What can I do to prepare my online store for the Christmas sales period?
It is just 55 days left until Christmas at the time of writing this post. Online merchants who leave the preparations for the Holiday sales and Christmas to the last minute risk missing out on holiday sales and an opportunity of gaining new customers. Christmas is the biggest retail sales period of the year for the vast majority of businesses. Sales increases related to holiday spending start in late September and peak late November to early December. There are plenty of issues to think about so start early and be prepared!
This year it is expected that the latest that you will be able to order online and expect delivery before Christmas will be Friday 21th December for most Australian deliveries. Australia Post have already provided some advice to merchants regarding deliveries during the Christmas and Holiday season.
To make the most from the opportunity of great retail holiday sales you need to plan and prepare in advance.
How long does it take you to pick, pack and ship? That will determine the last date for selling online and delivering by Christmas. Remember there may be backlogs in delivery so check with your shipping agent. What are the peak number of orders that you can handle each day and still get the deliveries out? Maybe you need some temporary staff to help you get through the holiday rush?
Being prepared is as simple as asking a few simple questions about your business.
- How much stock will you need on hand?
- What content changes do you need for your online 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?
Every year Christmas is the dominant retail sales period in Australia and New Zealand Australians are expected to spend on average almost $1,000.00 per person on gifts. Worldwide trends have been favourable for online shopping and can provide some new confidence for online sellers. More people are buying online being driven by many factors and this is unlikely to slow.
Conversely, online shoppers are also getting more savvy. People know that merchants often offer last minute promotions and deals, so are waiting on their purchases for better offers knowing that they can wait to purchase and still get their goods on time.
HOT TIP: If you run a bricks and mortar store why not setup a "pick up in store" delivery method and open Saturday and Sunday before Christmas. Run a campaign for your customers to buy online and pick up in store.
So what can you expect this year?
- Christmas Day is on a Tuesday so you can expect last guaranteed deliveries to be Friday 21st December
- Mobile usage to buy online continues to be dominant with people shopping at all hours of the day
- Buying season is trending later in 2018 so expect a late rush for best deals and last minute promotions
- Apple iPhone XS and XR, along with toys and gadgets and related accessories will all be hot items this year
- Expect an upswell in customised/personalised gifts and gift baskets/bundles with people looking for something unique
- Comparison shopping will focus on gift buying
- Buyers will look for added value, special offers, and prompt shipping at low rates
- Expect heavily discounted sales post Christmas
Prepare your Christmas & Holiday Sales Strategy
It might be a good time to review your overall sales 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 - have you updated the descriptions of your categories and products to promote holiday sales opportunities. Custom seasonal content also helps inspire buyers, particularly promotional or gift categories. By creating specific categories populated with popular gifts at various price points, you can lead your customers to an easy puchasing decision and quick sales.
- Pricing - most gift buying is to a budget so make sure that you can present your products in price bands (i.e. $10 - $15, $20 - $50) so your buyers can easily find the products that fit the budget. Also consider bundles and accessories to value-add to your baskets.
- Inventory - can you get enough stock and how long will it take to restock if you sell out - will you accept orders where stock is still in transit to you?
- Logistics - you need to get the product to the customer at Christmas and there is a hard deadline. Make sure that you do not create a negative expectation for delivery.
- Service & support - there will be consumers buying at strange hours so consider extending your support hours and look at services such as Live Chat.
- Payments - taking payment on your online store is always important. If your products are expensive it might be an opportunity to offer term payments or even financing. Read more about this a little later.
- Refund/returns - a lot of gifts get returned after Christmas, make sure your policies are clear
- Marketing - plan your marketing campaigns to coincide with the higher levels of activity. Focus on gift buyers if you are in the consumer market. Linking with Social Media below, consider targetted campaigns on Facebook or Instagram to reach specific consumers who are more likely to be interested in your products.
- Marketplaces - with eBay and Amazon controlling more than 50% of online retail traffic, it is expected that most shoppers will browse those sites before making a purchasing decision. By listing some or all of your products on marketplaces like eBay or Amazon Australia, you have a stronger chance that your product will be considered by time-poor shoppers looking to make a quick purchase.
- Social media - start to offer gift buying advice or gift guides, or even better seek to get your products listed in popular gift guides for your category. Social media drove a higher proportion of sales last Christmas than ever before and that is increasing.
- Mobile - you need to check that you key content, products and messages present well on mobile devices. More than 50% of gift sales came from mobiles last Christmas and that trend will continue to increase.
Spending a little time developing your plan and strategy can deliver better short and long term sales results and higher margins. It might also be a good time to look at promotional micro-sites or specific landing pages in order to simplify the user experience for gift shoppers and target the Christmas traffic.
Issues and ideas to improve holiday sales
Buying online for Christmas starts as early as September but the real peak starts from late-November/early-December. This year we will expect to see a busy and a longer buying period. The after Christmas, New Years sales, will still be important to sell off overstocked items at bargain prices.
Simple strategies to improve sales and conversions:
- Is your online store ready?
It's 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 any out-of-date products 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. Christmas is about gifts for others more than about personal purchases. This may mean that you can offer different categorisation for your store at Christmas. For example - "Gifts from Grandma for the 18 - 24 year olds".
Customer service is a key factor in getting sales throughout the year but its especially important during the holiday sales period. Make sure that you provide an easy way for your customers to contact you. So make your contact details obvious. Maybe setup a special holiday / Christmas sales contact form using the custom form capability in ePages. You can also add Live Chat easily to your website. If you can answer questions quickly for your customers you can increase conversion rates by up to 40%.
- Check you website on your mobile
Over 50% of your potential buyers will come via a mobile device. That might mean you can get more sales and more profit if those visitors can find and buy a product on a mobile. Don't expect your website to look the same on a mobile as a laptop or tablet. Your website needs to be mobile friendly. eCorner websites are mobile friendly but if you have not checked and optimised your content for mobiles it might need some work. Mobile customers look for simplicity and to find what they are after easily - focus on functionality like search and clear promotional imagery to direct customers on smaller devices.
TIP: Make sure you test your online store on a mobile device.
- Do you have the products to sell?
Silly question you say, well not really. 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 affect on your business so look at the possibility of committment with deliveries later.
- When is my 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.
- Time to check Payments & Security
Do you have a safe payment process setup like PayPal Express or eWAY one of Australia’s leading payment providers? Consumers will be more careful this Christmas and look for security when buying online. But there are also interesting new services like Zipmoney that allow you to offer interest free terms to your online buyers and get the cash right away. Contact eCorner for more information.
Add an SSL certificate to your webstore like a COMODO Positive SSL, these add to buyer confidence.Trust and security can help dramatically improve shopping basket conversions and reduce abandonment. If you don't already have an SSL certificate then eCorner are offering a 50% off deal until christmas just use coupon code 50OFFSSL.
- Think about marketing and promotions?
You can setup special Google Ad-Words and reMarketing Campaigns just for Christmas and help drive Christmas traffic to your store. 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.
Also consider campaigns on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, these channels tend to be much more cost effective per click than a campaign on Google and can build great engagement if done correctly. Facebook and Instagram let you set up "profiles" for the target demographics for your products, for example if you are selling womens beachwear in Brisbane you might create a profile to only market to people who are between 16 and 50 in Queensland with interest in the beach, swimming, watersports etc etc. The tools allow you to get quite specific with your target demographic so you aren't wasting money marketing to people who can't or won't buy your products.
- Use the Price Comparison portals like Google Shopping
You can 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 than convenience or added value. You can find out more at Google Merchant Centre. eCorner also supports other digital channels to enhance your online business checkout Marketing menu >> Portals from your administration.
- eBay and Amazon Sales are Huge at Christmas
Selling your products through multiple channels can dramatically increase your sales. eBay and Amazon are easy additional channels to add and we have support available as standard (and free) to connect your online store to eBay and Amazon Australia in all paid store packages. By selling through these market channels you get the advantage of the size and power of their marketing machine and budget to get new customers. All the orders are still managed via your online store administration.
- 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.
- Special Christmas Categories and Promotions
Products are all important and you might think of price ranges for gifts so that you fit everyone’s budgets. 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.
- Check you SEO and Website Quality
Make sure that your website content and keywords are ready as it might take weeks for search engines to crawl and index your new content. Allow plenty of time and don't wait until the last minute. There is plenty of help that you can get using the built-in SEO tools in ePages. eCorner is also now offering a Website Quality Service to help you get better results than your key competitors.
- Gift buying, wrapping and gift cards
Delivery options in ePages can be easily added in the shopping basket so you might want to think about offering free gift wrapping and free gift delivery.
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
Buyers look for deals and free shipping (or at least free shipping when the basket is over a certain value) can be a great motivator to buy (or buy more) at Christmas. If you are selling a product online you can structure an average shipping price into your costs. Then allow free shipping by Australia Post.
- Post Christmas Sales & Boxing Day
People on holidays 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 Years specials campaigns come December 26th. Remember you can create special products and product bundles that can automatically be made visible come December 26th so you don't need to be feverishly revising all your content on Christmas day.
- Give your store a modern theme
It is easy to setup a new style and change the colours and banners for Christmas, it might be as simple as a new promotional banner or a complete redesign of headers and other content for the season. You can even start doing that right now and make that the live style when you feel it's ready. Set up a count down to Christmas - it can be a easy as a little added text to your home page. eCorner is offering specials right now of new design and themes so check them out.