November 09, 2014

5 Tips to Get Retail Ready for Holidays

Get your Online Store Ready for Holidays

Holidays are quickly approaching, and now is an excellent time to dig in, if you haven't already and get your online store prepped for this busy sales period.

This year is particularly unique as there are only 26 days between Black Friday and Christmas, which is 6 fewer shopping days than usual. 

Many retailers do 25-35% of their sales in the 6 weeks around holiday time -- so let's talk about how you can make it your best holiday season yet.


1. Stock Up and Stock In

Holiday sales forecasting is very tricky, even for the most experienced retailer. For my brand, Encircled, I'm averaging high 3-figure growth versus last year, but not anniversarying a massive press hit in December. So, what to do.

  • Overstock on evergreen merchandise. If you have the financial bandwidth, and products that you know you can retail at regular price throughout the holidays and thereafter, err on the side of more than less. Last year, I ran out of inventory during this time, and had to run last minute production which I had to get help hand sewing. Ugh. It was a nightmare, and I missed out on many sales opportunities.
  • Mobilize backup stock. Have a clear contingency plan in case sales spike unexpectedly. Is there a turnkey way to get more inventory? Plan for the best case scenario = loads of sales!
  • Do a pre-holiday inventory count. If you're not in a regular cycle of inventory counting, I recommend planning a pre-holiday craziness count. Invite over a few friends for dinner, and ask them to help. 
  • Go Limited Edition. If you really want to pull holiday sales through, create a limited-edition holiday collection and make it available to your best customers. 

2. Plan your Promotions

Although it's not required to participate in any or all of the holiday promotions, it is recommended to create a holiday promotional strategy as this is a good time to boost your sales through piggy backing on an already popular consumer shopping behaviour.

Being clear, and creating your offers in advance will make the holidays more fun! (And less stressful for you).

  • Know the key dates. Shopify has a list of all the upcoming promotions here. 
  • Determine where (and if!) you will promote on price, versus value. Price-based promotions dominate certain days (I.e Black Friday, Cyber Monday), however, for the rest of the holiday promotional timeframe, try to think about how you can add value to your orders. For example, could you include a Holiday Gift tag or Card? How about hand-printed wrapping paper? A fabric ribbon? Try to find out what would appeal to your customers and then make that part of your marketing messages during this time. If you are going the price route, try to maximize the heavy promotional days to clear out slow-moving, or old inventory, but just make sure you're still making margin.
  • Decided what channels you will promote on. Will you share messages via email, Facebook, Facbeook ads, Google Ads, Twitter, LinkedIn, Print, Bloggers.... knowing your preferred channels will help you keep focused in this busy time. A good way to make this decision is to take a look at your google analytics from last year -- what channel drove the most revenue? Also, double check your last 3 months to verify that this trend is still valid. 
  • Map out your promotional schedule. Grab a free printable calendar and map out all of your content timing for the weeks leading up to holidays. Include any emails, social media messages/campaigns, critical ship dates, pop-up shops, markets, ads, blogger campaigns, gift guides etc. 
  • Great creative (help). Creating multiple ads, banners, and scheduling, posting in tight turnarounds is a lot to manage for solopreneurs. Hiring a Virtual Assistant, or a Graphic designer during the holidays will be well worth the investment.
  • Segment your list. Creating meaningful, and relevant promotions are only possible if you're able to market them to the right people. Tag your list members will their previous purchases, and customize emails to speak directly to items which may be of interest.
  • Don't be crazy with the promotions. Over emailing during this time, and over posting on social media will just get you a bunch of unsubscribes and unfollows. Set a schedule, and if you do plan to do a 12-days of Holidays, or special daily offer during this time, make sure to get people to opt-in to that regularity of communication first. 

3. Optimize your Online Presence

If you sell primarily online, start cleaning up your shop now so that it will truly shine to your customers come holiday time!

  • Update social media descriptions. Visit all of your social media sites and make sure all of your descriptions are up to date, and clearly reflect your brand and have up to date links. Adding a little holiday cheer to your descriptions, such as #holidaygifts on Twitter is a neat way to show up in other feeds specific to this time of year.
  • Review your website. Invite a couple of friends, or even better, a few of your customers or potential customers to review your website with you live, on Skype in exchange for a gift card or discount. Have them point out anything that doesn't make sense, or that's confusing or frustrating about your website. Marry this qualitative data with your quantitative google analytics data, and make changes to areas of opportunity.
  • Update product descriptions, banners and customer service police. Double check product descriptions to ensure pricing, description, size charts, ship info, links and embedded videos still work. Re-size any distorted photos. Make any holiday images/banners right sized for web. Add banners to collections and create landing pages specifically for holiday gifts such as gifts under $50, gifts for women, gifts for men, gifts for travellers, gifts for techies etc. Update your customer service policies to reflect you ship timelines, and return period if you're extending for holiday. Keep in mind that many purchases are gifts, so exchanges/returns post-holiday are commonly accepted by most retailers.
  • Add reviews to your website. Reviews, negative or positive are proven to have a positive impact on conversion. If you're using Shopify, there is an awesome review app called Yotpo that will auto-email customers to ask for reviews. Otherwise, reach out via email and ask for feedback + reviews on your site.
  • Consider more customer service/live chat. Customers are busy during this time of year, so it's important to have quick turnarounds on customer service. Consider installing a live chat app, or making a regular practice of checking your customer service email during late evenings and weekends. 
  • Additional payment options. If you don't offer alternative payment methods such as PayPal regularly, adding it for holidays will no doubt improve your conversion as late night browsers, too relaxed to get their credit cards out may opt for this payment method.
  • Make your website mobile ready. Mobile commerce will grow triple digits this holiday season, and your website from homepage to checkout needs to be ready. Update your template now or create a mobile optimized site temporarily for holidays.


4.  Solidify your Ship Strategy

Last year's UPS + Fedex delivery debacles should serve as a warning to all retailers that having an air-tight ship strategy is critical for holidays.

  • Know your ship date cut-offs. Talk to your ship provider, and then back up a day just to be safe. Dealing with angry customers because their Holiday gifts didn't arrive is not worth the angst.
  • Communicate the ship dates clearly to customers. In addition to updating your customer service page, I suggest adding permanent banner on every shop page on your website, adding the ship details to your social media banners/descriptions, and on your home page banner. I plan on changing the ship descriptions this year to also reflect the cut offs. Last year, I upgraded shipping to make it on time for some of my best customers as a special thank-you gift.
  • Add alternative ship options.  If you're a loyal Canada Post or USPS customer, now is the ideal time to look into other ship options as backups such as UPS, Fedex, Purolator, or providing options for pick-up from your office/studio.
  • Stock up on ship materials. Nothing is worse than having to buy ship materials at your post office because they are soooo expensive. Order more than enough labels, return labels, toner, paper, ship bags, boxes, packing paper, tape, marketing inserts, and other ship must-haves.
  • Create a ship station or system, especially if you're planning on having someone help you during the busy time. Install apps on your ecommerce platform that can integrate your shipping provider to make for a more seamless shipping process.  

5. Measure and Adjust

Retail is both art and science. Even if you've executed all of the above suggestions perfectly, there is no guarantee that your holiday sales period will be amazing. Measuring, and optimizing your marketing efforts and online presence during this time is an excellent way to fail fast, and learn quick.

  • Install Google Analytics. If you're reading this post and don't have google analytics installed on your shop, please stop readying and do it now! Even if you have it installed (but rarely check it, I know, we all do it!), login and double check that it's still tracking. Little changes such as theme and app updates can sometimes negatively affect the code.
  • Measure your promotions. If you're running regular promotions or posts, measure the engagement post-promotion. If it's not driving traffic, and ultimately revenue, then optimize. Don't just run with what you've planned because it's all set out. If a message, or offer isn't resonating or convertng, then adapt.


Holidays are an amazing opportunity for online retailers to flourish!

Online retail sales are expected to be up double digits this year overall in North America, so make sure you maximize this time (and plan a vacation to celebrate post-holidays!) 

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