Ladies and gentlemen, rev your engines because it’s that time of year again. It’s the most lovely time of the year, and not just because the leaves start to change colors. It’s the most lovely time of the year because in the next two months, all of you ecommerce merchants are in prime position to make some big increases in your sales.
How big? 20%-40% of all retail sales happen during the last two months of the year! And things are continuing to expand for eCommerce – in 2015, holiday season e-commerce revenues are projected to amount to 79.4 billion U.S. dollars, almost 14% higher than last year, according to Statista.
Here’s our handy 22 point guide to thriving this holiday season. We will of course share with you important, and useful insights before each holiday (A StoreYa exclusive Halloween guide is coming your way next Thursday…It’ll be spooky good).
Prepare Your Store Now
1. Consumers are doing their research now
Odds are, you have already begun preparing in some manner for either all or some of the big holidays. Like the majority of consumers, especially online buyers, preparation starts early.
Here you can see that we are now on the cusp of the high volume searches for “Halloween” related topics. No one is waiting until we are a week away.
The same goes for holidays that are still a month away. Here you can see that “Black Friday” is beginning to pick up steam now, and will hit its high in search volume next month. You need to prepare yourself before the shopping begins.
2. Be organized
So how do you prepare yourself now? It starts off with being organized. At the end of this post, I have embedded a calendar that you can use for your own use to schedule tasks, and make sure you are finishing each task on time.
This calendar is for you. Open it up by clicking on “Google Calendar” on the bottom right corner. This is a flexible guide as to how you can execute all of these tips and points in a timely manner. We will be updating it too!
Be sure to check out these posts if you are looking to take your level of organization and productivity to new highs:
- The 25 Best Mobile Apps for eCommerce Shop Owners
- 62 Free Tools for eCommerce Shop Owners
- The Ridiculously Big List of 46 Online Tools for Small Business
3. Test your site
Aside from being organized and knowing when you need to have each task accomplished, in relation to each holiday, now is also the time to make sure your website can handle any sharp increases in traffic.
The last thing you want is for your site to crash during a shopping craze on Black Friday or one week before Christmas.
In addition, on the website front, now is also the time to make sure that the speed at which your site functions is above average. Surveys that were carried out by Akamai and Gomez.com showed that nearly 50% of online conusmers expect a site to load in up to two seconds, and have a tendancy to leave a site that hasn’t fully loaded with in three seconds. To make matters worse for anyone with a slow site, 79% of web shoppers that don’t get a quick response from the site, say they won’t be coming back.
The most telling statistic might be that during peak traffic times, more than 75% of online consumers went to a competitor’s site instead of waiting to suffer delays on a site.
Product Stock, Shipment, and Packaging
A well designed store that functions like a well greased machine is terrific, but it won’t get your online store from zero to sixty in record time if you don’t have the right stock, supplier, a shipping service.
4. Know your supplier
Regarding stock, if you use a supplier, then make sure your supplier has its own set of plans on how it’ll deal with an increase in holiday-time demand. If you work with a dropshipping company, it might be wise to go ahead and order a few of each of your most popular products ahead of time and do the shipping yourself.
That may go against why you use dropshipping, but sometimes flexibility in the way you work is what differentiates between being good and great.
5. Prepare products now
If you create the products on your own, then now is the time to do the heavy lifting. You don’t wait for a storm to make sandbags, rather you prepare them ahead of time in case of need (when it is likely they’ll be needed). The same strategy goes here.
Use your previous years’ sales results and different tools, such as Google Trends, to see what products are on the rise and which ones aren’t.
6. Know your shipping service
Before you commit to one day or express shipping, for example, take a look at how your shipping service has performed over all of the major holiday seasons. Take a look at the time it took for deliveries to be made and the number of complaints filed due to products arriving broken or not up to par.
On my last vacation, I arrived at the hotel expecting to have to pay for internet access, as advertised on their website. When I arrived, I found out that I had free wi-fi for each device for a limited amount of megabytes. What’s the connection? Whether the discrepancy was on purpose or not, the hotel (in all aspects) went above my expectations.
You want to exceed expectations every single time – especially during the holiday season. You’re better off adding another day to the shipping time and adding a guarantee of some sort rather than dealing with late shipments.
7. Product packaging
The way you package your products isn’t an afterthought and should be one of the things that helps other aspects of your business, such as customer experience and marketing. Why? Great packaging is great branding, and if you’ll notice, the stronger the brand’s appeal is (Apple) the less it has to do when it comes to promoting itself.
There are a couple ways to go about product packaging for the holiday season. First, you can charge an extra fee for product packaging so that the product is ready to be given as a gift. Second, you can add complementary “holiday packaging” to your store, or as a bonus (to exceed customer expectations) after they’ve spent a certain amount.
8. Check out your competition
Knowing what your competition is doing is something you need to keep an eye on all year, and not just this time of year. You don’t want someone falling in love with a competitor.
When you are checking in on your competition your goal should not be to discover how you can take them down or what you can “copy & paste” from them, rather you should see what your pricing is like in comparison, as well as taking a look at what they are doing extremely well and what they are doing poorly.
What they are doing well you want to learn from and you want to capitalize on what they are doing poorly. For instance, does a competitor have a product getting bad reviews? You might want to feature that product, if your reviews are positive, on your social media channels or in an upcoming “flash sale” (here’s how to rock a “flash sale” with our Coupon Pop) to increase its popularity among your fans and the rest of the web.
9. Responsive (mobile) is a must
Your website is your business card and the face of your business on the world wide web. Research shows that people form their first impression of websites in just one twentieth of a second. “Ultimately, shoppers have little tolerance for poor customer experiences – if they can’t find what they need, they’re moving on” – IBM.
How much of online shopping happens on mobile? Last Black Friday and Cyber Monday over 26% of orders come through a mobile device, according to Custora. Also, make sure you take note to this statistic (that should convince you that you need a mobile site): mobile shoppers are quicker at making purchase decisions than desktop users (Icebreaker Consulting).
10. Your homepage
For example, imagine that before Halloween you want to add black and orange to your site. However your brand is all about pink. Adding a pop up or text in orange and black might do more harm than good.
The lesson: use color schemes that match well together, but don’t force anything. If the holiday colors don’t go with your brand, then find other ways to incorporate the holiday into your store. Try to incorporate the holiday season by making product descriptions more personal (for gift buyers), or add themed content for each holiday in your brand’s own color scheme.
What else do you need to keep in mind?
- now’s the time to replace the bad stock images (not all stock images were created equally)
- don’t use business or technical terms to describe simple products
- add a call to action to every offer and your homepage (“Buy Gifts”)
- brand your buttons for the holiday season
- spice up the logo
- fix all of your broken links ASAP
We put together a full post on things not to do with your homepage, so make sure you check that out: 17 Homepage Mistakes to Avoid (and How to Fix Them).
Now is the time to leverage the reviews you’ve received all year. Place them in noticeable spots both on your homepage and your product pages. According to eConsultancy, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision.
Use this image guide now, rather than later (when it’s too late), from Wasp Buzz.
12. Coupon Pops and Exit Pops
Speaking of pop ups, there is no reason you shouldn’t be using them during this time of the year. A well designed pop up converts visitors into purchasers at a higher rate.
“The next thing you notice is how well the pop up blends into the theme of the website. Not only are the call to action buttons pink like the website, but the background of the pop up itself has a pink tint!” – How to Increase Your Email List by 40% Using Pop Ups [Case study]
Pop ups aren’t annoying when they work as one with the site. They become annoying when they have no correlation to the site. Make sure that you create a few different options in your back-office that are ready to be shared in advance of each holiday. There is no reason to wait until we’re a week away from the holiday for you to create one from scratch.
13. Social Media Marketing
Everyone is on social media, and not just for event invites or to “like” friends’ photos. People are on social media looking for gift ideas, sale information, and get recommendations for products and ecommerce stores.
Now is the time to leverage the time you’ve spent engaging and interacting with fans to attract them to your site. What can you do? Aside from sharing your best product images, sharing amazing reviews, and letting your fans in on the coming deals, running a giveaway is a fantastic way to create buzz and popularity around your site just before the height of the holiday season.
Check out our post on the do’s and don’ts of Facebook marketing to get the sales you want: 9 Facebook Mistakes You Can’t Keep Making (and How To Fix Them)
14. Cover images
Like your site and you pop ups, start preparing cover images that are in line with your branding and also put a smile on your fans’ faces. These examples explain exactly what you need to do. Again, don’t wait to create these, rather schedule to create them all in the next two weeks.
15. Add a Facebook store
If you could simplify the purchase process for consumers, wouldn’t you want to do that? That is exactly what the Facebook Store app enables you as a merchant to do, as you can add a payment gateway to enable all purchases to take places without having the customer visit your web store.
16. User-generated content
According to HubSpot, user-generated content can help improve your sales to the younger audiences, especially millennials, which make up a large (and powerful) consumer segment. All in all though, this type of content helps your brand interact with more of your fans and reduces the time you need to spend creating content – that’s what we call a “win/win”!
How can you get your own user-generated content? Use your email lists, current social following, and a new hashtag to get some of the following types of content. This is a practice for the entire year, but this is the easiest time of the year to get it with all the purchases being made.
- holiday videos
- holiday pictures
- selfies with products
- an infographic or some other rich media of your top reviews
P.S. Another fantastic way to empower your customers and create growth is through the use of a referral program, like our Refer a Friend.
Obviously this is something to play around with to find the template that results in the highest conversion rate. According to research, email marketing drove anywhere from 17% to 27% of last year’s holiday shopping – that’s money waiting to be made!
Sending out regular email updates with increased frequency during the holiday season can boost your sales. I’ll give you my view on abandonment cart emails for the holiday season, but note that you should have a full arsenal of email marketing templates.
17. Prepare a killer abandoned cart email
Did you know that ecommerce cart abandonment rate between Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year was 65% (Barilliance). Yes that is below average (approximately 70%), but that is still extremely high for a time of year in which people are literally aching to make more and more purchases.
If you are or aren’t currently using this type of email is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you set up a few templates that combine humor, holiday spirit, and a hint of trust. That makes for a pretty darn good recipe. All of the major ecommerce platforms have apps for this, so do some homework and find one that works for you.
18. The time to spend
This might not be the time of year to pause your advertising. There are two sides to advertising at this time of the year, so it’s your call whether to keep advertising or to go into advertising hibernation.
On the one hand, bids tend to get more expensive during the holiday season across almost every niche. That means an increase in demand for certain keywords. That increase in demand leads to a direct increase in the amount you might have to pay for a keyword or to get in front of a certain audience. Plan your budget now.
On the other hand, click through rates (CTR) tend to jump a bit higher on the day of a holiday, which makes for a fantastic ROI (return on investment). It’s been noted that the CTR of Facebook adverts on Thanksgiving increased by 66% and surged on Black Friday as well to a 36% increase, when compared to just a few days before Thanksgiving.
19. Free Shipping
Like everything else on this list, this needs to be planned ahead of time. Create a spreadsheet or find a software that is catered toward tracking your deals.
Many online merchants rush to offer big percent discounts, that in the end turnout to be only somewhat successful. If you want to offer a deal that’ll make customers buy on the spot, it’s free shipping.
Here’s your proof: According to a study by comScore and UPS, 83% if consumers are willing to wait an extra day or two for free shipping.
20. Flash Sales
If you’re customers are anything like me, they are waiting for the Black Friday sales to make their next big purchase. Here’s a solution: create a very attractive deal that’ll make everyone forget about waiting.
For tips on how to create a winning “flash sale”, check this one out: The 5 Point Guide to More Leads, Social Fans, and Sales With Coupon Pop. Here’s an idea: 12 flash sales for the 12 days of christmas. Not bad?!
21. Live Chat
If you are a small business or a one-two person business adding live chat can be something that is out of your reach. That we can understand. However, at this time of the year adding a live chat app to your site is almost a must.
You don’t have to be available all day for chat. Take a look at your analytics platform and see what times of day get the most traffic, and make yourself available then. Like email templates, here too you can create customized answers to common questions ahead of time so all you need to do is copy the text.
You want to be the merchant that goes above expectations, and not just meets expectations.
22. A clear return policy
One of the goals of your marketing and selling strategy should be to minimize the stress that goes into holiday shopping. What you need to do now is revisit your return policy to ensure that it’s clear to your customers. Then, obviously make it easy to find. If you are sure in the quality of your products, you might want to share a link to the page (after it’s been given some holiday spice) on your social media profiles/pages.
A customer-friendly return policy won’t hurt your business. You can ask Toys “R” Us about that.
What To Do Now
Enjoyed the guide? We sure hope so. This however, is just the beginning for both you and us. We are going to be bringing you guides for each of the big holidays as they creep closer. What do you need to do?
Your work starts by prioritizing the mentioned tasks (and any other ones you have on your list). It’s all about preparing. There’s a reason they say “practice makes perfect”, and in the case of ecommerce, “preparation makes perfect”. Once you have prioritized them, schedule all of the tasks in a calendar or in a spreadsheet so you’ve got everything in front of you.
Spread the tasks out in a flexible manner so that you can accomplish everything. From our experience working with ecommerce merchants over the last few years we cannot stress how important it is to finish all of your “heavy lifting” a couple of weeks in advance, so that two weeks before the holiday you are working more on marketing and customer service, and less on editing your site or creating campaigns from scratch.
This was a brief, yet inclusive guide to succeeding this holiday season. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how to succeed during the holiday season. Share your experience with the rest of us (just like Festivus). Do you have a question regarding one of the tips? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
From all of us at StoreYa, have a great holiday season!
Ty is a digital marketing enthusiast that can't get enough social media marketing and content marketing. He is the inbound marketing manager at StoreYa where he spends his days searching for the newest social marketing scoop and creating amazingly awesome content. If you’d like to chat with him, feel free to connect with him on any social platform.
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