer free shipping (which you should - shoppers LOVE free shipping), at least offer it over the holidays on all orders or on orders over $x. Stress your free shipping offer by putting in in your site header and in your marketing emails.
- Create urgency by adding countdowns like "Only 3 days left to get your order by December 24" and "Only 2 left in stock!"
- Include a handwritten or hand-signed holiday card in each order you ship thanking the customer for doing their holiday shopping with you. This will blow people away!"
18. Repackage Content to Create More
“Produce holiday-themed YouTube videos and then convert them into blog posts, Pintrest pins, Instagram videos, Twitter videos, and Facebook videos. YouTube is low commitment and growing quickly. Plus, there is a high barrier to entry so its easy to rank quickly. Best of all, YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine on the web and often times YouTube videos appear on the first page of Google's search results."
19. Optimize Sales Funnel and Aggressively Retarget
"1. Get your conversion funnel optimized. Once the ecommerce silly season hits, you want to make the most of all that excess traffic and convert as many of them as possible on their first visit. Things to focus on are your add to cart % to ensure your product pages are working. Followed by your checkout funnel.
2. Set up retargeting. Aggressive retargeting. Plenty of people will be shopping around at this time of year so it's essential to set up some aggressive retargeting. Use both Google & Facebook and set your time span to a short period of time (like audiences consisting of last two weeks). Then really up your bids to ensure delivery. It's really important to get your ads shown at this time of year so I would at least double your bids. Don't forget retargeting is all cpm bidding ie. you pay for views not clicks so don't be afraid to increase the bid drastically. Finally, send your traffic back to product pages where they are one step closer to purchasing. Ideally back to the product from which they bounced.
20. Cut Through the Inbox Clutter
“It’s important to remember that your customers' inboxes are getting flooded with special offers, coupons, and discounts. (In some cases they are receiving dozens of emails per day.) How can you cut through the inbox clutter and get your emails opened and read?
An attention-grabbing subject line is key. With so many email subject lines referring to “limited time offers” and “exclusive discounts” consider using a personal holiday greeting or thank you in the subject line instead. This allows you to position your offer as a token of your appreciation instead of trying to convince them to visit your site by saying, “Save 50% now through Friday.”
21. And If All Else Fails…
"If you are not already prepared for Q4, you may wish to consider prayer."
22. Source Out-of-Production Toys
Jordan Malik, best-selling author and founder of Honest Online Selling, was nice enough to pull back the curtain and reveal some of his top toy reselling strategies. If you practice what he preaches, your sales are sure to skyrocket!
“Avoid heavy competition by sourcing out-of-production new and used toys from major brands like Disney, Hot Wheels, Lego, Fisher Price, DC/Marvel, Leapfrog, etc. These can fetch full retail price or more every Christmas. Source used (Amazon calls them 'collectible') toys from local yard sales, garage sales, craigslist ads, etc. where your profit margins can be in the triple-digits. Additionally, look for 70% and more off sales now at your local stores on popular brand toys to resell (as major retailers are clearing their shelves now to make way for new merchandise.)”