Cool weather, Lifetime movies, and pumpkin spice. For some, these are the harbingers of the holiday season — a magical time designated for relaxation and spending time with friends and family (and eating way too many cookies). For others, they’re signs of elevated stress levels, which, if you’re like us, definitely leads to eating way too many cookies. If that sounds like you, then you’re probably an eCommerce business owner.
With a growth rate of 19.2% in just one year, eCommerce sales are projected to continue to skyrocket. While a customer’s online shopping experience can be fairly straightforward, what happens behind the scenes often feels like a battle between David and Goliath, especially when these clicks start to increase exponentially.
Here at ShipMonk, we believe that everyone deserves an awesome holiday season, without sacrificing the big things or sweating the small stuff. That’s why we’ve compiled this short list to help you sleigh, sleigh, sleigh all season long!
1. Plan Ahead… Way Ahead
Spontaneity is beautiful. But it can also be disastrous. If you’re a business owner, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up making some pretty important decisions on the fly, but when it comes to planning for the holidays, doing it months in advance can save you more than just headaches. Think about it like this: braving the holiday season without appropriately planning for it is like putting out a house fire with a water bottle. Dramatic, but you get it.
2. Analyze Your Past Data and Compare It to Current Trends
Put on your reading glasses and get ready to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. How did regular sales compare to seasonal sales last year? When did your sales spike, and when did they return to their normal (but still fabulous!) state? While this information is helpful, it’s still not enough. For a truly successful business strategy, you have to dig a little deeper. What did you learn last year? What kind of feedback did you get from your customers? Where did you go wrong — and where did you go right?
After taking stock of your batting average, aim for the fences by comparing it to the data gathered by industry professionals. Make sure to consider both general eCommerce trends as well as the individual performance of top companies in your niche. Knowing what to expect is half the battle when it comes to being prepared.
3. Get to Know Your Demographic… Again
We typically make the same kind of purchases throughout the year, but when the holidays roll around it becomes a different story. We not only up the frequency of our purchases but also the diversity. Inflatable snowmen? Check. Wreaths? Check. Ugly sweaters? Double check.
Before you create your holiday sales strategy, assess your customers one more time. Can you expect the same kind of clientele, or will there be a natural diversification, geographically or otherwise? The answer is generally pretty easy to determine as long as you already have a good understanding of your niche. For example, if you sell fuzzy socks, you’ll likely have ardent fans in New England, but the Dolphins down south will want to be in on it too when the weather starts getting a little cooler. By knowing the best fan base to target, you’ll perfect your marketing strategy and optimize sales for the season.
4. Reassess Any Issues Within Your Current Business Infrastructure
With great growth comes great responsibility. Maybe your business model was working just fine a year ago, but can it take the increased pressure of holiday shopping? Even if you think you’re prepared, there are a host of problems that can pop up without the right infrastructure.
If you’re unsure of where to start, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Is your website properly hosted? Does it run the risk of crashing when there are too many visitors?
- Do you have enough products? Can you make it through projected demand without any hiccups?
- Are you properly staffed? Do all of your team members know their roles and how they could intersect?
- On the same note, does your staff have a way of effectively and quickly communicating with each other?
- If fulfilling in-house, do you have enough storage room, supplies, and materials?
- Which shipping carriers and services will you offer? Are you prepared to ship orders out without delay?
- How will you be managing your work and personal life so that you’re not burned out? (Don’t forget, you deserve a great holiday season too!)
The list can be exhaustive, but we often find that most business failures can be linked back to miscommunication and mismanagement of alloted resources.
5. Let Your Customers Know What’s Up
It’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of buy-nows and next-day-shippings. While online shopping is pretty amazing, it comes with limitations, especially during the holidays. As the calendar inches closer to dates like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shipping carriers might struggle to keep up with the insane (think 2.5 billion) influx of orders. On top of that, most of these orders are time-sensitive… because no one wants their present the next day.
To combat this, shipping carriers impose deadlines. They’re usually sent out later in the year, so be on the lookout. If you’re with a fulfillment company, they’ll let you know so you can set clear expectations with your customers. Use this information to make sure customers know that, while Christmas miracles do happen, they usually don’t involve shipping.
Speaking of keeping customers updated, why not use this as a time to do a little marketing? Let customers know about upcoming promotions and special deals. If you have to deliver bad news, do it with a smile — and a discount.
6. Roll Out an Updated Business Plan
Ah, the business plan. No matter what, it remains firmly planted at the heart of any successful business venture. Why? Because the devil, or in this case the Krampus, is in the details.
We don’t recommend throwing out your original business plan, but perhaps carve out a section just for the holidays. Fortunately, this will probably include some topics you’re already familiar with, such as:
- Market analysis
- Roles within the organization
- Product selection (if adding new products to the catalog)
- Marketing plan (newsletters, campaigns, etc.)
- Financial projections
See? Slice of cake. Fruitcake.
7. Find the Right Fulfillment Solution
Your ducks are in a row. Finally. Their tiny santa hats are strapped snuggly to their heads, and, if you listen closely, you can hear them quacking along to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Right? Maybe not. See, you’re probably missing an effective fulfillment solution. I know, I know… We’re a fulfillment center, so we must be a little biased, right? OK, maybe we are… but hear us out.
Getting your products from point A to point B is not nearly as simple as it sounds (unless you’re Santa or one of his elves). This is the time of the year when your customers are expecting absolute perfection, and failure to comply will lead to at least a few strongly worded emails. Packing the right products, using the proper packing materials, shipping in a timely matter… it’s a science and an art. If you’re good with what you’ve got, no problem! But, if you’re concerned about how you’ll handle the holiday season (and beyond!), it might be time to consider outsourcing to a 3PL.
That’s all for now! We wish you the best of luck as the holiday season dawns upon us once more. Need a little help? Don’t be afraid to reach out!