Christmas in July? 5 Ways To Prep Your Online Store for the Holiday Season

Most online retailers know this well after a single season of rushing to keep up during November and December, but preparing for the biggest and best retail season online takes time and energy. Start now, and you’ll enjoy the benefits once you’re too busy to concentrate on anything besides fulfilling orders and customer service!

1. Be Prepared for Shipping!

If you want to compete at all with the big online retailers like Amazon, be prepared to offer reliable and affordable shipping options.

  • To make sure you fulfill your orders quickly and cost-effectively, make sure you have enough people, boxes, and packing materials to handle the business you can reasonably expect. Don’t risk running out of supplies mid-December and then be forced to splurge on more expensive, last minute materials.
  • Look at the calendar and plan your delivery windows.  When do people need to order to expect on-time delivery for all of the major shopping holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year?  Do the deadlines change based on US region or for international orders? When will they need to place orders via expedited delivery? Will you offer expedited delivery?  Check in with USPS, UPS and FedEx to get their expected delivery dates, then work these rules out in a way that is reasonable for your store, then make sure these order deadlines are posted prominently and clearly on your website.
  • If it is at all possible, try to offer some level of Free Shipping.  It is a sad fact that most small to medium sized e-retailers must sacrifice some profit in order to compete with ecommerce giants like Amazon.  Can you offer a low flat rate?  Can you offer free shipping on certain items or on orders over a certain amount? Maybe you can offer Free Shipping as an incentive to VIPs or return customers?
  • Consider leveraging your shipping process for further marketing.  Can you include coupons for your customers’ next orders inside your packages? Promotional materials for new arrivals? Sneak peeks at upcoming sales or “exclusive” sales?  Free samples? This is your chance to turn new customers into loyal, repeat customers.

2. Think About Cross Selling

If you haven’t already set up “suggested” or “related” items in your store, then now’s the time to do it.  (In ProductCart, you can “Manage Cross Selling” under the Marketing menu in your Control Panel.) This is an excellent opportunity to:

  • Suggest alternative items to products that might have sold out
  • Up-sell! Offer the matching pants or accessories; suggest batteries or necessary cords/add-ons
  • Suggest related items that would make the perfect gift bundle – for instance, a blanket and stuffed animal to go with those new baby pajamas
  • Increase your visitors’ “Time on Site” (an important indicator for Search Engine ranking)
  • Increase your conversion rate and average order size!

3. Find Ways to Make Shopping Easy for Busy Online Shoppers

Let’s face it, one of the most common reasons people shop online is convenience and speed.  It is easier, faster, and more pleasant to complete their holiday shopping online instead of braving mall crowds and nasty winter weather.  Consider the following ways you can make their lives easier (and incidentally increase your chances that they’ll buy from you!):

  • Create a “Gift Guide” that organizes your products according to their perfect gift recipient.  In the most basic sense, this might mean “Gifts for Women,” “Gifts for Men,” and “Gifts for Children.”  You might also go further and present “Gifts for Movie Lovers,” “Gifts for New Moms,” etc.  based on your products and target customers.  Not only does this help your customers shop your site and find perfect, unique gifts, it also creates relevant, sharable search engine and social media content.
  • Put together “Bundles” of products that offer a discount price if purchased together.  Not only do people love discounts, but they also love when you make it easier for them to put together great, unique gifts. In ProductCart, bundles are a special type of cross-selling relationship and can be managed in the same place.
  • If you have a blog, create some “curated shopping” articles that include reviewing products in depth, providing friendly shopping recommendations, showcasing collections of products that go well together, Holiday tips relevant to your target shoppers, and more.

4. Don’t Forget Support Materials

As a follow-up to the items above, make sure choosing the right gift and making a purchasing decision is a no-brainer by including these online shopping support materials:

  • Easy access to sizing information
  • Clear Shipping and Returns information
  • Beautiful and enticing photography and/or video
  • Product Reviews
  • Spec sheets, instruction manuals, and technical information
  • Care instructions for apparel items
  • Product dimensions
  • Age and safety information for toys or children’s products

5. Plan Your Marketing!

This is the critical piece that too many retailers leave until late Fall. Make sure you’ve thought through and carefully planned the following well before the Holidays:

  • Sales & Promotions – Plan out the sales and promotions you will include in your Holiday sales season – items, offers, time frames, etc. Be sure to have a handy, printed version of this promotion calendar, so that you can update prices, social media, home page displays, etc. easily when needed. It is important to note here that for many small to medium sized online retailers, the Holiday Shopping Season starts earlier and ends sooner than the traditional brick-and-mortar season. Plan accordingly!
  • Email campaigns – If you have a healthy email list, now is the time to start putting together and scheduling emails to your customers and subscribers promoting the sales you’ve planned above.  Most email programs like iContact, MailChimp, or Constant Contact will allow you to build and schedule emails over a year ahead of time!
  • Social Media – Be ready to generate interest and traffic through social channels.  This might be through “free” or organic campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more.  It might also mean planning out paid campaigns.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and other social media channels offer opportunities to reach potential customers via paid advertising and promoted content.
  • Coupon Sites – Plan to share coupons and offers on websites like RetailMeNot and others.
  • Retargeting – Look into a retargeting campaign to display ads to customers who have visited your website, enticing them to return.  You can use a third-party service like AdRoll, or retarget directly through Facebook or Google.
  • Abandoned Cart Emails – Consider adding an abandoned cart program to your website that allows you to send a reminder to customers who started a cart but did not complete the purchase.
  • Pay-Per-Click Campaigns – Even if you don’t advertise via PPC during the rest of the year, you might consider limited or very targeted PPC campaigns on Google or Bing during the Holidays.

Advanced Strategies (if you’ve got more budget to burn):

  • Mailers – postcards, “catalogs,” or other promo items sent directly to current customers
  • Display Ads – banner ads delivered via Google
  • Video Ads on YouTube
  • Cross-promos with other stores – consider a promotional event, giveaway, or other opportunity to cross-sell with a related but non-competitive website (for instance, if you sell gaming consoles consider partnering with a company that sells man-cave furniture).
  • Promotions with Social Media Influencers – similar to the above, consider having your website or products reviewed and shared by a Social Media Influencer who can target your ideal customers. For instance, if you sell make-up cases a beauty Instagrammer might be perfect. If you sell toys, a “Mommy Blogger” would be a better pick.