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11 tips to prepare your online store for the holiday season

It’s no secret that the busiest seasons for shopping revolve around holidays. Australians are increasingly shopping online during the holiday season, making it an extremely valuable time of the year for e-commerce websites. 

With more sales and customers comes more preparation. Whether it’s a proper marketing plan or getting your website equipped for an influx of visitors, the holidays can be the best and busiest time of the year for your online shop. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Below, we’ll cover our top e-commerce tips for preparing your e-commerce holiday strategy for all holidays, Black Friday and beyond. 

1. Learn which holidays are most important to your users and vertical  

First things first, you want to determine which holidays are the most important to your customers. Look at past holiday sales and ask yourself questions like: 

  • What months have we seen a spike in online sales year-over-year (YoY)? 
  • What holiday promotions did well in the past? 
  • What product promotions can we tie to specific holidays? 

Remember, though e-commerce sites see a spike for end-of-the-year holidays, there are plenty of other holidays during the year when potential customers are doing online gift shopping, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. 

Aside from larger holidays, there are plenty of holidays that you can tie to your specific audience and run promotions to increase sales. For example, maybe your customer base is strictly women, so you run a promotion in March for International Women’s Day. 

2. Create a templated holiday plan 

When it comes to busy holiday seasons, you’ll want to start planning early – ideally a few months in advance. Once you know what holidays you want to target, it’s time to start creating a plan of action. Creating a templated plan is a great way to ensure you’re able to modify it and use it year-round no matter the holiday or the season. 

Your holiday plan should include things like: 

  • Holiday marketing strategies
  • Discounts and promotions 
  • Inventory preparation 
  • Holiday goals and metrics to track 
  • Holiday budget 
  • Website preparation and testing

When thinking about your plan timelines, consider these general guidelines and tweak them based on your business’s needs:

  • 6 months before: Start a rough plan 
  • 4 months before: Look at past holiday data to help formulate a set strategy
  • 3 months before: Finalise the plan 
  • 2 months before: Start the content creation process
  • 1 month before: Push online content live (i.e, gift guides, etc.) and finalise inventory 
  • 3 weeks before: Prepare your website and test all functionalities 
  • 2 weeks before: Promote holiday deals 

3. Build holiday marketing campaigns and promotions  

Your holiday marketing campaigns are a crucial component of your overall e-commerce holiday strategy. After all, it’s what will attract new and existing customers to your online store. 

Knowing what marketing channels to utilise can vary based on your target customer base. Look at past holiday campaign data to determine what marketing strategy drove the most conversions and prioritisee that in your current campaign. Prepare marketing content for social media channels, email campaigns, paid advertising, and other marketing channels to make sure you hit all of your bases.  

Promotions during the holidays not only lead to an increase in sales – they can also keep your customers engaged and excited for what’s to come. Some holiday promotional ideas include: 

  • Holiday discounts 
  • Free shipping 
  • Social media giveaways 
  • Bundle sales  
  • Free gifts at checkout 
  • Free gift wrapping 
  • Discounts on gift cards 
  • Limited-time deals 
  • Discount codes for returning customers

4. Keep holidays at the forefront of your site design

When customers come to your site, they want to know you’re just as excited as they are about the holiday season. Having a visually appealing seasonal site design can influence more sales and make it easy for customers to see what kind of holiday sales you’re running. Make sure to update your homepage with holiday promotions and products, update your messaging to have a seasonal spin, and link to any gift guides you’ve created. 

Though a holiday twist is always fun, make sure it still aligns with your branding. You want your customers to still recognise your brand when they come to your site, so adding tasteful seasonal elements, while keeping your branding consistent, can do just the trick. 

5. Plan for increased web traffic 

During the holidays, you need to make sure your e-commerce shop can handle incoming traffic. Holidays are the time of year when you may see a larger influx of users on your site, which unfortunately means there’s more room for things to go wrong if your website isn’t prepared. Here are some steps you can take ahead of the holiday rush: 

  • Test your site speed using a tool like Google’s Page Speed Tool and make any necessary changes it suggests.
  • Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and test it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to ensure your site is ready for mobile users. 
  • Avoid making large updates to your website layout so technical issues don’t arise. 
  • Ensure your website is stocked with inventory based on your holiday promotions. 
  • Enable cookies so return customer’s data can save for an easy checkout process.
  • Make sure plugins and third-party integrations are up to date. 

Ultimately, website issues can damage the customer experience and lead those visitors to your competitors. Make sure you’re properly testing your site to make sure it’s equipped for the volume of traffic you can expect to see. 

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6. Make the purchase process simple 

Data shows that 17% of shoppers abandon their cart because of a long and complicated checkout process. Once users have made it to your checkout page, you’ll want to make the purchase process as smooth and quick as possible, so they don’t abandon their cart before completing the purchase. 

To optimise your checkout experience, simplicity is the key. Here are five steps you can take to ensure the purchase process runs smoothly during the holiday season. 

1. Keep everything on one page 

If the checkout process is too long and takes users through multiple pages, the chances of them leaving your site increase. Minimise this by having a single checkout page to make the process as quick as possible for customers. 

2. Implement guest checkout 

Not every customer that comes to your site wants to create a login and have their information saved and that’s okay. For users looking to checkout quickly, enable a guest checkout option, so they can quickly input their shipping and payment information and complete the checkout process. 

3. Give shoppers shipping options 

Consider offering multiple shipping options to your customers. Options like expedited two-day shipping can ensure those last-minute shoppers get their holiday gifts on time. 

4. Allow customers to choose shipping insurance 

Nothing dampens the holiday spirit more than a lost or stolen package. To complete a seamless holiday shopping experience, offer shipping insurance to ease your customer's minds. 

5. Offer multiple payment options 

You’d hate to lose a customer because you don’t offer their preferred method of payment. Consider adding multiple payment options in addition to debit and credit cards, like PayPal and Apple Pay.   

An e-commerce payment processing solution like QuickBooks Payments can help make it easy to accept payments from customers, so they have a hassle-free checkout process. 

7. Make your website easy to navigate

Customers should be able to easily navigate your website without any issues, so make sure your online store is ready for visitors. You want the customer experience to be easy and enjoyable. This means you’ll want to make sure the design and structure of your website reflect your brand and makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for while leading them to the bottom of the sales funnel. 

Don’t overcrowd your main navigation with too many options or you may overwhelm customers and actually lead them right off of your site. Consider creating a holiday products tab in your main navigation, so customers can easily find holiday promotions and deals on your site. 

If your site isn’t equipped for a surge of visitors or is tricky to navigate, you risk losing out on potential customers and sales. 

8. Be flexible with your return policy 

There’s a good chance you’ll see an increase in returns around the holiday season as people are returning and exchanging gifts. In fact, 20% of products bought online are returned. Consider being flexible with your return policy to make the process as seamless as possible. 

Make sure your return policy is clearly outlined and easy for customers to access and has clear instructions on how to process a return. As an added bonus, consider taking care of the return label, so there’s one less thing a customer has to worry about. 

Not only will this make for some happy customers, it’ll also increase the likelihood they’ll return to your site -and who doesn’t love spreading some holiday cheer!

9. Increase your customer support  

During the holidays, more visitors will likely mean more customer enquiries. Because of this, make sure you have enough employees on your customer support team that can respond to customers quickly. You may even want to consider hiring seasonal employees to ensure you have adequate support to carry out the influx of customer requests. Your support team should consist of employees carrying out requests via phone, email, social media, and live chat. 

To minimise the number of customer enquiries you receive, make sure you have content on your site that can guide customers through common questions. These pages and features include: 

  • FAQ page 
  • Policies page
  • Contact page 
  • Live chat 

10. Plan ahead based on seasonality

Though the end of the year is one of the busiest times for e-commerce sites, there are plenty of other seasons during the year where you may see a spike in traffic and sales. Staying on top of seasonal trends and holidays can help you come up with a proper e-commerce holiday strategy no matter the time of year.

Below, we break down some of the upcoming 2022 e-commerce holidays to keep in mind, as well as holidays and seasons to plan ahead for in 2023 and beyond. 

2022 e-commerce holidays to keep in mind

With the end of the year holiday season approaching, here are some important 2022 e-commerce holidays you should prepare for. 

Other holidays that can impact e-commerce in 2023 and beyond

Wondering what other e-commerce holidays and seasons you can plan ahead for? Check out a month-by-month overview below.  

11. Adjust your strategy to stay on top of holiday sales 

Stay ahead of e-commerce trends and holidays by preparing your strategy early -like your marketing plan, inventory count, promotional ideas, and content strategy. Make sure your business is ready for the influx of customers and sales while prioritising the customer experience. 

When thinking about the holidays, evaluate your previous holiday performance to determine what worked and what didn’t and what you can replicate in your next holiday strategy. Analyse things like: 

  • Traffic spikes 
  • Social media engagement 
  • What platforms customers came from (i.e., social media, search engines, paid ads, etc.)
  • Sales volume and sales growth 
  • What promotions performed well 
  • What marketing tactics you used and how did they perform 
  • The amount of inventory sold and left over 

Accounting software for e-commerce like QuickBooks Commerce can make it easy to manage inventory, orders, and customer insights so your online shop is equipped for the holiday season. With a proper e-commerce holiday strategy, you’ll have customers coming back to your shop even after the holidays. 

Visit the QuickBooks Holiday Hub for more resources to help you prepare for and have a successful holiday season. 

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