This week on the retail bliss blog, I'm going to talk to you about holiday retail planning.
It's the last week of October, and you may be wondering why are you talking about holidays? It's still the fall!
Have you started your holiday planning yet for your retail store?
I don't want to induce panic, however for many retailers, especially large ones, holiday season planning actually started around July. So, if you haven't started your holiday season strategy, do not freak out. Now is the time, and I'm going to show you how.
This post will include a quick overview on several critical areas you need to look at for your E-commerce business in order to prep for holidays throughout the next few weeks.
November and December can encompass 30-50% of an online retailer's sales, so it is critical that you are prepared for this so you can maximize your revenue, and provide your customers with an experience that's worth sharing.
1 // KNOW THE SHIP CUT OFFS
For many of us who are selling products that are shipped in a box, knowing your ship deadlines can make the difference between a customer for life, and a customer that will never return.
This will vary by shipping provider, so depending on whether you are using Canada Post, UPS, USPS etc, the deadlines may be slightly different.
First thing, know the shipping cut offs. This will be found typically on the shipping providers website. Print it off. Share it with all your staff.
Next, update your website's customer service policies with this current info. I suggest backing up the shipping cut off by a day to add some wiggle room. Even if it's not your fault, a missed holiday package will reflect badly on YOUR brand, not on your shipping provider.
Last, communicate constantly with your customers about these deadlines. Add a perma-bar on your website, and add a banner in all outgoing holiday emails. To take this one step further, closer to Dec 24th, make a point to check on orders that are not shipped with proper shipping post-cut offs to make sure they are not gifts. This will avoid any in transit awkwardness + your customers will also benefit from getting super personalized attention.
2 // CREATE HOLIDAY CUSTOMER SERVICE POLICIES
If your E-Commerce store has a lot of holiday gifts as products, you're definitely going to want to create a special holiday customer service policy.
Some things to consider:
Will you offer an extended return period for purchases made during key holiday shopping times? (I.e. between November 30 - December 21, allow more than 30 days of returns)
What's the exchange policy for gifts? Who pays the shipping?
Do you offer full refunds or credit only? Will you refund the giftee or the gifter? What documentation is required?
Is everything exchangeable? What if it's out of stock post-holidays?
Try to be very clear and explicit with these policies to prevent an miscommunication later on or unhappy customers.
3 // GET A BACKUP SHIPPING PROVIDER + ALTERNATE SHIPPING OPTIONS
Further to the point in number one, about shifting back cut offs for your customers for shipping, it's not a bad idea to engage with a secondary ship provider as a backup option.
Register a secondary provider now, and opt-in for small business rates. This is a good backup in case your primary shipping provider has delivery issues, or your customers want a super-express option that your current provider does not offer.
As well, you may want to consider last minute/rush services. My favourite ECommerce platform provider, Shopify, recently announced a partnership with UBER in several US urban centres for same day delivery.
If this isn't an option in your area, why not get creative? Could you partner with a local courier or individual uber driver? Could you work with one of your bricks and mortar retail partners to utilize them as a pick-up depot? Could customers pick up directly from your studio?
Having a couple of ultra-convenient options for last minute shoppers is a great way to delight your customers at holiday time.
4 // DESIGN A COMPREHENSIVE HOLIDAY COMMUNICATION PLAN
Communication at holidays is key with your customers. Not only because you want to make sure holiday gifts arrive on time, but also, it's a major sales period!
You're selling stuff, and you WANT customers to buy. And customers cannot buy from you if they do not know what you're offering.
Think about all of your marketing channels that you use, including all social media, email etc.
If your email marketing channel is not in order, or being used frequently, this is the ideal time to start.
Create a google calendar, or print off a good ole' paper calendar and start marking off all of the important holidays, there are critical retail holidays coming up soon including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
I like to do my email calendar in my project management software, Asana (it's free). I literally create a project task for every email that's going out until end of 2015, and assign tasks, and content to my team.
I tend to do my social content calendars in google docs, it's very collaborative and easy to access from anywhere.
Start today, even if it's loosely, marketing out what you're going to post, and send and when.
This avoids that last minute panic feeling that you must email or post something just because.
One thing to note is to be careful around holiday emailing. This is a time when many retailers who've been super quiet all year amp up their email promotions which results in many unsubscribes and lower open rates. Use email strategically, and have a clear purpose with each email. This is also not a bad time to try segmenting your list and offering your top customers a little something extra for holidays.
5 // CHECK YOUR INVENTORY LEVELS
Though it may seem obvious, now is a good time to check inventory levels and do some comprehensive inventory forecasting for the end of year, and January.
As many of my blog readers are makers, I know what tends to happen during holiday time is we run out of product or time. This happened to me in 2013, I had an order coming in but it was half complete, and I ended up needing my friends and family to help me manually sew on snaps, and upgrade shipping (at my cost) to many customers to get orders to their door by Dec 24.
Last year, I had plenty of inventory for holidays but did not anticipate the post-holiday rush, and almost completely ran out of inventory in January.
Make sure you have enough coverage into February. I know the tendency is to run lean as it's year end, but nothing is worse than having NOTHING to sell in January to start off the year.
Create a detailed forecast by SKU or product group. Last year, I did product group, now I'm forecasting down to SKU level (size/colour/style).
I like to look at last year (i.e. the average run rates of products during the same period, and then apply a growth rate consistent with other months this year over last year). Forecast what you will need, and start production NOW for anything that may run out.
This is a super tedious exercise but oh so necessary. You cannot make money if you have nothing to sell.
6 // GET THE RIGHT PRODUCT FOR HOLIDAYS
In addition to having ANY product to sell, it is equally important to have the RIGHT products at the RIGHT time.
For example, if you're a clothing provider, you may want to think about more giftable options for clothing. Clothing is sometimes a tough sell at holidays as a gift, especially if it's sized. So, can you offer mittens, or other non-sized accessories? Or can you offer gift cards?
E-Gift cards are OK but the truth is they are not that giftable. Think about it - they come via email. So, is the person giving the gift supposed to print off that email + put in an envelope? Yuck!
So, around holidays is a great time to think about how you can take your virtual gift cards to physical gift cards. Nothing is nicer than finding a beautifully packaged gift card under the tree or in a stocking. Think about how you can make this process super easy and turnkey for customers, and you will sell more! And get creative.
Now, I want to hear what you do to prep for the holidays for your online store?
Anything I missed? Leave it in the comments below.
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Wishing you much abundance + retail bliss,