1 - Learn from last time
Christianne James of www.4little1s.com, advises you to "review last year's sales, and ask what sold well." The best intelligence you have about what will happen this year is what happened last year. You could look at last year's top searches and also look at the searches that led to zero results. Then try out the search on your site and check rankings in Google, taking corrective action as necessary.
2 - Basic marketing
Almost the first thing you should do is to email previous customers with an attractive Christmas offer. Failing to action this is probably the single biggest lost revenue opportunity.
Keith Milsom of www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk has his Christmas marketing worked out well ahead of time. "We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as it takes a while to prepare them. We boost our PR activity focusing on ‘the ideal gift’, making sure we are well ahead of time as monthly magazines may need the press release in September.”
Why not try experimenting with time sensitive promotions based on the number of days left to Christmas. Alternatively a range of special offers for last minute shoppers could work, maybe with a later delivery date on a small range.
Whatever you are thinking of doing to market your site in the run-up to Christmas, run some small-scale tests as soon as possible and monitor the results. And if search engines are important for traffic, make sure you put extra effort into your optimisation, in plenty of time.
3 - Adjust for the season
Remember that conversion rates change at Christmas, generally becoming better. So re-do the statistics for pay-per-click as the maximum price where you can make a good profit will change.
Also your demographics are likely to shift: “The run up to Christmas brings in a whole new breed of customer that you might not see through the rest of the year,” warns Richard Cooper of www.polishedbliss.co.uk. This change in demographic can catch you off guard in terms of service expectations and product understanding, so plan for this in advance and make sure all staff understand.
4 - Stocking up
It’s also important to look at the operations that underpin delivery.
Previous year’s figures have suggested sales peak about a week and a half or so into December, often a Monday, and in the week that covers a few days both before and after Christmas day itself, with an overall average rise of 30% in orders during the festive period. This is when your operation will be under the greatest stress.
“Forecast Christmas sales and make sure you have ordered enough stock in early to cater for the rush,” advises Bill Stevenson of www.spicesofindia.co.uk.
If there is anything worse that having no orders, it's the frustration of winning the business, then going out of stock or having fulfilment issues and having to refund the money. Problems like this also produce unhappy customers who won't be coming back.
Mike Taylor at www.dream-racer.com highlights another important point: “I work at developing good relationships with my suppliers, by always paying invoices on time and giving suppliers the best demand forecast I can. And, whenever possible I identify a second supplier.” This way when the chips are down you stand a fighting chance of staying fully stocked.
5 - Respond to enquiries
If you are smaller you may be able to find innovative ways of dealing with problems. Robert Johnston, of www.gentlemans-shop.com advises: “Buy a Blackberry! Seriously this must have helped so much this Christmas it isn't true. I set up my phone so that I received copies of all our orders and any customer queries instead of having to turn on a computer. This meant I could answer customer queries promptly and offer any advice if required whilst on the go and late into the evening when the shop was closed. A quick response to a customer's email always leads to a sale as it proves that you want and value their custom.”
6 - Check your capacity
It’s worth trying to find out what the capacity of your site is. There are several factors here, including the power of your web server and whether it is shared with others, the efficiency of your application and the bandwidth that connects you to the internet backbone.
If you can afford it, there are load testing companies that can help and if you are smaller you can examine last year’s logs. You may also be able to simulate maximum load by getting several friends or staff to access your site simultaneously from home, and observing the results.
If these tests show up a problem, and you can check with your web host what options are available for increasing power and bandwidth. The worst case scenario for any online merchant is having a store go down, especially if it’s a result of your own popularity!
7 - Don’t accept orders you can’t fulfil
Monitor your traffic and if you start to exceed capacity either for the website technology, stock levels, or your packing and shipping than cut back on marketing. This particularly applies to pay-per-click where you can end up paying for traffic that will either never convert because you can’t service it, or will be refunded because you can’t deliver.
8 – Stand and deliver
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope by talking to them and finding out if lead times will increase.
David Sewell of www.cottonpatch.co.uk suggests, “Make your postal charges and delivery times very clear over the Christmas period. Make your last postage date achievable and put in place a courier service if you don’t have one. Late buyers are often husbands or partners who are willing to outlay for the extra security and convenience of courier services.”
Different people have different views on Christmas, but statistics show that Christmas remains the most significant retail milestone. Nowhere is this more true than in web retailing, and preparation can reap large rewards.
As the owner of Dust and Stardust (www.stardustkids.co.uk and www.dust.co.uk) says, “Prepare, prepare, prepare! Whether it’s boosting your staff’s moral, having enough product in stock or working on the finesse of gift wrapping, make sure you plan in advance as there is never enough time!”
The article was written by Chris Barling, CEO of E-Commerce and EPOS systems supplier, Sellerdeck. Originally published on is4profit.