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Holiday guide

2018 Holiday Sales Guide: Your Game Plan for a Successful and Stress-free Season

Frank Jackson, 09/17/2018,

Storeowners - it’s TIME to start your ecommerce engines. The 2018 holiday season is underway.

If 2017 was any indication, 2018 is going to be another banner year for holiday sales. Last year, consumers spent $453.46 billion on internet retail purchases. $143.11 billion of that was spent in the 4th quarter alone. Both of these numbers represented a year over year growth of 17.0% - the largest for the ecommerce industry since 2011!

2018 is predicted to be even better.

So right now you’re probably picturing yourself high-diving into a pool full of money à la Scrooge McDuck.

However, if you’re a veteran of the ecommerce holiday season, you also know it can be a stressful and hectic time, as you are constantly trying to keep up with requests, campaigns, and orders.

We want you to take full advantage of this most important time of year, all while maintaining your sanity. Here is your guide to being informed and prepared so you can make 2018 your best sales year ever.

Start Planning! Now.

Marketers looking to make the most of their winter holiday online advertising campaigns should not overlook the month of October, according to recent research.

One of the biggest misconceptions about holiday marketing is that you need to get your ads up and running just in time for Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday. This isn’t the case. In fact, over 40% of US consumers plan to begin their holiday shopping before November, and a solid 20% plan to start before October even begins.

Make sure your content is relevant and edited. Are your pictures the highest resolution you can find? Do your images have captions? Is your site optimized for mobile? What are the page loading speeds? Do you have links to well-known and respected reviewers? These are all important to make sure that you are converting the extra traffic to sales, better SEO, and more visitors.

We always like to recommend a promotional calendar for the year, but it is also helpful to have one just for the 4th quarter. Sit down and outline what promotions you want to run and when you want them to start and end.

Some things to consider when you are setting up your calendar:

Can your Print on Demand partner meet your expected increase in sales?

It is great to have a huge sales day – but it is only a positive if you can fulfill the orders and provide a uniform customer experience. You don’t want your customers to place the order – only to have to wait for weeks or to cancel the order because your suppliers or warehouse partners can’t keep up. Start having the conversation now with your partners to ensure they will be able to manage your growth. You want to make sure you can fulfill the orders on promotion – and have enough to sell through the entire holiday season.

What holidays do you want to target?

Although it would be great to have a promotion with each holiday – this likely isn’t feasible. Think about what holidays are most important for your product and try an maximize your sales during those periods.

Have you considered extra costs to ensure profitability?

If you choose to discount your product, the extra sales will be great but you also want to make sure you are factoring in all of the costs. Will you have to bring on extra help to fulfill or process the orders? Will you be paying more in storage fees if you use a 3PL warehouse? You know your business better than anyone so make sure you are factoring in all of the costs.

Deck the Halls

How about the look of your site

How about the look of your site? Why not give your store a holiday revamp?

It can be as simple as slapping a silly Santa hat on your logo or as complex as an entire new layout. Greens, reds, and yellows are the classic “Christmas” colors. If you want a more classy look, go for gold and silver on a mid-blue background or cream and ice blue. For kid-based stores, cute snowmen, reindeer, and other holiday critters will always be a hit.

And don’t forget to carry the holiday cheer over to your social media! Decorate your pages with even more festive flair. Bonus points if you match it to your store page. Seriously, something as simple as a string of tree lights going across the top of your Facebook Cover Photo can make all the difference in the world.

This goes above and beyond and creates quite a bit of extra work, so if you do decide to “decorate” your site, make sure you have the time, and brand awareness, to do it correctly.

Get The Word Out

Once you have outlined your schedule, it’s time to spread the word and let people know about your shop!

Start planning advertising campaigns, create photo, video, and text ads to run during the holidays, and start reaching out to influencers in your industry to see if you can build a partnership for the 4th quarter and beyond.

We all know that retaining customers is much cheaper than acquiring new ones – therefore, make sure your existing customers know about the upcoming sales as well. Hopefully, you have an email list that you send out to past customers and subscribers. Make sure this is ready for the holiday season. You want to make sure that your 4th quarter emails are packed with products and have a clear call to action – namely, to buy your stuff!

Don’t be afraid to offer discounts for previous customers and provide incentives for them to invite their friends and family to your email list. Your happy customers can be the best brand ambassadors for your company and you want to keep them happy.

Put Yourself in the Buyer’s Journey

We talked about “decorating” your store, but you should also make your customer experience tailored to the expectations of the holiday season. Some examples of that:

Add a “Gifts” section.

Even if you decide not to decorate your store, you can get in the spirit by adding a “Gifts” page to your shop. Depending on your number of product offerings, you might want to break your page down by price (i.e. “Under $25” or “Under $100”) or simply as a page with some of the products you expect to be the most popular. You want to make buying from you as easy as possible and creating a section for gifts takes a lot of the work off of your customer’s plate.

Offer free shipping.

This doesn’t have to be expensive, because you can simply add the expected shipping cost into your product price. Working with a print on demand provider that offers flat shipping prices makes this even simpler.

Offering free shipping has been shown to be the single biggest factor customers consider when buying an item online. 93% of shoppers say they take action for free shipping. A free shipping promotion would be a great promo to run the first week of December to encourage your customers to buy early and often. Don’t be afraid to add small stipulations (i.e. free shipping on orders over $25) to increase upselling opportunties.

We’ve talked about incentivizing before and the holiday season is the perfect time to implement this type of strategy.

Be clear on shipment dates.

Many customers will be buying presents to be delivered by Christmas, create a banner that shows when you orders need to be placed to ensure an on time delivery. This will also put some gentle pressure on your customers to complete their purchase.

Look For A Referral Partner

Look For A Referral Partner

The 4th quarter is the perfect time to partner with other businesses to benefit both companies. This strategy is a little tougher to implement and is most effective if you are able to localize your advertising and your product. We’ll use an ecommerce store that sells fitness clothing and equipment as an example. Perhaps they sell a lot of their gear in the Los Angeles area. If that is the case, they might want to look for partners there. Perhaps they could find a local gym that would offer a discounted membership if someone bought over $50 of workout gear.

Maybe you sell winter apparel and could partner with a winter sports rental company in the area. No matter what you sell, there is likely someone for you to partner with. Reach out and see how you can both grow your business in the 4th quarter! Although this strategy isn’t only applicable in the 4th quarter, this is where you will see the most return on partnership so make sure it is set up and ready to go well in advance.

Test, Test, and Test Again

Since you will likely be adding new product listings you want to make sure everything on the back-end goes smoothly. We talked about your partners not being able to handle the increased sales volume – but what about you? Are you sure your server can handle a huge increase in traffic? Are you sure all your new products and bundles and listings are edited correctly?

A sale doesn’t mean anything else you can fulfill it quickly so make sure you test your listings multiple times from a desktop, tablet, and phone. Try using both iOS and Android operating systems. You want all of your customers to have a smooth experience and your testing in September and October will ensure this in the crunch time of November and December.

And, while you’re in there editing and testing, check your other product listings as well. This is when you are going to receive the most traffic, and new visitors, so you want to make a great first impression. Start by making sure your most popular products (product photos, copy, product dimensions, etc) are all correct. Then move towards your less popular products. This will also show you what you are doing right with your popular products, and what you are doing wrong with your less popular options, and should lead to increased sales in Q4 and beyond.

Consider Social Ads

Right now, the average person spends over two hours a day on social media. During that time, they are barraged with photos, posts, and videos from companies all over the globe. Facebook ads flash information about the latest sales and Instagram pops up with bits about the hottest trendy products. How many times have you clicked on one of those ads? They are targeted to hit your personal interests so you have probably at least been tempted quite a few times. Consider taking out ads on social media to catch new customers as they scroll through their feeds. Put a cute holiday motif or perhaps a special coupon code in and you are all set.

One thing to remember: the customer journey over the holidays is tricky. Consumers shift from personal purchases to buying for others. This means they are now shopping for what they want AND what their friends and family want. Use this chance to more aggressively target outside of your core customers. Although these shoppers tend to buy multiple gifts, budgets and limited discretionary income may limit AOV. Again, offering discounts, incentives, or free shipping is a great way to get shoppers to add more to their cart.

Refer a Friend Campaigns

Speaking of coupon codes, one really popular idea right now is creating a referral program. Big name retailers like Zulily and Ipsy all have referral programs. They are a sort of, “send to a friend”, type of business facet that helps keep loyal customers locked in on your company while also encouraging them to spread the word through incentives.

Offer a coupon for those who refer their friends and maybe a bit of a discount for their friend’s first purchase, too. A lot of companies do a “ten dollars for you, ten for a friend” type of discount. Each person the customer refers gets ten dollars off of their first purchase. Once that person makes a purchase, the original customer who referred them gets a credit added to their account. It is a win-win. You get a new customer who will likely return and refer others to get more discounts and your customers get a mark down on cool products!

The Season of Giving

When you think of the holidays, chances are presents pop into your mind. A fun way to gain new customers is to have a giveaway. It can be something small, like a store credit, or perhaps a holiday themed gift set from your store’s wares. Create a festive, eye catching photo and plaster it on your social media with the details of the giveaway. You can require customers to like, share, and tag friends in the comments. Each friend tagged can be an entry into a drawing for the giveaway; more and more people will be tagged and want to enter because free stuff will always draw a crowd! Some stores even do a series of tiny giveaways themed around the 12 Days of Christmas or other cute holiday themes so get creative and find something fun!

The season of giving opens up many a heart to the idea of helping their fellow man. The tangible love in the air reminds us that we are all humans in this world together. Create a way to help your customers give back to the community. Choose a charity and work with them to either create a product or donation option within your store. Donate a portion of the proceeds of your product to the charity. Not only will you be helping a worthy cause but customers will also be more likely to pick up other things they have been eyeing while making their donation. It is an absolute win-win situation that helps not only your store but also those in need. Embody the holiday season and reach out to those around you; good deeds often come back around threefold.

Don’t Forget About 2019

Don’t Forget About 2019

Don’t forget about the rush after Christmas! Most retailers forget about this time of the calendar and will likely give you an opportunity to capture sales while other retailers are sleeping.

If you increased your sales in Q4, you likely captured some new customers. It’s time to turn them into lifelong customers and devotees of your brand. Make sure to add the new customers to your email lists and you an even create a category just for them. Send them codes for 10% off their next purchase. Ask for feedback so you can see why they picked your store and how you did. Offer incentives for liking you on Facebook or following you on Instagram. By doing these little things, you build loyalty in your brand and see your baseline sales numbers increase and your revenue, and profit, grow in 2019 and beyond.

The ecommerce calendar never stops and making sure you are always one step ahead of your competition is essential as you continue to look to expand your customer base and continue the momentum into 2019.

Analyze Your Results

As you near the end of Q4, start taking a look at what worked well and what wasn’t so hot. Make sure you are tracking conversion rates, sell through rates at different price points, ad successes, promotion successes, and any operational issues. While the 4th quarter is exciting, it can also expose any issues that can often be covered up by slower sales time. Maybe your warehouse partner can’t keep up with hundreds of extra orders, that’s a problem. Make sure you have quantifiable metrics to evaluate the success of all of the new things you tried (it can be as simple as looking at sales trends) so you know what to keep doing and what to tweak.

Embrace the Holiday Season

Our last piece of advice for the lead up to the holiday season is to be flexible (and have fun!). There will be issues with a promotion or inventory or a partner or something, and that’s okay.

If you have a plan, but are willing to adapt to whatever the ecommerce industry throws at you, you will be much more successful and have your best 4th quarter ever. We’ve created this all-encompassing guide to our partner support that details what to do in the case of any order or delivery issues. It’s our job to keep you cool, calm, and collecting orders. Having a print on demand partner that you can rely on makes all the difference this time of year.

Are you excited and ready for the holiday rush!? We CERTAINLY are, and we want to help you have a stress-free and successful holiday season.

Contact for any questions about our services, and how you can take full advantage of the 140+ products in our catalog and our global network of 37 print vendors in 40 locations.

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