Where has the time gone? It’s already Q4 of 2019 and the holiday season is closing in on us.
With so many people turning to the internet for their holiday purchases, are you ready to claim your share of the holiday sales cache? Well, having a game plan essential to your holiday success.
To help you, we’ve put together this holiday prep checklist that we hope will help you plan for what’s to come.
As important as holiday-specific prep is, you need a strong foundation for your strategy to be effective.
☐ Reflect on last year’s data/results – What went well? What went wrong? Reflect on last year’s holiday strategy and the results it yielded. Solid data from the previous holiday season can greatly simplify the following year’s prep. Start the trend this year if you missed out on data collecting last year.
☐ Audit your marketing and sales channels – If you don’t already have a solid grasp on all of your channels and how you’re performing on each, it’s time to do that now.
☐ Aim for peak channel compliance – Polish up your products across your active channels and ensure your listings are error/warning-free.
☐ Optimize for mobile – Far too much online shopping happens on mobile devices for your site to not already be mobile optimized.
☐ Update your shipping and return policy – This should already be solid going into the holiday season, but if it isn't, now is the time to set these in stone.
☐ Prep your inventory – Run the numbers and prep your inventory accordingly. Have sufficient stock ready and have your supply channels on standby.
☐ Segment your email list – All of your holiday email communications going forward will be far more effective if your contacts are properly sorted.
☐ If possible, expand to new channels – Easier said than done… unless you’re organized and using a product feed tool. If so, expand your range for optimal Q4 results.
Plot holiday marketing
The way you go about plotting out your holiday marketing strategy will be unique to your business. The first part of that involves plotting out what you’ll be putting out – but you should also be considering how this will all get done and when it will all be released.
Although seemingly obvious, It’s important to state: make solid strategic content instead of shallow content. Something is better than nothing, but a little something is better than a lot of nothing. Be realistic.
☐ Create email newsletter and/or email marketing content – The potential here is limitless, but keep it tasteful… no one likes spam.
☐ Document all SEO changes you’ll be making on your site – you should have all these changes ready for easy application once the right day comes. Don’t forget to also document the original info for once the holiday season is over and you need to revert to the original messaging.
☐ Document all product detail changes you’ll be making on your products – Same as your website changes; you should have your product data changes ready for easy application once the right day comes, plus the original info for once the holiday season is over.
☐ Develop holiday-themed or other relevant content – You should be working off a content calendar already. Keep this updated, or start documenting what/when you’ll be producing. Relevant holiday blog content and/or complementary content for holiday decisions/activities is always a good move.
☐ Create social media content – Your social strategy should compliment your general content strategy. Develop social posts for your holiday content, as well as for your promos.
☐ Create transactional email content – Follow-up emails for visitors with incomplete carts, thank you emails for completed orders, general follow-ups, etc. It all shows you care and could lead to future business.
☐ Create holiday assets – Website banners, CTA visuals, hero images, and all else. As soon as you create your seasonal site assets, site changes become a scheduled afterthought.
☐ Design print materials – Like all other marketing elements, print assets take time to design… but they also take more time to produce. Get to it!
☐ Create promotional deals + relevant assets – Plan out the substance of your promos, how they’ll be communicated, develop relevant visuals, assign codes, and document PPC ad changes. It should all be ready for easy implementation.
☐ Develop PPC ad strategy – Surely your ad strategy isn’t going to stay the same during the holiday season. There’s literally no better time to go the extra mile with your ads, but don’t do so without a plan. Develop your PPC ad strategy to function well with your content output.
Timing is key
Planning out the substance of your holiday strategy is half the battle, timing is the other half. Once you know what you’ll be doing for the holidays, you’ll need to solidify the “when” of it all.
You’ll want to set start/end dates (and times) for the following:
☐ Events – Choose which events (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, etc.) you’ll be participating in and determine when exactly you’ll be starting/ending those event promos.
☐ Standalone sales/promos – Aside from the standard event holidays, you’ll also want to document start/end times for any sale events you’ll be having for your business.
☐ Sending campaign emails and/or newsletters – Your marketing emails and/or newsletters should fit a schedule, document all of this accordingly.
☐ Sending social media posts – Your content should be tied to social posts, document the release schedule accordingly.
☐ Scheduling holiday content – You should be working off a content calendar already, keep at it. If not, document what you’ll be producing, when production starts, and when it goes live.
☐ Setting holiday site theming – If you choose to change the appearance of your site for certain holidays, document the timing of those changes.
☐ Sending print marketing – Whether you’ll be including seasonal print material in packages sent past a certain date and/or you’ll be sending print material in the mail, document these dates accordingly. Remember to consider the time it takes to produce these print materials plus delivery time.
☐ Special sale/event PPC ad campaigns – Your PPC ad campaigns don’t launch themselves. Document when these will go live and when they’ll end – you don’t want ads promoting expired sales!
☐ Shipping times – Take note of shipping deadlines and document accordingly. You’ll want to openly display these deadlines to late shoppers.
Prepare your team
The holiday season is fast-paced and demanding, you’re going to need all hands on deck (and maybe more). You don’t want your staff feeling flustered when the sales come pouring in. Review all your business procedures, delegate tasks to team members, and adjust workflows as needed.
Make sure your team can effectively:
☐ Help customers through live chat – If you offer live chat, make sure your hours of operation are accurate and support is actively on standby.
☐ Answer email inquiries – What good is email support if you can’t get inquiries resolved in under 48 hours? Aim for a speedy response time.
☐ Respond to social media engagement – Your social channels should be actively monitored. Best case, someone sends some love your way; worst case, public complaints go unresolved.
☐ Monitor competing brands/sales – You can’t have your competitor(s) one-up your main promos and/or sales events. Keep an eye on them.
☐ Collect data and measure success in real-time – A data analyst or two can make the difference between optimizing performance or falling behind.
☐ Coordinate fulfillment – Your team needs to be able to handle peak fulfillment practices during the busiest time of year.
☐ Evaluate site security – Especially if you’re directly processing customer information, your site security needs to be virtually impenetrable.
☐ Handle merchandising & marketing – A lot goes into keeping your visuals updated, your brand relevant, and your messaging consistent. Make sure your marketing department is set to handle the extra pressure.
☐ Hire seasonal help – There’s a reason why most major businesses hire seasonal help during the holidays. It’s needed, and people are always looking for work. A little extra help can go a long way.
Cover all your bases
Lastly, don’t just set-and-forget the elements of your holiday strategy. Make sure to review the various elements that contribute to success.
Double-check the following:
☐ Tracking pixels – Retargeting is a fantastic way to secure fleeting leads, but good luck doing so with nonworking tracking pixels.
☐ PPC ad campaigns – Well-planned ad campaigns are best left alone, but you’ll want to check up on them and adjust your bids accordingly.
☐ Test your site on desktop + mobile – Especially as you make theme changes and launch sales/promos. Also be sure to test server load capacity and adjust accordingly.
☐ Confirm suppliers can handle increased demand – Especially if you’re a dropshipper, but also if you don’t have more than enough inventory in-house.
☐ Review fulfillment best practices with staff – From procedural fulfillment, to packaged marketing materials, to minor presentation details. The importance of fulfillment speed and attention to detail during the holiday season cannot be understated.
☐ Test promos/deals – One thing is planning, another is execution. Review promo details and test your codes.
☐ Find possible alternative forms of shipping – It’s best to have a shipping backup ready… just in case something changes at the last minute.
The holiday season is always a busy time for brands and for sellers. The best possible thing you can do is to itemize your priorities and start preparing as early as possible.
Even though every business approaches the season differently, the entirety of holiday prep is fairly universal. Plan in whatever order you see fit, but make sure you cover each of the points we went over. Oh, and be sure to checkout our Top Ecommerce Channels Tip Sheet and our full Merchant's Guide to the Holidays.
Regardless, no amount of planning can prevent the inevitable. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Prepare for possible shipping problems, weather issues, data breaches, website malfunctions, supply shortages, etc. It’s only when you’ve considered all possible issues that you’ll be truly set up for success.