October is here, and that means the holiday planning should be well underway. Don’t assume people wait until November, or Thanksgiving weekend to start hunting for deals and buying presents. In this post we want to focus on the top 5 things you can do to prepare yourself for the holiday season as an online retailer.

5 ways for an online retailer to win with holiday planning

1. Review last Season… What happened last year? Carve out some time to review your numbers from the previous year. Were your phones covered during peak volume hours? How fast did customer support respond to user questions? Did you run out of any products? Were they highly sought products? A simple review of what happened last year (good and bad), can go a long way to informing your decisions this year. Pull in your core team and spend some time talking this through. Use data to confirm your suspicions (sales data, support tickets, etc. etc.). Then start planning.

holiday planning

2. Planning. Based on what you learned in Step 1, it is time to start your holiday planning. That means you need to decide your marketing strategy, and your inventory planning. There are other things for sure, but these two are huge. Investing all of your money in products you can’t promote or sell properly is the difference between a banner year, and a huge flop. We wrote a post on managing your inventory and using technology that might be helpful.

  • Plan out your inventory. Talk to your wholesalers, if you are the manufacturer, make sure to have serious conversations around lead times, and fulfillment expectations with production. Being clear, concise and ensuring the left brain is talking to the right brain is really important in accomplishing your fulfillment goals. What are you planning to spend your money on if you are warehousing product? Every dollar you spend manufacturing, or purchasing a product that sits on the shelf, or showroom, really is critical. You can spend more money if it is all tied up in inventory that isn’t selling. Again, your look back to previous seasons, and forecasting what has been selling year-to-date are what you should use to inform your production or purchasing decisions. Also, ramp up your Back In Stock Notifications for your store, it will pay for itself in a flash.
  • Marketing is important too. So, you’ve decided what you want to have available for sale. Let’s make a plan to sell it then! Page placement, product descriptions, photo representations, email campaigns. Make sure that you are dialed in. This is not the time of year to “wing it” and operate on the fly. You need to be strategic and map out week by week what you email promotions will look like, what products you will list on your homepage, or feature. What products you will tether together in upsell promo’s. Are you planning to pay for advertising on Facebook? Making sure you have a plan is imperative to getting good results. Success is a result of good planning and and excellent execution, while using data to inform your decisions.
  • Staffing… Are you running the show solo? Or, do you have a team that will be helping out. Now is the time to ensure that everyone is running the same race. Be clear with expectations around PTO, who will be doing what, and measuring where you are .vs. your sales goals. This is a team effort often and you are only as strong as your weakest link. Planning this in advance can pay off big time.

website review

3. Website Review. You are planning to sell items on your website. Well, then your website needs to be working properly.

  • Is your homepage ready to go? Do you have different versions and images for all the big days (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, etc. etc). You don’t want to create these at the last moment. Plan this out today.
  • Are the descriptions, dimensions, and images still representative of the current product? Manufactures often change, and if you ship the last years product assuming that it is exactly the same, you are making a fatal error. SKU’s might stay the same, but products often change.
  • Speed is King. Over 70% of mobile shoppers have experienced a site too slow to satisfy them
    1 extra second of load time can impact your conversions up to 7%. This is big money during your peak season.
  • There are some easy fixes pointed out using Google Page Speed Insights. These include compressing images, and potentially changing themes. Not all themes are created equally and can have a dramatic impact on site performance.

4. Shipping and Fulfillment “Audit”. Do you ship your own products? Does someone else? Have you got a solid relationship with your drop ship or wholesale account? Have you created shipping accounts to label your own packages, if you are shipping the products yourself? Answering these questions ahead of time is a big deal, and can make your process really improve.

Throw into the equation that you need to have the physical vessel to ship your products in. This means you have to have packaging or boxes, wrapping paper at times, tape, ink for your printer, bubble wrap, the list goes on and on. Looking back to last year can be a big help in predicting what you need. Don’t buy it all in advance, but know when you need to buy more. Going into cyber Monday with a roll of tape and 1 sharpie isn’t going to get the job done. Prepare and reap the benefits of that preparedness.

Try and recall the last previous year, and hopefully the data you have on shipment returns. Was this what you expected? Did you receive items back because of poor descriptions and/or pictures? If so, review point 3 above regarding your products. How often were your products late? What other feedback did you receive on the returns. Use this information to create a playbook that you can consult to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and if it does, you will have a reference to inform you decision. Planning based off previous experiences is just a smart move. Make it count.

planning and execution

5. Execution. This is the difference between a good and a great season. It isn’t enough to think everything through and discuss it with your team. When it comes time to decide and implement, you have the opportunity to set put yourself in a great position. Execute, Execute. Ideas without execution are not worth a whole lot. There are a ton of million dollar ideas that lack execution, and there are a lot of average ideas that had excellent execution and made millions. Planning and execution will set you up nicely. Don’t try and boil the Ocean. Focus on the 5 keys in this post, and you will set yourself up for a successful holiday season.

The holiday planning is not just for the Christmas season either. You can use this blueprint for any Holiday Season. Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. Plan, execute, and repeat.

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