Secure eBusiness Solutions

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Online Retail Holiday Season Plan & Checklist

The Holiday Buying Season is here - are you prepared and ready to sell online?

The ARA and Roy Morgan Research recently published their projections for holiday season retail revenue up 3.3% to $42.18 Billion

What do you need to do to be prepared? 

Every retailer needs to make a plan for the holiday sales season to get the best results possible. Every year we remind all our customers to get ready for Christmas sales but some leave it too late. Christmas is the peak retail period of the year and preparation should start now.

The holiday buying season can account for 20% to 40% of total sales revenue and as much as 80% of profit for some retailers. Specialty retailers that open for the holiday buying season rely on holiday buying for 100% of their business. After last year season was completed IBM published a Smarter Commerce - Australia's Online Retail Holiday Shopping Recap Report 2012 which identifies some key trends and is worth reading.

There are lots of issues to cover if you want to get the best sales results for your business at Christmas. First and foremost is to do some business planning. The date for Christmas does not change and so by Friday December 20th your Christmas business will be mostly done. So plan backwards: 

  • How long does it take you to pick, pack and ship?  You need to determine the last date for selling online and delivering by Christmas. Remember there may be backlogs in delivery so check with your shipping agent or Australia Post.
  • What is the peak number of orders that you can handle each day and still get the deliveries out? If you are thinking ahead maybe you need some temporary staff or family and friends to help. How much stock will you need on hand?
  • What content changes do you need for your web store?
  • Do you have photos and new stock information from suppliers?
  • What about pre-Christmas promotions and sales?
  • What about Christmas gift cards and gift wrapping materials?
  • What about social media?

As Christmas and the months before can mean more visitors and more orders then make sure that you have enough hosting capacity and bandwidth to handle your requirements. If you are unsure talk to your hosting service provider and they can help you review your usage overall.

It is a good time to clean up your store and clear out products that are old or no longer available. Spring clean your store to be ready for the holiday business ahead.

Check out how your online store works on smartphones and tablets because this is the year of "Couch Commerce".

Expect to see more activity from mobile devices:

  • You will start to see QR codes in printed media,
  • Gift buyers will look for novelties and quality,
  • Comparison shoppers looking for value,
  • Buyers will look for added value and special offers,
  • Shipping and delivery will be a key value proposition., 
  • Be social media ready with Facebook and Pinterest both important.

Prepare your plan and strategy

It might be a good time to review your overall eCommerce strategy and to look at how you can develop a more successful online business. You can take some time to consider how you will deal with;

  • Content - fresh and up to date
  • Pricing & inventory - availability and competitive,
  • Logistics - shipping as a differentiation,
  • Service & support - be available longer hours leading up to Christmas
  • Payment & refund/returns - be proactive and offer after Christmas support,
  • Security - got your SSL and payments in order - consider PayPal
  • Marketing - look at your Adwords campaigns and budgets,
  • Social media - get started long before Christmas offer gift advice,Quick Response (QR) codes in printed media - bring people to your website from their smart phone.

Is your online store ready? 

It is no use waiting until December to set up the store as you just won't make it in time. If you have an existing store then now is time to clean up old content and get rid of out of date product and stock information. Each year there are new fads, styles, colours and collections so be up to date and prepared to take advantage of the demand.

Ready for mobile and QR codes.

Quick Response (QR) codes take shoppers from printed media direct to your website and allow you to promote products and sell online. There are many services that allow you to create QR codes (just do a quick Google search) these codes are simple images that contain information like a URL that a mobile phone with a QR code app can read.

You should have your website URL on all printed material and traditional advertisements. But QR codes can turn static printed promotional materials into dynamic links to your online store and direct to your products and promotions.

Make sure you have adequate inventory.

Getting the stock can be tricky the closer you get to Christmas so you need to know what you will need now. Buying stock early can have a negative cash flow effect on your business so look at the possibility of commitment with deliveries later.

Enable a safe payment process.

Do you have a safe checkout process setup like PayPal Express, now the leading Australian payment method, eWAY, SecurePay or Payment Express all safe Australian payment providers? Consumers will be more careful this Christmas and look for security when buying online.

Add an SSL certificate to your webstore like a COMODO Instant SSL, these add to buyer confidence.Trust and security can help dramatically improve shopping basket conversions and reduce abandonment.

Think about promotions.

You can setup special Google AdWords Campaigns just for Christmas and help drive Christmas traffic to your store. Go talk to your SEM partner you will be competing with lots of other businesses for customer attention but we know that most online purchases with start with a search and around 70% of those will be via Google. The use of a well prepared and funded online search engine marketing campaign leading up to Christmas can be a good investment.

What about Click Frenzy?

Will your business be effected by the Click Frenzy campaign that starts on November 18th 2014? Click Frenzy drives consumers to search online and look for great deals. If you are part of Click Frenzy then you should be prepared early and ready to track activity. If you are not taking part you can still expect an increase in traffic online so setup some nice offers and promotions to take best advantage of the opportunity.

Use the Price Comparison portals

Open and account and add products to portals like to promote your products and special offers and drive qualified traffic to your webstore. What are your unique selling propositions (USP) for Christmas as these should be promoted. For example offer free shipping for purchases over a certain value. Offer free Christmas gift cards and gift wrapping. Discounts are less of a value proposition at Christmas for buyers.

Offer Christmas specials.

You can put up special Christmas only products that have special pre-Christmas offers. Gift buyers come in many different types and good quality novelty items sell well at Christmas.

Add Christmas keywords.

Make sure that you add the Christmas keywords to you Meta-keywords with plenty of time to get crawled by the search engines before Christmas. Also make sure that you add Christmas Gift category names and description text to match up with you keywords. But remember timing is important! How often does Google crawl your website homepage? For most online stores it might be every 5 - 10 days so to get your changed messages out there it is not instantly available. Now might be a good time to setup some web analytics and a Google Webmasters account.

Add products by price range.

Products are all important and you might think of price ranges for gifts so that you fit everyone’s budgets. 

Enhance your product descriptions.

It is easy to go through some of your products that might great gifts and add "gift advice" information to the descriptions. You can make recommendations and also setup your cross-selling so that combinations can go together. Make it easy from people to see how your product might appeal and what other products might be complementary. 

People buying gifts want ideas.

So give them some. Set up special categories like "Gifts for him", “Gifts for Mum", "Gifts for the dog", "Take a chance gifts" and so on. Be inventive as you need to stand out in a crowd. 

Also consider setting up a product category based on price so that visitors to your store can quickly find products within a price range.

Preparing for your search engine optimisation.

Don't forget that Google might take time to crawl and index your new content so allow plenty of time and don't wait till the last minute. 

Gift wrapping and gift cards.

These can be easily added in the shopping basket so you might want to think about offering free gift wrapping and free gift delivery.

Multiple shipping addresses.

You can have multiple shipping addresses so your buyers can ship directly to an alternative address. Offer this service and make sure you get the gift there on time.

Free shipping at Christmas.

Free shipping can be a great incentive to buy online. If you are selling a product online you can structure an average shipping price into your costs. Then allow free shipping by Australia Post.

You can time the shipping and delivery so that as you get closer to Christmas shipping is no longer free but maybe at a premium to ensure delivery. Don't get greedy.

But also remember that buyers might be looking for gifts and delivery directly to a friend or family member. So offer delivery choices with gift wrapping and gift cards.

Delivery cut-off date for Christmas.

It is no use selling to a customer who expects pre-Christmas delivery if you cannot get the product delivered on time. So you need to tell your buyers what they can expect if they buy on the 24th December. Make sure that you provide specific advice regarding returns and refunds as you do not want to get stuck after Christmas. Talk to your shipping company.

Make sure that you check with your logistics provider and find out what the shipping cut-off dates are for your location. You can find information for Australia Post at the following address:

Christmas Day 2014 is on Thursday so you can expect most deliveries to be done by Monday 22nd December. 

Give your store a Christmas theme.

It is easy to setup a new style and change the colours and banners for Christmas. You can even start doing that right now and make that the live style later in the year. Set up a countdown to Christmas - it can be a easy as a little added text to your home page. Don't go overboard.

Keep selling after Christmas

Remember New Year’s sales are big.

After Christmas is a great time for specials and people on vacation like to shop around for bargains. So don't think everything stops on December 25th. The smart store operators will be ready with the Boxing Day and New Year’s specials campaigns come December 26th.

What's happening - web analytics

Importantly you need to be able to see what is happening so now is a great time to make sure that you have some good web analytics and reporting capabilities. You can get free products like Wagtail Free from eCorner or add Google Analytics to your site or talk to your web store provider.

Expecting a lot of web traffic?

Maybe it is time to look at a content delivery network to buffer your online store from high volumes of activity. Check out Cloudflare for small to medium sized businesses or Akamai for the enterprise. 

Have your thought about your social media strategy?

Social media has developed to be a core driver of traffic online. This year social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest will be important to gift buying decisions. So you need to have your social media presence ready and integrated to your online store. 

Prepare and Plan and make the most out of Christmas

Christmas is the most important retail selling time in the year and you need to be prepared to get the best results. Your online store needs to be complete and setup for Christmas as soon as possible and you need to start Christmas promotions early, the week before Christmas is too late.

eCorner ran a webinare with Power Retail to look at the issues and ideas for successful online retail for the holiday season. You can find the webinare on YouTube just register on the Power Retail website at:

I hope that you all have a happy and successful holiday sales season.