An illustration of a business owner researching holiday e-commerce sales strategies and tips.
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E-commerce holiday strategy: 10 tips to prepare your online store for the holiday season

Many small businesses rely on holiday season sales for cash flow to support them throughout the year. A good holiday e-commerce sales strategy can make all the difference. However, you need to start preparing as soon as possible. 

Many shoppers tend to start holiday shopping before Thanksgiving—and many will shop online. Online holiday sales rose 10.6% last year versus 6.8% for in-store, according to MasterCard. E-commerce sales during the holiday season now account for nearly 22% of all retail sales. 

However, the end of the year isn’t the only time you can capitalize on holiday sales. Planning for holiday sales should be a year-round activity. Let’s look at the best e-commerce tips and strategies to prepare for your holiday strategy: 

  1. Use a holiday sales calendar
  2. Craft a holiday season sales plan
  3. Build your holiday marketing strategies
  4. Include holiday spirit in your site design
  5. Optimize your e-commerce store for traffic
  6. Make your site easy to navigate
  7. Streamline the checkout process
  8. Create a flexible return policy
  9. Allocate time for customer support
  10. Plan for e-commerce seasonality

1. Use a holiday sales calendar 

You’ll want to determine which holidays are the most important to your customers and what you sell. Look at past holiday sales and ask yourself questions like: 

  • What months have we seen a spike in online sales? 
  • What holiday promotions did well in the past? 
  • What product promotions can be tied to specific holidays? 

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 online gift shopping.

2. Craft a holiday season sales plan

When it comes to busy holiday seasons, you’ll want to start planning early: 

  • 6 months before: Create a rough plan 
  • 4 months before: Look at past holiday data
  • 3 months before: Finalize the plan
  • 2 months before: Start creating content 
  • 1 month before: Push online content live
  • 3 weeks before: Prepare your website 
  • 2 weeks before: Promote holiday sales 

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 analysis
  • Holiday goals and metrics to track 
  • Holiday budget plan
  • Website preparation and testing

When thinking about your plan timelines, consider these general guidelines but adjust according to your business needs.

3. Build your holiday marketing strategies

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

Start by looking at past holiday campaign data to determine what marketing strategy drove the most conversions and prioritize it. Then prepare marketing content for social media channels, email, and other channels to capitalize on that data. Finally, consider promotions to drive more traffic and sales:

An illustration of promotion ideas for e-commerce holidays, such as discounts and free shipping.

Promotions during the holidays can increase sales and customer engagement. Besides discounts and sales, you can consider free gift wrapping, shipping, and giveaways. 

4. Include holiday spirit in your site design

When customers come to your site, they want to feel the holiday cheer. Having a visually appealing seasonal site design can influence more sales. It also makes it easy for customers to see what kind of holiday sales you’re running. 

Easy ways to add holiday spirit to your site include: 

  • Updating your homepage with holiday promotions and products
  • Updating your messaging to have a seasonal spin
  • Linking to any gift guides you have

Though a holiday twist is always fun, make sure it aligns with your branding. You want your customers to recognize your brand when they visit your site. Try adding tasteful seasonal elements while keeping your branding consistent.

5. Optimize your e-commerce store for traffic

During the holidays, you’ll have to have your online store ready for more web traffic:

An illustration of how to prepare for increased web traffic during the holidays, such as testing your site speed and stocking up on holiday inventory.

Holidays are the time of year when you may see a significant influx of users on your site. Here are some steps to take to optimize your site before the holiday rush: 

  • Test your site speed using a tool like Google’s Page Speed Tool.
  • Get your website mobile-friendly and test it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
  • Avoid making major updates to your website layout. 
  • Ensure you have inventory to match your holiday promotions.
  • Enable cookies so return customers have an easy checkout process.
  • Update plugins and third-party integrations. 

Website issues can damage the customer experience. Properly test your site to prepare for the holiday season sales rush.

6. Make your site easy to navigate

Baymard Institute research shows that 18% of shoppers abandon their cart because of a long and complicated checkout process. Once users reach your checkout page, you’ll want to make the purchase process as smooth and quick as possible. To optimize this experience, simplicity is key. 

Here are five steps for creating an easy checkout process: 

  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. 
  2. Allow guest checkout: Customers may want the choice to checkout as a guest without needing to create a log in. 
  3. Give shoppers shipping options: Consider offering multiple shipping options to your customers, like expedited two-day shipping. 
  4. Offer shipping insurance: Nothing dampens the holiday spirit more than a lost or stolen package—and shipping insurance to ease your customer's minds. 
  5. Have multiple payment options: You’d hate to lose a customer because you don’t offer their payment method. 

An e-commerce payment processing solution can help make it easy to accept customer payments so they have a hassle-free checkout process. 

Seamlessly connect your online sales channels to QuickBooks

7. Streamline the checkout process

Customers should be able to easily navigate your website without any issues. You want the customer experience to be easy and enjoyable. This means you’ll want to ensure your website's design reflects your brand. 

Don’t overcrowd your main navigation with too many options, or you may overwhelm customers. If your site isn’t ready for a surge of visitors or is tricky to navigate, you risk missing out on sales.

Consider creating a holiday products tab in your main navigation so customers can easily find holiday promotions and deals on your site.

8. Create a flexible return policy

There’s a good chance you’ll see an increase in returns during the holiday season. Consider being flexible with your return policy to make the process as seamless as possible. 

Clearly outline your shipping and return policies to your customers. Make them easy to access on your site and checkout pages. 

You can also take care of the return shipping cost as a bonus. This can increase increase the likelihood they’ll purchase an item, but also return to your site.

9. Allocate time for customer support

More visitors means more customer inquiries. Ensure you can respond to customers quickly. You may even want to consider hiring seasonal employees to ensure you have enough help. Your support may include managing phone, email, social media, or chat requests. 

Have content on your site to guide customers through common questions, such as pages for: 

  • Frequently asked questions 
  • Contact information
  • Shipping and returns policies 

Such web pages can help minimize the number of customer inquiries you receive.

10. Plan for e-commerce seasonality

December is one of the busiest times for e-commerce sites, but there are other holidays to plan for. This includes 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 develop a proper e-commerce holiday strategy year-round. Here are some of the upcoming e-commerce holidays to keep in mind:

An illustration of the 2023 end-of-year e-commerce holidays.

Holiday e-commerce tips

When thinking about the holidays, evaluate previous holiday performance to determine what’s working and what you need to adjust. 

Analyze metrics for your holiday sales like:

  • Traffic spikes 
  • Social media engagement 
  • Platforms customers come from 
  • Sales volume and sales growth 
  • What promotions did well 
  • New marketing tactics that are working 
  • Best-selling items and current inventory

Stay ahead of e-commerce trends and holidays by preparing your strategy early. Make adjustments to your marketing plan, inventory count, promotional ideas, and content strategy for the recent holiday.

Run your business with confidence

With a proper e-commerce holiday strategy, you’ll have customers coming back to your store even after the holidays. Using accounting software for e-commerce like QuickBooks can make managing inventory, orders, and customer insights easy so you can equip your online store for the holiday season. 

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

Holiday e-commerce sales FAQ

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