It's never too early to start preparing your online store for the holiday season. Even months ahead, you can get a few tasks out of the way to give yourself an easier time later on, when you'll likely be much busier.
We're not saying to cover your homepage in gifs of snowflakes and holly in mid-October — rather, to start early with the behind-the-scenes preparations so you can seize the moment as soon as holiday shopping begins.
These 10 action items will help you get ready for the busiest shopping season of the year.
Your goal during holiday preparations is to ensure that all aspects of your online store are ready to attract and handle a large influx of customers and sales. If your marketing efforts pay off, you're going to have a ton of traffic and support requests to deal with — and sooner than you might expect. Leave the preparations too late, and you'll be struggling to optimize your store for the holidays while wrangling early customers. Plus, you'll miss out on some customers altogether; the early researchers who choose where they're going to shop long before the time comes.
Prepare beforehand, and you'll have everything ready to go so you can start your holiday promotions right on schedule and with a minimum of hassle, and see a great response from customers. Here's what you need to do to get your store ready.
Assemble a team to go over your site and look for areas in need of improvement. By starting here, you're strengthening your online store's foundation so you can build upon it — it makes no sense to leave errors present and "get to them later." If you do it that way, you may end up changing your plans and then never taking the steps during which you were going to fix those errors.
Customers are already doing research for their holiday gifts, so check the following:
- Bugs/poor navigation: These are website killers. Look for issues with checkout, problems navigating through categories, and anything else that might cause a customer to leave in frustration, unable to find what they're looking for.
- Product information: Do all your products have accurate descriptions? Have you included all the necessary details? Customers are anxious shopping online to begin with, and doubly so for holiday gift shopping. Make sure they'll know exactly what they're buying!
- Product images: Just like product information, high-resolution images are an important aid to customers looking for gifts. You need top-quality images, preferably from different angles and showcasing the item to its best advantage, with zoom capabilities so your customers can inspect the details.
If visitors can easily find their way around your store and access comprehensive information about your products, they'll have a much easier time making their buying decisions — even if they put off their purchase till later.
2. Add Wish Lists
If your online store doesn't already let customers create wish lists, it's a good idea to implement this feature. Wish lists serve two purposes during the holidays: people can use them to list the items they want to receive as gifts, and share the list with their friends. Or, they can use them to keep track of the products they're planning to come back and buy for others.
You could also consider adding gift registries, since many people will be planning holiday events and parties in addition to regular gift giving. A side benefit of both wish lists and gift registries is the word-of-mouth advertising they can generate, as people will direct their friends to buy from their registry or wish list on your store.
3. Consider Gifting Features
Holiday customers have some different needs from year-round customers, because they're even more pressed for time and money. You can help them out — and make shopping from you more appealing in the process — by providing services to smooth out the workload of gift shopping. The three main features to offer are:
- Gift wrapping: You can save your customers a huge hassle by providing an affordable gift wrapping option, and earn your store a little extra profit at the same time.
- Same-order multiple shipping destinations: Implement a way for your customers to split a single order to be shipped to different addresses, and you'll save them the trouble of delivering the gifts themselves. They can buy gifts for several people and have each shipped directly to the correct address. Combined with gift wrapping, this is very powerful.
- Gift certificates: Online gift certificates are the perfect last-minute gift, as they can be delivered instantly through email.
We've gone greater in depth regarding gift shopping features for your online store in previous blog posts; check them out for more strategies.
4. Get Ready for Increased Demand
You want to sell more during the holidays, but how prepared are you if your marketing goes better than expected? What if you attract so many customers that you can't handle the demand and start selling out of popular items? We don't want that!
Organize your inventory and check your sales data to get an idea of how much extra stock to build up to meet the demand you anticipate. Evaluate your top sellers and make use of all the analytics you have available. Unless you have a sufficient budget and inventory space, you're walking a line between not enough inventory, and sinking your funds into more stock than you can afford.
On a side note, if you do end up with overstock at the end of the holiday season, a New Year's Eve sale can help you move the leftovers.
5. Plan Your Sales
Build a comprehensive plan covering all the promotions you're going to run during the holiday season. Structure the schedule around popular shopping holidays like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Monday. Thanksgiving is a good day too — it seems shopping online from a smartphone has become a common way of passing the time before dinner or while recovering from a food coma, and each year sees more Thanksgiving online shopping than the year before.
Here are the dates to plan your sales around:
- November 23, Thanksgiving
- November 24, Black Friday
- November 27, Cyber Monday
- December 11, Green Monday
- December 15, Free Shipping Day
- December 23, Super Saturday
- December 24, Christmas Eve
- December 25, Christmas Day
- December 26, Boxing Day (Canada; U.K.)
- December 31, New Year's Eve
For an online store, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, and Black Friday are by far the most important, with Free Shipping Day as a close runner-up.
6. Plan Your Advertising
Now that you have the details of your promotions worked out, it's time to plan your advertising campaigns. Outline your advertising for email newsletters, social media, pay-per-click, and all other channels you're going to use. Your plans should include content, dates, follow-up email schedules, budget, and more. You'll also need to create different campaigns to attract different segments of customers, but tools like the super-targeted Facebook Dynamic Ads can be a great help with that.
7. Create Graphics
Once your sales and advertising are planned out, get to work creating the graphics and other holiday-specific content for your ads and website. You'll need fun holiday banners, ads, email templates, and more. Get it all ready ahead of time, so when the day rolls around, you can overhaul your store with a festive look. Get customers into the holiday spirit, and they'll be inspired to buy more.
8. Stress Test your Website
You have everything ready to attract and sell to a huge number of customers, but can your online store handle the traffic? Even going down for five minutes during peak time can cost you a ton of sales. Make sure your website can handle the rush by running a series of stress tests and preparing to scale when necessary.
9. Test Everything Else
Now's the time to get some valuable user feedback, preferably when you still have a chance to address any problems before the holidays. Have as many people test your site as possible — the more eyes on it, the better. Can they find what they want? Does it look good and run fast? How are your loading speeds? Bring back your team from the initial evaluation and ask them how things have improved. This is your last chance to ensure you make the best impression possible on your customers!
10. Start Marketing
Now that everything's ready, start building up some anticipation. Send out your first "upcoming sale" emails, place a countdown timer on your store's homepage, and get customers excited. You want them at the edge of their seats waiting for your sales to start. You can have some fun with this — send out surprise coupons, encourage people to make wish lists, and whatever you can think of as long as it spurs interaction. Be creative! Keep up the marketing throughout the season so your customers (and you!) don't miss out on a single opportunity.
This checklist is a basic outline for the preparations you should be making to get ready for a prosperous holiday season, but there's a lot more you need to know. Check out our free Holiday Shopping Preparation Guide for Online Stores ebook to get some more details, including an in-depth description of each of the important shopping dates, and more!