The holiday season starts earlier and earlier each year. Completely cannibalizing Halloween, and sometimes even Back-to-School, we’ve all been irritated at hearing Christmas music on the loudspeaker of a department store in August.

While it might be a bit early to roll out the faux-snow felt carpets, it’s never too early to begin prepping your online store for the holiday season.

In fact, consumers begin thinking about holiday gifts well in advance. According to Google Trends, customers start holiday reconnaissance in early October.


google trends

Look at all those slackers looking in late December. Amateurs.

With consumers starting their searches so early, it’s definitely worth it to start prepping in early fall and even late summer.

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to prepare:

  • Inventory for the Holiday Season
  • Logistics: Shipping & Returns
  • 360° Marketing Plan
  • Site Updates and UX Streamlining
  • Progress Tracking

This article will help you get your online store completely prepared for the holiday season, so you can make sure that you’re ready for whatever comes your way.

Organize your Inventory for the Holiday Shopping Season

Using the data you’ve already pulled from Google Trends, you know what customers will be shopping for this year. Look at your own data from last year too. What were your biggest sellers?

What kind of orders will you need to make? What should you discount to make room for new stock? Do you have any exciting product launches to plan around?

Then get even more practical. Will you be offering gift wrap? Do you need to order branded wrap or is something simpler better? Do you have enough packing, stuffing, and shipping supplies to get you through the holiday season?

It’s time to take inventory and look at what you’ll need to order and what you’ll need to move before the holiday season. Keep in mind that your suppliers will be dealing with holiday rush of their own, so ordering as early as you can keeps you well-stocked for the holiday season.

Lock Your Logistics Down

Going hand in hand with getting your inventory organized, it’s important to make sure your own shipping and logistics are friction free during high-volume seasons.

Be as transparent as you possibly can about your shipping and returns policy. The shipping time and cost that’s needed for your store need to be clear and visible on your site.

Add the maximum date for guaranteed delivery before the holidays. This will save you a lot of headache. You can add a sense of urgency in your promotions by adding this information in your campaign copy or visuals.

As an added bonus, being really clear about your shipping and returns policy will actually cut down on the amount of returns you’ll have.

Now is also the time to negotiate and audit your carriers. How did they do last season? Were there any hiccups along the way? Could you negotiate better shipping rates with them?

Finally, make sure that you are everywhere you need to be. For example, is it time to list some of your non-flagship products on marketplaces? You can always leverage large marketplaces like Amazon to handle fulfillment for you, especially for fast moving products.

Create a Game Plan for Your Holiday Season

The absolute first thing you should do to get prepared for the ecommerce holiday season is to get organized and create a plan.

Don’t start this in November- you won’t have time to plan and execute properly. Remember, a failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Create a Visual Calendar Around Your Target Holidays

Start with a calendar, whatever kind of calendar you like. I like to use Google Calendar because I’m a visual person and I can color code my weeks, which can be helpful to get a bird’s eye view of what I need to accomplish.


calendar

And boy, do I color code it.

A content calendar like CoSchedule can be extremely useful as well (with the added bonus that you can plan social media posts directly from the calendar).

Whichever calendar you decide to use, it’s important to mark out the holidays you want to target for this year.  

Main Holidays for 2018:

  • Halloween: October 31st (Wednesday)
  • Dia de los muertos/All Saints Day: November 1st (Thursday)
  • Armistice day/Veterans Day/Remembrance day: November 11th (Sunday)
  • Singles day: November 11th (Sunday)
  • Thanksgiving: November 22nd (Thursday)
  • Black Friday: November 23rd
  • Cyber Monday: November 26th
  • Christmas: December 25th (Tuesday)
  • Boxing day: December 26th (Wednesday)
  • New Year’s Eve: December 31st (Monday)
  • New Year Day: January 1st (Tuesday)

The holidays you target will depend on the markets you target. For example, if you’re targeting the US/Europe, November 11th will be about Armistice day/Veterans Day, but if you’re targeting China, this day will be all about Singles day.

You don’t have to do all of them. Depending on what you sell and who your target niche is, you won’t need to.

What you will need to do is choose the holidays you want to target, and create your game plan around those targets.

Decide on Promotions Around Those Holidays

Once your holidays have been chosen, you need to figure out exactly what kind of promotions you want to run around those holidays.

Back to Google Trends you go- which product types were the most popular last year? What did your customers purchase the most?

Look at your own data from last year and determine which products were your best-sellers and which products were the hardest to move.

This will help you figure out what kind of discounts and promotions you need to run. Be sure to think about which of your products you can upsell and cross sell.

It’s also time to do a bit of competitor pricing research. Companies like Prisync can help you determine price fluctuations among competitors in your niche so that you can compete properly. Otherwise, you can do it the old-fashioned way by tracking them yourself.

Think about how your discounts are going to affect your profit margins, and adjust accordingly:

  • Are you going to work on a tiered promotional system where there is a threshold for discounts?
  • Will you offer free shipping?
  • Do you have a loyalty program you can leverage?

Figuring out exactly what you’re going to offer your customers will be critical to moving forward. Once you’ve got this ironed out, you can start deciding on how you’ll communicate your promotions.

Establish a Marketing Game Plan

Promotions have been decided on, so it’s time to think about the different campaigns and channels you’ll use to promote around those holidays. This is the part that might take the longest because there are a lot of fine details to work out.

First, it’s time to think about your channels. Which channels are you going to use for your communication?

Look at your channels from the last holiday season. Which were your most successful? Which could you afford to dial back budget on?

According to Divvit’s 2017 Holiday Report, organic Google brought in nearly a third of all orders over Black Friday Weekend, while email marketing campaigns brought in another 20% of all orders.


divvit holiday report orders

We also found that when we examined social media channels during this time, Pinterest was under-used among our merchants but provided one of the highest average order values. It might be time to look into using Pinterest as a viable channel for your store.

Regardless, it’s important to see which channels worked the best for you and to plan your promotions around them:

Blog posts:

Plan your blog posts well in advance, and if you can, get those written now so it’s just a case of plug and chug.

It’s time to go back to Google Trends. What are your customers looking for and what are the biggest trends relating to your store? As a bonus, Google Trends offers a few alternate related keywords to try to rank for.

Think about the keywords your customers will be looking for, and what kinds of blog posts worked well last year. For example, if you sell men’s accessories, and your customers are looking for “Gifts for Him,” try

  • “X Fashionable & Practical Gifts for Him”
  • “X Unique Ways to Knot a Tie/X Interesting Tie Trends to Try This Holiday Season”
  • “X Most Unique Accessory Gifts for the Classy Man in Your Life”

Throw in a few glamour shots of your products, and boom. You’ve got great evergreen content you can use year-round that has real sharing/clicking power on social media.

Email Marketing:

During the holiday season, consumers are keeping an eye out for deals and are more susceptible to sales and promotions.

This means that your email efforts are going to be twice as powerful, so it’s critical to make sure you’re leveraging this channel. Email marketing and newsletters drove a fifth of our merchants’ orders last year, and there’s no reason for that to slow down this year.

Make sure your email campaigns are corresponding with your promotions across other channels. Chances are, if a customer is signed up on your newsletter list, they’ll be following on social media somewhere. Make sure you’re visible wherever they are to make sure your message packs a bigger punch.

Get leg work done now by creating a campaign to collect email addresses and newsletter sign ups so you can have even more power come the holidays.

Social Campaigns:

When thinking about your social campaigns, it’s important to have good coverage across the channels where your customers are. Not every channel is going to be important for you, so make sure you’re looking at your data from last year (and the months leading up to these holidays) to choose which channels you’ll focus your time and energy into.

What you’ll need to plan and create:

  • # of social posts around your promotion per channel (remember, you won’t use the same frequency on Facebook as you would on Twitter)
  • Social post copy with relevant hashtags (try hashtagify.me for popular hashtags)
  • Social visuals that you’ll use for your posts (yes, you need to create them now)

Also, think about if you’ll run any social contests or giveaways. The holidays are a prime time to run a social contest, and if you add a charitive flair to it, this can boost your brand image in unbelievable ways.

A few years ago, I ran a two-fold social contest that was an Advent Calendar for the French market where there was a winner every day leading up to Christmas day using a Facebook Flash game by Social Shaker.

The second was a promotion where we donated a euro to an association that provided holiday gifts for children who were hospitalized over the holidays for each new like on our page. This costed the customers nothing and we were able to give back to a local association.

This two-fold holiday promotion on Facebook doubled the likes on our page and had over 14,000 people participating in our Advent Calendar contest.

There are always people who are on the lookout for contests and giveaways during this time period, but the takeaway is that we had 14,000 people coming to our Facebook page every day in hopes of winning the prize du jour.

If you’re planning a contest during the holidays, it’s important to get everything, especially the legal aspects ironed out and prepared well in advance. Some countries require you to dispose your contest terms and conditions with an attorney before launching the contest, so make sure you know what you’ll need to do.

PPC Channels:

If you’re planning on creating any PPC campaigns, it’s time to figure out exactly where you’ll be the most successful, and how you’ll target your campaigns.

What you’ll need to plan for your PPC campaigns:

  • Ad copy: make several variations so you can test multiple ads over the holiday season
  • Promotional visuals: like ad copy, make a few versions for A/B testing
  • Keywords to use: Using trigger words will capture the customer’s attention: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, holiday sale, free shipping, etc.
  • Exactly how you’ll target across each network you use

For AdWords and Bing ads, you’ll want to do your keyword research to have the most impact. If you haven’t set up your Dynamic Search Ads in Google AdWords, it’s definitely time to get that set up properly now so it will be well-functional by the time the holidays roll around. Here’s a full tutorial on how to set those up.

Also, make sure your PPC campaigns pack an extra punch by setting up retargeting ads via AdRoll or whichever platform you use. For example, if a customer comes to your site and looks at one product in particular, that product should pop up for them again on social networks and other sites.

The more your customer sees that product, the more they’ll think about it, and the more likely they are to purchase it.

Create your Landing Pages:

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to begin conceptualizing and creating your holiday landing pages. A great PPC ad or social media post is made twice as powerful when the landing page draws the customer even further in.

Don’t waste the click on a poorly optimized landing or product page. Make sure your pages all pass the squint test, when you squint at the page to make it blurry but the CTA still sticks out. Now is the time to test different landing pages before the holiday season so you can pick the best ones for your campaigns.

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Having all of this planned well in advance is going to take time. However, it will make your holiday season that much smoother and you’ll have nothing to worry about except for last minute tweaks here and there.

Get Updates to Your Ecommerce Site Live Now

The absolute last thing you want to do is to have a buggy site during your holiday rush period. If you’re planning on doing any kind of update or change to your site, get that live now so you can work out the bugs well before the holiday season.

Give yourself a UX audit and ask your friends for feedback too. If you are planning on adding payment options, now is the time to do so. This can also be a great conversion boost in the months leading up to the holiday season.

Make sure your site is lightning quick- especially on mobile.  Pay attention: if you’re planning on any kind of social strategy, your mobile site needs to be able to back it up.

Most Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram traffic is via mobile. It only makes sense to have a mobile site that works in cohesion with those platforms.

Also, make sure you don’t have any navigation issues. Test your navigation on different resolutions, browsers, and devices.

You don’t want this kind of situation:


Finally, the biggest thing you need to do is to make sure your site can handle the extra traffic. Don’t make your landing pages useless by having the site crash every time you get a valuable clickthrough.

If you had issues with this last year, try to anticipate it by making sure that your hosting server is powerful enough to handle the extra traffic (and potential bandwidth).

The takeaway: iron out the kinks now so you won’t have a single worry during the ecommerce holiday season.

Track Your Data Properly

At several points in this article, we’ve mentioned that you need to look at the data from the previous year to make decisions about this year.

Note how critical it is to have tracked, accurate data about your holiday season for preparation. It’s time to make sure your campaigns will be tracked correctly.

Start off by making sure your channels are connected properly in Divvit so you can track them over the course of your campaigns.

cost connector

Simply go into the settings of your Divvit app and click on the channel you’d like to connect. From there, it’s a simple two-click process that connects automatically.

If you want to add in manual costs, this is a great way to track off-site budget during the holiday season.

You can simply choose the relevant channel, add in the amount, the currency, and the time period (or one-time cost if it doesn’t recur).

If you have retroactive data, you can even add a spreadsheet to add your data into the Divvit app. This way you can really centralize all of your data in the same place.

Adding cost connectors this way will help you get a better idea of your true ROI from each campaign.

From here, you’ll be able to see your marketing costs in the Analytics Explorer:


analytics explorer filters

You can always filter only your paid channels to create a quick ROI report.

Tracking your data over this period, not only on-site but off too, will be critical to your success in the coming holiday seasons.

Make sure that you track how your inventory moves, what your peak days were, your peak items, etc. This will help you prepare your store for an even better holiday season next year.

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The holidays are a great, but stressful time for everyone. Creating a full game plan is the best way you can make sure you relieve a bit of that stress off of yourself and your customers.

Key takeaways from this article to remember:

  • It’s important to get prepared now because you won’t have time after mid-October
  • Create a real game plan for your promotions and marketing activities (down to the last, most minute detail)
  • Make sure that your logistics are completely locked down with a clear, communicated shipping & returns policy
  • Push any updates or site changes now and iron out all the bumps in your UX before peak season
  • Track each and every one of your campaigns properly to be even better prepared for next year

You can’t foresee everything that might go wrong during this holiday season, but being prepared is your best defense against potential problems.

Also, having a smooth purchase process from beginning to end is a great way to transform new customers into loyal customers.
What are your best tips for getting prepared for the holidays? Tell us below or give us a shout!

Whitney Blankenship

Content Marketing Manager
Whitney Blankenship is Content Marketing Manager at Divvit. When she’s not creating awesome content, she’s reading up on the latest in Social, Digital, and Ecommerce trends. She’s also the fastest Googler in the West!
Whitney Blankenship is Content Marketing Manager at Divvit. When she’s not creating awesome content, she’s reading up on the latest in Social, Digital, and Ecommerce trends. She’s also the fastest Googler in the West!