Top Tips For Small Business Ecommerce Sales This Holiday

Brad Dorsey

6 min read ·


holidaysalesYes, it is only September, but to be honest this article is already running late. If you sell anything online and especially if you run an online store then you should already be thinking about the Holiday season — gift sales gear up from November 1st onward. To be really successful you have to be ready to support those sales with changes to your website, to your email marketing, to your social media, and most importantly with your staffing, shipping, fulfillment, and support services. And that does mean starting NOW.

Holiday Dates to Know

The top online shopping days throughout the holiday season are as follows:

  1. Thanksgiving Day itself (Nov 22nd this year)
  2. Black Friday (Nov. 23rd this year. Not as big for online as for offline retail)
  3. Cyber Monday (Nov. 26th this year)
  4. Green Monday (apparently eBay's peak shopping day and thus assumed to be a retail peak for everyone — bit of a moving target this but I'd plump for Dec. 10th)
  5. Free Shipping Day (no — I didn't know this was a big one either, but apparently it is. Dec. 17th )

But there is also a big last-minute rush from Dec 19th-26th — all the way past the major holidays and even into the New Year — and this period is important as well.

Top Preparation Tips

  1. Staffing. Work back from the dates above. If orders pick up in early November then when do you need to make sure you can handle the rush? Think through your overall staffing needs.
  2. Staffing part two. Critical shipping dates — when is the last date you can reasonably ship and get it to all customers by Christmas, Hanukkah, and other major holidays. Be ready to staff up that day — it would be tragic to have the orders flood in and fail to fulfill them all.
  3. Stock and fulfillment. What do you want to be selling for the holidays? Do you have product to unload? Emphasize it. Are there items you know you can't fulfill easily? If so, de-emphasize them.
  4. Stock and fulfillment part two. What are your high margin items? What are your obvious gift items? Emphasize these. Do you have a gift certificate option? If not, get one in place in time — certificates are gaining rapidly in popularity.
  5. Policies. Do you want to change your shipping policies? Your goal is to maximize sales and secondarily attract and retain new customers. Free shipping is categorically the single biggest lever you have to convert sales — and typically shopping carts are at least 50% higher than free shipping minimums. Set a free shipping policy, publicize it heavily, make it simple and clear, and deliver on it. Do you want to add a new expedited shipping option to extend your effective shopping date?
  6. Policies part two. Do you want to change your return and refund policies? Whether you do or do not, you need to make sure they are clear. A common holiday tactic is to buy a gift with the expectation that the recipient will exchange it. If you are comfortable with that, then make it clear and easy to help close more sales. Offer a gift certificate as an option wherever you think people are turning away from a sale.
  7. Content. Maximize your exposure through search engines. Start adding blog posts and web page copy around your popular gift items and holiday terms right now so that they may make an impact in search engine visibility by the shopping season. Think like your customers do – how are they are looking for your kind of product. Do they type 'ACME widget gift' or 'ACME widget holiday special'? Would you like to show up in search results for these narrower but seasonally important variations? If so then you need to start laying the groundwork now with content that uses some of these terms. Blog post ideas can be things like, 'Thinking ahead to the holidays,' or 'Why an ACME widget is a great gift idea for young people.'
  8. Content part two. If your kind of products and services often show up in magazine and online gift guides then reach out to those publications ASAP. Find the editors, or contacts, or even tips email addresses for blogs and publications and suggest a story about your kind of product. Keep it non-salesy and offer yourself as a source — or even offer to write the story if you feel up to it.
  9. Campaigns and discounts. Plan them. This is the single most important thing you can do. A suggested cadence is to start with a small generic offer November 1st just to get the holiday period rolling (and don't forget to turn OFF your non-holiday campaigns). Add a specific campaign for Thanksgiving and Black Friday that runs through the following Sunday and then very clearly ends. Have a different, specific, and special one day campaign for Cyber Monday. Consider a campaign geared to your highest margin products for Green Monday. Consider a special free shipping campaign leading up to Free Shipping day. Finally, plan a campaign around your biggest selling gift items and things you want to unload leading up to your last shipping day. As that ends and then through the rest of the holidays, promote gift certificates.

Top Execution Tips

  1. Email part one. Email marketing is your single biggest tool, so use it wisely. If there is one time of year it is OK to stretch the usage of your list a little, this is it. Plan out a campaign around your planned offers and discounts with an email to your good customers highlighting each event in advance and perhaps even offering them a chance to get in early. Promote your list by offering the same early access to anyone who signs up.
  2. Email part two. Follow up — use any reason you have to reach back out to a customer whether it is a thank you for a sale or an acknowledgement of leaving your list. Thank the customer, offer them related items, additional perks and anything to delight. If they are leaving, leave them with a reason to come back — the top highlighted deals or remind them about gift certificates — anything to plant a seed to return.
  3. Website part one. Accelerate the push to buy. Calls to action should all be focused on the immediate purchase; this is no time for "learn more." Create a consistent experience on your landing page or home page with your marketing promotions — focus on the same products and campaign/discount. Be sure to remove any perceived layers between arrival at your site and clicking the final commit to purchase.
  4. Website part two. Clarify all your offers and policies. Make your shipping policies, return policies, and refund policies simple, clear, and easy to find. Especially highlight the time it will take to get the product and the last day to shop in order to receive before the holiday. Present these reminders as an incentive to buy NOW rather than a warning.
  5. Website part three. If you don't have it and it makes sense for your products, consider a special gift page or section to make gift selection easy. If visitors have come to buy for one particular person, make it easy for them to find gifts for more people. Remind them of all the people who could perhaps want a gift like this.
  6. Redo your 404 page to direct people to your top holiday offers. Take advantage of any URL typos or broken links that may occur by making sure people see your holiday offers anyway.
  7. Social media part one. Build a campaign for social media as well. Think through what you want to say via social media and when. In particular, think about the timing and think about special social media offers that only your followers can get via special coupon code or landing pages.
  8. Social media part two. Make use of the particular strengths of different social media channels. Depending on your products, it may make sense to build out a visually attractive Pinterest holiday page to draw people in and get them to share or use Facebook promos and encourage sharing to grow your traffic and bring new customers in. You can use Twitter to highlight sales and deals while they are in progress. Exclusive offers work really well on social media and help drive new followers.

Finally, even if you don't yet sell online, it isn't too late to start and have a site in place before the holidays. We offer really straightforward website building and ecommerce solutions with templates that can get you up and running very quickly.

Brad Dorsey