How to Prepare Your Online Store for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is almost always the most profitable time of year for online businesses. Not only does the last quarter of the year see increases to the number of orders but the average order sizes also tend to be much bigger as well. In fact, some retailers make up to 40% of their yearly revenue in the last quarter alone. 

Let’s be honest though. With the day-to-day hustle of running your ecommerce business it’s easy to forget approaching holidays. How many times has a holiday come, only for you to realize that you never prepared a promotion for it?

If you want to make 2014 your best year yet as an online retailer, then you need to be prepared and plan ahead.

In this post, we will look at what you should be doing right now to end 2014 on a strong note by preparing your online store for the holiday season. 

Let's get started.

Why Is It So Important To Plan Ahead?

As mentioned in the intro, the last quarter of the year, the holiday season, is a particularly important time for retail. The last two months of the year is packed with special holidays that you can use to your advantage to hit yearly targets, move new products and clear out old inventory.

Taking advantage of these holidays can be tough though. Every day you’re in the trenches, marketing, managing, shipping and providing great customer service. The downside of being in the trenches of your business is usually a lack of planning for future events. For many ecommerce entrepreneurs in their first few years, this usually means missing important holidays.

So far in 2014, the following holidays have passed:

  • St. Patricks Day

  • Easter

  • April Fools

  • Mother’s Day

  • Father’s Day

  • Independence Day

How many have these holidays did you plan for and participate in? If you're like most new online retailers, you probably missed most of them. The only way you’re going to break this cycle is by planning ahead.

When Should You Begin Preparing?

Sooner is always better than later. If we look at last year in Google Trends, we 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.

Upcoming Holiday Dates

As mentioned previously, the last quarter of the year is packed with holidays, some obviously bigger than others. The first step is to look at and familiarize yourself with the holidays coming up and decide which ones are important for your business and to your customers. 

In addition to the major holidays listed above. There are also a few smaller, non-official holidays to pay attention to. This includes:

  • Green Monday - December 9th – Green Monday is the last Monday prior to Christmas and is usually the shipping cut off for most postal outlets to get standard shipped packages to customer before Christmas.

  • Free Shipping Day - December 22nd – Free Shipping Day is a one-day event held annually in mid-December (this year it is December 18th). Merchants are encouraged to offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery before Christmas. You can sign up to be listed as a participant of Free Shipping day here

  • Super Saturday - December 22nd – Super Saturday is the last Saturday before Christmas, a major day of revenue for American retailers, marking the end of the shopping season they and many customers believe begins on Black Friday. Super Saturday targets last-minute shoppers. Typically the day is ridden with one-day sales in an effort to accrue more revenue than any other day in the Christmas and holiday season.

As you can see, nearly every week in the months of November and December have a holiday that online retailers can participate in.

Top Ten U.S. Online Spending Days

The dates of each holiday are one thing, but it’s also interesting to see the most popular shopping dates by total online sales volume. Below are the ten biggest online shopping days from 2012:

Source: ComScore

How To Prepare For The Holidays

So now you know why it's important to plan for the holidays, it's time to get organized and prepared. The are a few components to an effective holiday marketing campaign. Before you begin executing on campaigns, you need to begin by planning a few critical components. Here’s what should be done to help stay ahead of your competition and plan for the upcoming holiday season.

Plan

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. Like we mentioned previously, 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.

If this will be your first time doing a major holiday promotion, we would suggest to choose two or three to tackle. For example, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas.

2. Create a promotional calendar.

Now that you know which holidays you want to participate in, it’s good to start mapping things out. Staying organized will be critical over the busy holiday season to help ensure the success of your campaigns.

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

Creating a promotional calendar doesn't have to be complicated. It can really be as simple as using a printed calendar or using an online tool like Google Calendar.

3. Plan out your return policy and additional payment options.

You’ll probably want to reconsider a few policies for your store in light of the holiday season and being competitive. Many online and offline stores will offer and more liberal and extended return and exchange policy for the holiday season. You'll need to consider if this is the correct move for your store by carefully considering the impact it can have on not only sales, but also how it will effect your already established processes.

Furthermore, now would be a great time to consider additional payment options for your store. If you traditionally only accept Visa and MasterCard, would your store benefit from allowing PayPal or even Bitcoin payments? These options are easy to switch on and can lead to a nice bump in conversions and revenue from visitors that prefer these methods of payment. 

4. Determine which ad channels to focus on.

Every business, big and small needs to choose their ad channels strategically. Being too scattered will only compromise your campaigns in the end.

One of the most important parts of preparing for your holiday promotions is to begin preparing your marketing needs and materials. Marketing campaigns have lots of components to them that all need to be in alignment to achieve the most success, which is why it’s so vital to begin preparing these things ahead of time.

We could recommend choosing a few advertising channels you feel would be best and putting your best effort behind those channels. Below we have outlined six of the more popular advertising channels:

  • Blog Posts – We all know content is king and carefully preparing blog posts with search engine optimization in mind for the holiday season can help attract new visitors and buyers to your store. Consider blog posts for each of the major promotions you plan on having. With some careful SEO optimization your blog post can be an effective tool for attracting people looking for the products you carry.

  • Email Marketing - Email marketing – depending on your list size – can be one of your best source of traffic and your best ROI. By leveraging your existing customer database, your chances of increasing traffic and garnering sales will be much higher than other channels such as PPC. Furthermore, if your database is segmented by customer preference or previously purchased items, you’ll be able to increase your percentages of sales purchases when sending targeted campaigns.

  • Pay-Per-Click (Google Adwords) - If you're familiar with Google Adwords you may want to consider using it as a pay-per-click advertising channel for your holiday promotions. Keep in mind though, that because of the popularity of the holiday season amongst online retailers, you’ll likely have to bid a little more aggressively for your chosen keywords than normal. Make sure to use a strong call to action in your ads. Use words like “Free Shipping”, “Percent Off”, “Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday”, and “Holiday Sale”,  to entice buyers.

  • Facebook Ads - Facebook Ads is a great way to get your promotion in front of your target demographic. Even if you have never used Facebook Ads before you can be up and running in less than 30 minutes. For a crash course in Facebook Advertising, check out A 30 minute Crash Course in Facebook Advertising.

  • Social Media - The holidays is a good time to make use, or make greater use of your social channels as people are more open to shopping and are on the lookout for promotions. You can use Buffer to automatically schedule your Tweets to go out and fill your stream with your offers and details.

  • Retargeting - Retargeting can be one of the most effective options for advertising your promotions over the holiday season. Retargeting to show your ads (on Facebook or Google) to people that have previously visited your site. Check out What Is Retargeting And How To Start Your First $100 Campaign to learn more.

Prep

The months of November and December are guaranteed to be hectic times. If you leave all the work till then, you’ll likely find yourself skipping out of key pieces due to lack of time. That’s why it’s so important to begin prepping your content right away so you can leave November and December to executing your promotional calendar.

So what should you begin preparing? Below we have identified several key component to successful online campaigns you should consider preparing for immediately. 

  • Emails - If you have a email list, this is going to be an important promotional channel for you. If you’ve written promotional emails before, you know they can take a good deal of time and hitting the send button can be nerve wracking. This is because once you hit send, you can’t take it back. This is all the more reason to prepare this channel ahead of time. Keep in mind, because of the importance of the holiday season, you’ll likely want to be planning out several emails for each promotion. In addition, you may want to consider segmenting your email list for maximum effectiveness. 

    Tip: A great tool to help you segment, prepare and track your email efforts over the holidays is Klaviyo.

  • Ad Copy - Writing strong and compelling ad creative can take time to come up with. This is precisely why it’s so important to begin writing ads ahead of time.

    Tip: If you need help writing professional ad copy that will convert, check out Shopify Experts
  • Blog Content - As things get busy, writing blog content will be the last thing on your mind. This is why it's a good idea to write blog post ahead of time for the holiday season. Additionally, you'll probably want to post your blog posts prior to other marketing initiatives to ensure they have time for Google to pick them up and begin attracting organic traffic.

    Tip: If you would prefer to have someone else write your holiday promotional blog post, check out Copywriter
  • Landing Pages - Next to emails, creating landing pages for your promotions and sales can be extremely effective at helping further bump up your conversion rate for the holiday season. You may want to consider creating separate landing pages for your ads as well as your emails. In Shopify, this can be as simple as creating a new collection or page for each promotion.

    Tip: To get the most from your landing pages on the Shopify platform, check out Landed

  • Design & Graphics - You design and graphics will help tie you campaigns together and keep things consistent. From your email designs, to promotional banners for your website, Facebook and Twitter. Graphics can help you visually and quickly help your followers and visitors understand your promotion. Getting design work for your campaigns done early can take a major task of your shoulders when it comes time to execute.

    Tip: If you need help with any graphic design for your holiday promotions, make sure to check out the Shopify Experts

Track

Whether you’ll be using social media marketing, Facebook ads, Google Adwords or email marketing there are many different methods to market your store and products. However, marketing only represents half of the equation. The second half, and arguably the most important, is tracking your efforts. Without proper tracking and analysis, you'll always just be guessing the true success of your campaigns.

If you haven’t already set up Google Analytics or a similar analytics program. Now is the time. It can be a little tricky to get started but once you have it set up, you shouldn’t need to worry about it anymore.

For more information on setting up Google Analytics for your store check out our Google Analytics Guide For Beginners.

Just as important as having overall tracking set up on your site is understanding how to use campaign specific tracking to better manage the results on individual promotions and channels. This is simply a matter of using a unique, trackable link, called a UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameter for each of your campaigns and advertising channels. 

These are really simple and quick to create and use. For more information on setting up using UTM Parameters, check out How To Track Your Marketing Campaigns In Google Analytics.

Execute

The final step is naturally to launch your campaign by closely following your promotional calendar. By the time you get to this step, if you have planned and prepared properly, you should have most of the components ready to go and it should simply be a matter of executing on each step of your plan. 

Adapt & Modify

If you've set up your Google Analytics and stay on top of your campaign results, you can modify your promotions while active to help ensure their success. 

Don't forget to do a complete audit of your campaigns performance when the season is over. The most important thing about running campaigns is that you learn from their successes as well as their failures so you can better prepare the next time. 

Conclusion

There you have it. A holiday game plan you can begin implementing and preparing for immediately. Make 2014 the best year yet for your business and take advantage of the gifts the holiday season naturally brings to your business, in the form of increased conversions and average order size.


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.