2018 Holiday Guide for E-Commerce Brands

illustration of laptop with holiday guide bannerA recent survey of more than 1,000 e-commerce firms indicated nearly 9 out of 10 businesses expect Q4 to be the biggest and busiest time of the year. With more revenue-driving holidays than any other season, the last three months of the calendar year represent a crucial time for brands across virtually all sectors of the economy.

If you operate an e-commerce business and are committed to capturing every possible sale this coming holiday season, you’ll want to get started now or likely have already begun your campaigns. Strategize, put your plans into place, and execute. We’ve created a holiday guide for e-commerce brands to learn about marketing and promotional strategies that will serve them well during the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

Prepare Early

Late August/early September is the most common time of year for e-commerce businesses to begin holiday planning. That said, there’s no such thing as being too prepared. More volatile e-commerce business models (technology retailers, for instance) are often reliant on manufacturer releases, rapidly changing technology, and other contingencies. Give your business at least a 60-day head start on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping rush to adequately prepare and refine your campaigns.

Get Analytical

E-commerce brands cannot afford to fly blind when preparing for the holidays. Understanding ROI stemming from specific ad buys, social media marketing campaigns, and other promotional activities is key to driving profitable sales numbers during the holidays.

Google, Shopify Plus, and Amazon all have tools to measure campaign success. The key is to look at a few important factors when deciding how to spend marketing budgets, where to spend money, and when to simply say, “This isn’t the road I want to take right now.”

Merchandising reports clue you into which products sell best at what time of the year. This is valuable data to use when managing product assortment and in-stock quantities down to the last SKU.

Abandoned cart reports tell you which items are most often left in the shopping cart, unpurchased. This data can help you create more lucrative promotional offers for certain items or create a more aggressive pricing structure to convince people to move to the checkout phase.

Customer segmentation reports show whether you’re attracting an influx of repeat business, selling merchandise to new clients, increasing revenue-per-customer, or any other metrics related to customer segmentation. This helps to direct marketing dollars toward those groups who can deliver the best return on your investment.

Marketing reports create a detailed account of all your marketing activities in one, easy-to-read configuration. From listing the effectiveness of email campaigns during certain times of the year, to allowing you to more easily track how much you spend acquiring new clients, marketing reports are crucial.

Analytics help you learn what your customers are looking for, when they begin searching for products, and which platforms or tools they use to uncover their desired products and services.

Staff Adequately

Most e-commerce businesses (and traditional retailers, too) seek additional help during the holiday shopping season. This might range from hiring one seasonal employee to creating a whole new team to handle the holiday rush. It is important to forecast the workload during Q3 and at the beginning of Q4 to ensure your workforce is up to the task. Recent studies show 96% of e-commerce firms plan to hire between 1-15 people for the holiday season.

Since most of these employees will work in a ‘fulfillment’ role within your e-commerce business, look for qualified candidates who have a background in warehouse management, retail sales, customer support, and other related fields.

Integrate Social

Knowing when to deliver your marketing campaign is important, but knowing where to deploy it is the real key. Today’s leading e-commerce businesses understand the importance of leveraging social media and other similar marketing channels to net serious exposure for their brands.

Facebook will likely continue to dominate this coming holiday season, as will Instagram and Pinterest. Moving beyond traditional social media platforms, email marketing is still an extremely powerful tool that can drive customized messages to segments of the buying public who will show their appreciation for your keen insights via wallet share.

Keep in mind social media marketing is good, but SEO optimized website content and fresh, interesting and relevant social media posts together can drive incredible numbers for some e-commerce brands.

In addition to crafting marketing messages, create a content calendar that outlines when you’ll debut new blogs, long-form articles, or social media posts.

Plan Promotions

Preparing for the holiday season also means determining what kind of promos and discounts you’ll want to use to entice customers to click “purchase’”– instead of abandoning their shopping carts. A 2017 e-commerce study indicated businesses plan to trigger overall price discounts first to attract customer interest. In fact, more than 66% said price discounts were a cornerstone marketing philosophy to drive more holiday sales.

Free shipping is another big promotional consideration. 44% used this tactic last year to drive sales. One of the biggest contributors to shopping cart abandonment is sticker shock from shipping/handling fees. Free shipping is a big piece of Amazon’s fanbase of Prime-addicted shoppers.

Flash or time-sensitive sales opportunities can also help. Four out of ten e-commerce brands report using this tactic to drive emotional shopping activities. Other promotional options include buy-one-get-one offers, free expedited shipping or product bundles, which are prevalent in the tech space.

Anticipate Risks

The holiday shopping season can be an unpredictable time of year. After all, thousands of your competitors are likely vying for the same pool of customers. This can drive poor decision-making and risky behaviors in the quest to make sales. It’s important to note some of the leading risks related to holiday sales and marketing to ensure you don’t put yourself out of business in the process.

On-hand inventory – You’ll need to keep enough product on-hand to satisfy orders, but too much can cause serious cash flow issues. A surplus could be a business drawback once the springtime rolls around and can be hazardous to your business. Use a sophisticated forecasting tool or work closely with your analytics team to order just enough to meet demand and satisfy customers.

Price competition – Large e-commerce brands can make it harder than ever to compete, price-wise. To combat these large firms, leverage national holidays that promote smaller businesses. National Small Business Saturday presents a marketing opportunity for those who aren’t operating on the same scale as an Amazon or Walmart.

Shipping rates – Offer free shipping to entice customers, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a break on shipping costs. In fact, the holiday season (along with the summertime) often drives shipping rates up as a result of higher fuel prices. Keep this in mind when crafting your marketing campaigns and promotional offers.

Website stability – Your website is like the four walls and roof of a traditional retail store. An unstable foundation, flickering lights, and slow technology will drive customers away. Similarly, a slow, unresponsive, and counter-intuitive website will have people quickly abandoning your e-commerce site. Make sure your website is rock solid, prepared for an influx of sales, and seek a web host who has proven reliable over several years of existence.

Customer service issues – Sales volume will be up, as will the number and frequency of complaints, angry customers, shipping woes, out-of-stock situations and the like. Preparing for the holidays doesn’t mean putting contingencies in place that completely eliminate the potential for problems.

What it does entail is creating a plan for dealing with inevitable issues and putting the right people in place early on. Train and run through different scenarios with your team so they all feel prepared for the onslaught of holiday activity.

Repurpose Past Successes

Use data analytics software, previous season sales and marketing information, and current consumer demand to repurpose past campaigns, promotional ideas, and website content (blog posts, for example) that are still fresh and relevant to help drive your business. Using content that is still relevant is bound to drive your business forward and can be repurposed at little to no cost.

Creating a holiday sales and marketing plan is crucial to nabbing as large a share of your particular market as possible. Decide how to best leverage your brand’s key strengths, and value propositions to make your virtual customers line up.

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