The last quarter of the year has traditionally been the busiest and most lucrative part of the year for all businesses as people splurge on gifts for family and friends. This drives the sales in all niches, even those that sit idle throughout the year.
According to the National Retail Federation, small and medium sized retailers earn approximately 40% of their revenues during the last quarter of the year. As digital commerce has become ubiquitous, people, Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly opting to make their purchases online in order to avoid the hassles of navigating endless traffic jams and waiting in long queues to checkout.
Given the rising popularity of online commerce, it is hardly surprising that the National Retail Federation forecasted online retail sales during the holiday season (starting October and lasting until the end of the year) to increase by a staggering 16% over last year.
Now all these profits come at a price – you store needs to be ready to handle all the additional traffic and sales before the crunch begins. Online retailers must ensure that they are ready and primed to take advantage of the booming sales expected during the quarter.
While holiday sales 2018 undoubtedly represents the most lucrative season of the year for online merchants, there is a risk of losing out on profits unless adequate planning is not done in advance.
The specific areas of concern include order management, processing and logistics to ensure that deliveries happen on time, payment options are working as intended, and customer complaints and queries handled efficiently.
The first step of the planning stage is to decide which holiday sales, 2018 events you want to focus. In addition to the big holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, there are plenty of smaller ones to increase sales opportunities. This is a great strategy if your online store cannot compete against the giants such as Walmart. Several options include Green Monday (a term coined by eBay to mark the second Monday of December), Free Shipping Day (which falls in the mid-December), and Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas, a favorite with people who always end up completing their Christmas shopping at the last minute).
Generally, Black Friday is an event that is usually dominated by the big fish of online retail with the margins to offer the largest discounts on the widest breadth of inventory. However, smaller players can also take advantage of the Black Friday sales by customizing the promotions and offerings. This brings me to step two of getting your online store ready for holiday sales 2018.
Create A Promotional Calendar
For the holiday season sale, think of the promotional calendar as the map that will guide the store’s marketing through the stormy waters of holiday sales 2018. The essential pointers to include in the calendar are:
- List of holidays for which the online store will offer special sales and discounts. It will be helpful to include a list of the products on which sales and discounts will be applicable so that you could arrange for additional promotional material for the best discounts and deals.
- A timeline for sending out promotional emails to the relevant audience.
- A timeline for the execution of advertising campaigns. For further clarity, it will be helpful to include separate timelines for every channel you have selected in your marketing strategy.
Take Stock Of Your Inventory
This is the most crucial aspect of preparing your online store for the holiday sales 2018 because you will have to make allowances for delays in stock replenishment because of overbooked (and overworked) suppliers.
The first step is to evaluate your current product line and decide which items have the most potential of doing well in the holiday sales 2018. A good reference point is to start by analyzing last year’s sales records to see which product lines sold the most in the holiday season.
Next, decide if they are still relevant for this year. Ecommerce trends generally shift over a span of a year, and social media is usually an accurate gauge of the popular interest. Once you have the statistics, start making educated guesses about how much of what product you will need to order.
For the holiday season sale, It is also important to decide if there are specific products that you are offering for the first time. This information will have a significant impact on the direction of the marketing strategy of holiday sales for 2018. Now is the time to plan (and create, if you have time) special marketing campaigns to market these products.
Note that this might increase the load on your design and development partners, and you might need to outsource some of the work to ensure timely availability of marketing content.
Re-examine Shipping And Returns Policies
For your customers, shipping and returns policies of your store are two essential aspects that determine the service quality of your store. For many small and medium sized online merchants, shipping and logistics are an outsourced function over which they often have very little control.
For many customers, holiday sales experience is often marred by delays and mishaps in logistics. The complaints include missed deliveries and damaged goods. Start by analyzing the logistics record of the past six months. You will discover problem areas that caused the customers to register a formal or informal complaint.
Once you have data-backed issues, it is time to work with your logistics partner. Try to discover solutions that minimize existing and potential bottlenecks and roadblocks in logistics. In the worst case, you might have to switch over to a new logistics partner.
Even when you discover no major issues, sitting with the logistics partner is still a good idea to streamline the deliveries and returns options. Your logistics partner might even suggest changes and improvements to your current policies that could increase the rate of successful delivery fulfillment rate.
Try to make returns and exchanges as simple as possible for the customers. This is a great long-term customer retention tactic that actually increases the overall sales throughout the year.
Evaluate Staff Requirements
Just as brick-and-mortar retailers hire part-time staff to supplement their workforce during peak holiday season sale, online stores often benefit for additional hands on deck.
As a store owner, you will find that you need to hire help for dealing with increased customer inquiries and complaints coming in through phone, email and online chat. You need people who are tech-savvy enough to deal with technical glitches that are part of the operations of online stores.
Similarly, you will need people who know how online payment systems work. Many potential customers abandon carts if they couldn’t figure out how payment works on your store. While this is not a problem for younger audience (who knows how to use Paypal, cryptocurrencies, debit/credit cards), less online savvy, middle-aged target audience often need help in using these payment options.
Finally, you might need additional help in managing multiple digital marketing campaigns. For many stores, this is the point where they could benefit the most because of several concurrent campaigns that stretch your current marketing resources to the limit.
Determine Your Advertising Channels
One of the most important decisions you will make for your holiday campaign is the selection of the right advertising channels. For many ecommerce stores, the primary channel is often social media for which you need a plan before the holiday season begins. For Holiday sales 2018, you need be a step ahead because every year, the competition gets tougher as more and more channels are being utilized by other companies to market their products.
Staying ahead means you take the bull by the horns and invest properly. Having a proper calendar for advertising activities will work wonders for you, challenge your rivals, and bring in more conversions throughout the holiday sales 2018 season.
If you are planning on using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others, you will have to rely on not just paid campaigns, but organic results as well to better reach out to your audience.
Sometimes, platforms like Instagram are better suited in comparison to Facebook since it is less cluttered and allows users to focus on your ad content. Sometimes it is the opposite. For many campaigns, the right place to start is audience profiling. Once you have the profile, you can go ahead with platform selection (as determined by the profile) and then start with the investment plan.
Email is always a great holiday marketing tactic for online stores. Email marketing requires you to plan ahead and set up special promotions including gift cards, gift guides and pre advertising discount deals to special customers.
Don’t Forget Your Blog
The blog attached to your store has the potential of bringing in lots of interested customers looking for the products available on your store. Many marketers do not place much value on the contribution of blogging in the sales of the store. However, this is mainly because many marketers never realize that impact of the blog in their marketing efforts.
Ecommerce stores receive abnormally high traffic during holiday season sale. In such scenarios, the blog is a great opportunity for engaging potential customers by presenting relevant content. So for this holiday sales 2018 season, start by creating a blog that delivers your USP and sells you as a brand which helps with long-term recall and long-term customer retention.
Always Keep Track of Things
Knowing what works and what does not, is essential in your quest towards making sure your marketing tactics are on track. This way you can make the necessary changes on the go to your advertising campaigns and make sure that you meet your ROI expectations.
For the holiday season sale, the rule of thumb is to integrate monitoring and evaluation within the marketing campaign planning. This will make sure that you have the list of actions items that you have planned for the campaign. Next time you are creating a holiday sales campaign, you have the list of things that worked for you (and things to avoid). Experience is vital if you want to be successful, and you have a better understanding of how things work for your niche. This way you will also be able to spend wisely and focus more on organic traffic rather than paid traffic.
Especially crucial for holiday sales 2018 season, make sure you keep a steady eye on your analytics and track the changes. The audience you are targeting, the channels you are using and the timings you have selected, all need to be tracked in order to reap every benefit you can for maximum conversions and maximum profits.
Making profits in the holiday season is all about careful planning that covers all aspects of managing the inventory, logistics and marketing campaigns. You need to carefully evaluate your processes and make sure that everything works smoothly.
Experimenting can be costly but you can learn valuable lessons when you experiment and think out of the box. The main goal here is to be a standout for the holiday sales 2018 season and with competition getting tougher and tougher every year, it makes more sense to understand your customers before you start selling them your products or offer your services.
If you need any clarification or have additional ideas about planning for the holiday season, do leave a comment below.