The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year … to sell online. With consumers increasingly saying no to the long lines and chaos of brick-and-mortar stores, businesses count on the period between Thanksgiving and the new year to expand their reach and boost their overall sales.
Indeed, retail sales during the 2018 holiday season exceeded $1 trillion, up 5.8% from the previous year, and U.S. retail eCommerce spending rose 16.6% to $123.73 billion in 2018. This year, half of all shoppers say they plan to do most of their holiday buying online.
Shoppers are eager to take advantage of the relative ease of online shopping, so businesses should be just as eager to make the overall customer experience as seamless and efficient as possible.
With that in mind, here’s a checklist to help prepare your small business for the holidays.
1. Plan for a Strong and Sustained Holiday Strategy
The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. Start implementing your holiday strategy at the beginning of December and plan to keep it rolling into January. Early promotions — offering online-only discounts or big weekend deals — can be a great way to get a jump on your competitors by keeping your business’s name visible and relevant while driving additional traffic.
Some customers buy gifts late in the season, or even after the holidays. Come up with a layaway plan and make sure you have enough inventory to last into the new year.
2. Make Mobile Magic
Sixty-two percent of all eCommerce visitors come from mobile, and, this year, 84% of all shoppers say they plan to use their mobile devices to do their holiday shopping. So why not meet your customers where they are? You can optimize your eCommerce site for mobile by simplifying checkout options, providing exclusive access, personalizing communication and providing tempting offers that are exclusive to mobile shoppers.
Push notifications sent via text alert customers to the latest sales and holiday promotions — and you can maximize your results by segmenting the alerts by gender, device type or registration status. That way, you can be sure your notifications reach the right people.
3. Leverage Social Media
Speaking of meeting your customers where they are, don’t forget about social media. A recent study by the loyalty analytics firm Aimia found that more than 56% of consumers who follow brands on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are interested in viewing new products. Thirty-one percent of those customers say they are actively looking to buy. The appetite for holiday sales is there, so take advantage with a holiday-themed hashtag.
4. Optimize Holiday SEO Keywords
One way to get a head start on what’s trending this year is through improved SEO. Use tools like Google Analytics or Google Search Console to study what was trending during the previous holiday season. If one of your pages was successful, optimize that page for this year. It’s also worthwhile to create evergreen holiday domains that can be recycled annually using a general naming structure. (Find more specific instructions on that here.)
5. Put On a Smile
A crucial component of putting your customers first is providing superb service. Whether it’s in person, over the phone or via email, make sure you and your staff members are polite, knowledgeable and helpful to customers. This could mean conducting a pre-holiday employee training session — especially if you’ve hired seasonal help — or looking for opportunities to issue reminders on how they can win the customer service game.
6. Simplify Checkout
Nothing frustrates business owners more than seeing how many customers leave their site with items still in their shopping cart. Make it easier for customers to get to your shopping cart by implementing a one-page checkout system. Avoid asking for the same information twice and remove unnecessary distractions — pre-cart offers, for instance — that interrupt the path to purchase.
7. Give the Gift of Convenient — and Creative —Shipping
Add a little holiday flair by getting creative with festive packaging as part of your eCommerce strategy. You can also make your business stand out by offering free, two-day, no-minimum-purchase shipping whether you have a storefront or not. Last year, companies that matched Amazon’s two-day shipping policy saw a surge in profits, especially right before Christmas.
8. Choose the Right Products for Holiday Sales
Some products just aren’t meant to go on sale for the holidays. These are typically big-ticket gifts — like cars or trips — that people plan to purchase well in advance of the holiday season. Businesses would be best served to avoid putting their biggest-ticket items on sale and to mark down smaller gift-sized items instead. Gift guides and holiday bundles are a good way to show off the most popular items on your site.
9. Make Your Holiday Sales Easy to Find
All of your sales, deals and promotions should be clearly visible on your site. Never make your customers hunt for promo codes or a sale page. Instead, guide them to the sale.
You can also leverage your email list to launch campaigns to further illuminate sales — and to entice those subscribers by offering them exclusive savings.
One tool to consider is recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) analysis. This type of analysis tells you how recently a customer bought goods, how frequently they buy them and how much they spend. By segmenting your emails through RFM analysis, you can ensure the customers you reach are likely to be receptive to your offers.
10. Fill Your Stock(ing)
You don’t want to run out of inventory during the holidays. Using data from previous holiday seasons, you can figure out which of your regular items will likely sell out first and order accordingly. Researching this season’s trends gives you an idea of which of your newer products might be the most popular. If inventory storage is an issue, consider looking into additional warehouse space as well.
While you ring in your sales this season, make sure the customer experience comes first. This is your chance to build lasting relationships that will survive holiday lights coming down and trees being left by the curb. By creating magical shopping experiences for your online buyers, you may just end up on their shopping list next year.