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No, you aren’t seeing things… it’s that time already. The holiday season is upon us.

If you haven’t started planning, then it’s about time that you do – and if you’ve already started preparing, it’s time to ramp that up too.

Holiday shopping may be a staple of retail, but with each passing year, it grows more on e-tail. For many a reason, more and more people are shopping online for the holiday season.

Alright, that’s enough with the rhyming.

It goes without saying, ecommerce makes holiday shopping efficient, practical, and fun.

According to Adobe, holiday shoppers spent $125.9B online in November and December of 2018 – that’s a 15.2% increase from 2017 (which saw 17.8% growth from 2016 sales), and that level of growth isn’t going anywhere. This holiday season, online sales are predicted to grow in the range of 14% to 18% compared to 2018.

Sure, predictions are uncertain by nature, but there will be substantial growth – as correctly predicted for years.

As always though, preparation is key to acing 2019’s upcoming holiday season.

Develop a holiday strategy

As much as there is to gain from holiday sales, there’s also much to lose if you don’t develop a well-rounded strategy.

Research from SocialToaster claims that November and December drive 30% more ecommerce revenue than all other months. However, overestimate your necessities and you can be left with excess inventory and/or wasted resources. You want to set realistic goals and plan accordingly.

developing a holiday strategy
Source: Shopify

Shopify has outlined the top five concerns for online retailers during the holiday season: rising ad spend, customer service needs, inventory, shipping and fulfillment, and returns. Pay close attention to your current needs in these areas and if possible, factor in last year’s holiday performance.

With that being said, it's time to get proactive – especially if you haven't already kicked it into high gear. Your shoppers are already out there searching.

Consider the following when developing your holiday strategy:

General prep

A good holiday strategy needs a strong foundation to function properly. To be fully holiday-ready, the following should be addressed before entering Q4:

  • Strong product data – The importance of optimized product data cannot be overstated. It's never too late to take your products to the next level – in fact, better late than never. Your product data needs to be clean, complete, SEOptimized, and tweaked for individual channel effectiveness.
  • Peak channel compliance – If anything, this is byproduct of optimizing your product data. Make sure your products across all of your channels are fully compliant and error-free.
  • Optimized channel presence – Involves both peak channel compliance and strong product data, plus fully utilizing all channel-specific options to boost your business. Are you taking advantage of all of your channels’ reporting tools? Marketing options? Store/Brand personalization features?
  • Polished website Take time before the holidays to address any potential issues with your site, particularly when it comes to customer support and connecting with you.
  • Mobile readiness Far too much online shopping happens on mobile devices for your site to not already be mobile optimized.

Deck the halls with holiday content

It’s not cheesy – it’s marketing.

Holiday-focused advertisements, blogs, social posts, etc. garner attention because they're all relevant to what people are shopping for. Before you start creating/distributing your holiday marketing content, be sure to do some holiday keyword research.

Holiday theming on your website also helps get visitors in the holiday shopping spirit. Don’t go overboard though; a little goes a long way here. The same goes for product listings, as well. Consider the reasons that shoppers will be looking for your products. Framing products as “great stocking stuffers,” “techie gifts,” or “perfect for mom” will help connect your items with specific needs. Presenting your products in a certain way may be all it takes to get someone to consider one of your products over something else.

producing holiday content for q4 ecommerce strategy

If you do plan to create holiday content and/or theme your site/products, be sure to update your content calendar accordingly. Having a plan of action and a schedule to guide it is imperative to effective marketing. Just winging holiday content is less effective than having strong regular content, as your efforts will likely get lost in the holiday madness.

That brings us to our next point, don’t just make holiday content for the sake of putting something out there – make it useful and weave in some promos.

Line up those promos

Nothing says “buy this right now” like a good promo.

A good promotion creates a sense of urgency with a time-sensitive offer that discounts a product(s) and/or bundles something extra.

Special event days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Tuesday are the best days to offer deals and discounts. With the buying energy that is baked into these shopping holidays, the best of those deals have a chance to wildly overperform. You don’t want to miss out on any of these opportunities.

Aside from the specific shopping holidays that benefit all who partake, you want your holiday strategy to involve other promos. The same hype can be drawn up at a personal level with the right promo(s) and the right marketing.

The easiest (and most functional) promotion you should always be leveraging is free shipping. 

  • Free shipping over a certain amount is a sure-fire way to please customers and increase average order value.
  • Free shipping on certain days promotes the ever-important sense of urgency.
  • Flat free shipping is always appreciated, even if products cost more upfront because of it. Combine this with time-sensitive deals for extra appeal.
best promos for holiday season
“Most people would rather spend more money buying things they don’t need than pay for shipping costs” - Andrea Woroch

When offering free shipping, be sure to take a close look at low-margin products or heavy freight items to ensure you’re still turning a profit.

Aside from free shipping and discounting your best sellers, consider your buyer's journey – when are buyers browsing for different products? When are they getting serious about making purchases? What holidays are they shopping for? The answers to these questions will help plan out your promotions.

You can also get tactical with gift bundles. Why sell an item at full price when you can bundle a few together, with a minor discount applied to each? Gift bundles motivate shoppers to buy more – happier customers and increased average order value.

It’s important to mindfully plot out your promos and distribute them in a way that is balanced and fair to buyers. For example, an approach that involves an “early bird special” with more incentive than later promotions, coupled with some flash sales, and some last-chance sales – that don’t undermine each other too much – makes more sense than making your last sale more potent than your first. Reward those willing to commit early on, but give late buyers a reason to jump at your goods. Buyers tend to remember your approach and act accordingly next time around… for better or worse.

Invest in ads

What good are promos if they’re not marketed effectively? Don’t skimp out on advertising.

The majority of holiday shoppers don’t wait until the last minute to start searching for gifts. During the holiday season, ad impressions typically increase 50%, click-through rates rise 100%, direct traffic increases 150%, average order value grows by 30%, and conversion rates go up 60%.

Your buyers are actively preparing, so you better do so too.

“If there are disproportionately more impressions, click-through rates, visitors, average order values, and higher spending around this time of year, it means you should be spending a disproportionate amount of money on advertising to balance it.” - Neil Patel

With this in mind, consider the following ad mediums:

  • Text ads
  • Emails
  • Affiliates and partnerships
  • Social media
  • Display ads

The thing about advertising is that we live in a digital world that is stuffed with it. Your ads need to be enticing, and they need to be in the right places at the right times. Don’t skimp on your offers, your presentation, your messaging, or your budget. Effective ads for profitable products will more than pay for themselves.

Inventory and fulfillment

This bit is relatively straight forward – as troubling as selling out can be, excess holiday inventory can also be problematic.

Don’t put yourself in a hole by overestimating how much product you’ll need. It’s best to buy more than you think you’ll need, but don’t go overboard. Inventory needs are hyper-personal, so there’s no generic advice to give other than to not overcommit... unless you have a perfect reason to do so.

As for fulfillment… the timing of your products’ arrival matters more during the holiday season than any other time of the year. Consumers may opt for brick-and-mortar shopping if they are concerned their shipment won’t arrive on time. Obviously this matters far more the closer we get to key dates, but you want to be consistent at all times.

It’s best to offer a wide range of shipping, from free to next-day shipping, with accurate wait times for each. Highlight important deadlines on your site and within product listings; make it abundantly clear when products are set to arrive. This is especially important with free shipping – it’s common knowledge that it’s slower, but it’s important to set proper expectations. 

holiday shipping deadlines
Source: ShipStation

The same level of expectation-setting is important for returns. Do you have a smooth return process year-round? Are you changing anything up for the holidays – making it more efficient, free, etc.?

“The return expenses for an organization can be anywhere from 20% to 65% of the cost of the goods, and poor execution and policies can exacerbate the problem.” - Jake Rheude, RedStag

Being good with returns leads to an increased likelihood of future purchases.

“While it may seem counterintuitive, providing shoppers a seamless and easy returns experience is actually an excellent opportunity for retailers to capitalize on additional sales – and this is not exclusive to the holiday season.” - Rishon Roberts, Optoro

Your customers want a frictionless buying experience, that includes the possibility of returning. Prepare your inventory, highlight deadlines, set proper shipping and return expectations, hire seasonal help if you need to – do anything/everything else you can to rock your holiday fulfillment.

Prime your contact information

Speaking of returns and a well-rounded customer experience – people need to be able to contact you with ease.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can visitors easily find my contact information on every page of your website?
  • Does each page of my site have an area where visitors can sign up for a newsletter and/or other promotional materials?
  • If you utilize marketplaces - Is my contact information accurate on these as well?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s time for an update.

Expand... if possible

Though a bit of a stretch if you already have a lot on your plate, it’s never too late to expand to new channels – especially if you’re using a product feed tool.

The holiday season brings out more consumers than usual. Each year, more people turn to online shopping for some (if not most... or all) of their holiday purchases. You want your products to be available on as many of the top platforms as possible, where they’ll be seen the most.

If you plan to expand to additional shopping channels for the holiday season, don’t wait. Get on those channels now. The more time you have to test, adjust, and optimize, the better your chances.

At the very least, the most promising channels you want to consider are: Google Shopping Actions, Facebook/Instagram, and Pinterest.

Final thoughts

The holiday season is a wonderful time of year, but it can be a stressful time for merchants if not properly planned for. If you haven’t already started, it’s not too late. 

Be sure to check out our Holiday Prep Checklist, which itemizes what you'll need to focus on to have a well-rounded approach to your holiday preparation – and also our Top Ecommerce Channels Tip Sheet, which is loaded with effective optimization tips for the top channels of the year.

Deck the halls with holiday content, line up those promos, invest in ads, prep your inventory, sharpen your fulfillment process, and make sure your foundation (both personal site and channel accounts) is in tip-top shape. If possible, expand to major channels that you’ve been meaning to get to – we can help with that.

The earlier you start developing your holiday strategy and adjusting your workflows, the better off you’ll be.