8 Things you need to do to Prep your Online Store for the Holiday Season

7 min. read
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There was a time when people would line up at their favorite retailers before dawn on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, hoping to get the greatest deals they will ever get for that year for the most-coveted items. We all thought it was crazy back then, but now people are camping out right after dinner!

Fights have been known to spring up over the last of that last pair of Doc Martens or that cute cashmere sweater at 90 percent off. This is Black Friday, and it's a huge deal for retailers. Many small businesses rake in enough profits to operate for another year. Until the next Black Friday sale.

But lately things have taken an interesting turn.

With the growing number of people gaining confidence in shopping online, e-tailers have begun to hold their own on Black Friday. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2013 more than 97 million consumers planned to make purchases on that one day, both online and in stores. That same year, online sales topped $1.19 billion. This was an increase of nearly 15 percent from 2012 sales.

That's not even counting the sales made on Cyber Monday, Black Friday's digital cousin, and the preferred choice for lazy consumers everywhere. No lines, no pushing, no tug-of-war over that gorgeous scarf. Utopia is truly here.

A significant number of consumers count down to sale day at home with fingers poised over a keyboard or a touch pad. The rush to get an item before it runs out is just as intense; it just happens without the annual tramplings and the surprisingly common punch-ups.

However, just because it's easier for consumers to get an awesome deal online doesn't change the stress levels for online retailers. They still have to prepare themselves for the big holiday sale, or the rush of orders may very well bring the website down. This would, of course, be disastrous. According to Shopify.com, some establishments make 40% of their annual profit during the end-of-year holiday season.

Therefore, preparation is key. Here are the things you need to do to prep your online store for the holiday season.

1. Plan Your Inventory

The first thing you need to do is to take stock, literally. You need to determine the volume of old inventory you need to move as well as the new stock that you'll have to order. Remember, transporting goods is a very iffy business during the holiday season, so you don't want to wait until the last minute to order from your supplier. You also need to consider that possibility of your suppliers running out of stock, so you should really order in advance.

If you are at a loss about what products you should concentrate on, don't neglect the value of past experience. If you've been operating for any large amount of time, you'll have important information right there in your sales records. Check out what appears to sell well on your site and exploit it.

Planning your inventory around August is your best bet, but if you're just getting started now, there's no need to worry. Just get cracking and hope for the best!

A quick note to dropshippers: if you ever want to break the dropshipping covenant and buy inventory, then the last quarter of the year is the time to do it. It can save you a lot of grief with screaming customers who don't receive their order by New Year's. Plus, you're sure to make a killing.

Note that aside from Cyber Monday, online retailers also have to be prepared for the later and smaller shopper's holidays:

  • Green Monday (coined by eBay, second Monday of December)
  • Free Shipping Day (mid-December, on the 18th in 2014),
  • Super Saturday (last Saturday before Christmas) for the last-minute shoppers.

2. Choose a Holiday Sale

Holiday dates

You may not have the inventory (or the energy) to prep for all those holidays. If that's the case, you have to make the holidays you choose COUNT! Consider your resources and choose the holiday that will work best for you, and then give it your complete attention.

This is especially important if you are participating in a major sale for the first time. You could find yourself floundering if you don't know what you are getting into. Start with one and work your way up.

3. Get Organized

Image of calendar

You have your stock, you've chosen your poison, and now it's time to put all your ducks in a row. It's easy to become overwhelmed if this is your first time around the block, so you should make a chart about what you have to do and when. Don't just think it; write it down

This is also a good time to think about how you plan to put yourself and your products out there so that consumers will know you're in the running for the holiday hustle. You have to find out how and where other retailers are spreading the word and plan accordingly. Make sure that when you do your promotions you remember to:

  • Put what time your sales will start, and what kind of deal they can get for their favorite products.
  • Update your website regularly. (It would be neat if you had a sort of countdown going.)
  • Inundate your email list with regular reminders, increasing the frequency of your messaging as time draws closer to the sale date.
  • Schedule the start and stop date of each promotion.


4. Beef Up Your Payment Options

Image of wallet

If you only accept one or two payment options, you may want to add some more in order to accommodate the increased volume of buyers and orders. If you only accept PayPal, consider accepting Visa or MasterCard, or perhaps newer methods such as Stripe, which has a deal with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

You can easily find out how a service works by going to the appropriate website. Pick the payment options with service fees you can live with.

5. Rethink Your Return Policies

With so many merchants competing for a slice of the pie, you can be sure that they will attempt to steal your thunder by giving attractive guarantees and flexible return policies. If you want to be in the running, you'll have to give serious thought to what you can handle in terms of returns.

This can be a surprisingly subjective process. You can make determinations based on your history with the customer on a case-by-case basis. If you help a customer out around the holidays, that good will might just extend to the rest of the calendar and go a long way toward securing a returning customer.

6. Narrow Your Marketing Focus

Archery Target

Unless you have a really big operation going, you can't be all things to all people, especially when marketing for a big sale. Concentrate on one or two channels that you can saturate, rather than taking on an ambitious plan to be in all possible ad channels. It'll just dilute your impact and lead to a lackluster campaign. Marketing requires not only a lot of effort but a lot of resources, so if you're limited in both, you won't get the desired exposure.

Consider where your strengths are and exploit them to the hilt. If you are a gregarious social networker, use those platforms to let people know what you're up to. Even if you aren't that into social media, most people are, so you should consider putting more work into social platforms; it can pay back in spades, and it's usually free.

Blogging is also a great way to increase your credibility and expand your customer base. Think about creating holiday shopping guides and other shareable content to expand your reach. 

Just remember these caveats of content marketing:

  • Email is always a good venue if you have a respectable email list.
  • You can also consider placing ads via Google or Facebook. Just make sure you have stellar ad copy.
  • A painless way to increase your exposure is by doing some old-fashioned SEO. Add content to your website that includes important seasonal keywords and phrases.

7. Do Your Technical Run-Through

Let's assume you've done everything right up to this point. Don't neglect to look at your website's backend. Check on the cogs and wheels that will actually process your orders, accept payments, and send out the inventory.

Remember that you will have to be able to handle a (hopefully) large volume of sales in a single day. Before that big day, make sure that all your equipment, software, and bandwidth are in pristine order because you can't afford lag, a glitch or server error in the middle of sale day.

If you have a persistent problem with anything Internet- or process-related, get it fixed and fixed right.

8. Remember Murphy's Law

If anything can go wrong, it will, so be ready with a backup plan. Have redundant servers and backup locations if you run into trouble (check with your hosting provider about what measures they take to ensure uptime). Imagine what can happen and figure out a way to deal with it. Schedule a drill so that everybody involved in your business knows what to do in every contingency. Black Friday is Def-con-9000. Don't get caught with your pants down.

Holiday sales are a great opportunity to make a lot of sales, but not if you go at lackadaisically. Plan for it well in advance and you will become a veteran holiday seller in no time.

How are your preparations for the holiday sales going? Share it with us in the comments section.

About the author
Zack Rutherford

Zack Rutherford is a freelance copywriter. A combat sports enthusiast and poetic soul, he endeavors to create beauty through syntax, sentence structure, and the liberal use of hyperbole.

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