10 E-commerce Holiday Prep Tips

How to Maximize Store Revenue this Holiday Season

Summers end and the first few weeks of fall are the perfect time to prepare your online store for the busy holiday season with these e-commerce holiday tips. In 2016, U.S. online holiday sales exceeded expectations with a double digit increase year-over-year, according to Adobe. The opportunity for growth is there and now is the time to start planning e-commerce holiday initiatives. Per Internet Retailer, 35% of online retailers plan to launch their first holiday marketing campaign in October, and 25% during the first week of November. We’re now just a few weeks away from October so in this post, I will go over some tips to ensure you have a successful season, plus I will summarize key dates in Q4 2017.

1) Data-driven Planning

Plan your holiday promotions in advance and take key e-commerce dates into account. Review 2016 holiday data and determine what worked, and what didn’t. Were any days particularly successful for your store? Repeat and refine the best performing promotions from last year and complement them with new and unique initiatives like bundles. Think of creative themes for these promotions that can be adopted across all digital channels for consistent and cohesive messaging.

Create a calendar outlining the duration and other key details of the promotions you decide upon (we use a spreadsheet for ours). Include all marketing channels from email and social, to affiliate and paid search for maximum integration and consistency. Don’t forget to forecast! Ensure you have enough products in the most popular sizes for your promotions – there’s nothing worse than losing revenue due to out-of-stocks.

2) Email Marketing Prep

As mentioned above, it is critical to have a plan going into the season. Review last year’s performance and ensure you repeat winners and tweak campaigns that underperformed. Be sure to check in with the planning and buying teams to ensure new merchandise is highlighted. Don’t forget to give your creative team plenty of time to optimize campaigns based on new best practices.

Early fall is a great time for list tidying and optimization as ideally email campaigns should be sent to interested and engaged subscribers. October is ideal to run a fan sweepstakes to grow your file in anticipation of increased send frequency during the holiday season.

Be sure to segment your subscriber lists by considering what’s relevant to them. For example, if you sell products globally, segment lists by country. You can also identify and segment your top spending customers and offer them exclusive rewards for their loyalty, and reach out to lapsed customers to reactivate them during peak selling season.

Think ahead by conceptualizing fun and attention grabbing subject lines to cut through inbox clutter. You can also dress your subject lines up with some seasonal emojis. Personalize your subject lines and think outside of the box! Don’t forget to review last year’s subject line and creative performance.

3) Gift Guides

Start designing gift guide pages now and launch them by at least early November. Your gift guides should have evergreen URLs so they can be stripped of holiday creatives on December 31 and used year-round. Evergreen gift guide landing pages are great for SEO so when planning your URL, use something like site.com/gift-guide.

Through our SEO research we have found that shoppers are purposefully searching for gifts for people in their lives, so launch the gift guide landing page with several curated sub-pages such as gifts for him, gifts for her, gifts for kids, gifts under $100, and even gifts for fans of a particular band member (gifts for Trey Anastasio fans) or property (gifts for Game of Thrones fans). The purpose of a gift guide is to do the shopping for the customer by curating your most popular and highly demanded products alongside any holiday exclusives. Once your gift guide is live, promote it across all marketing channels. Don’t forget to make sure you have ample stock!

4) Affiliate Networks

Now is the time to audit all existing affiliate network links to ensure they are current and correct. Be sure to add new holiday focused links and request new seasonal banners before the madness kicks in! Early fall is also a great time to verify pixels are correctly tracking transactions and that your product catalog feed is updated at least once a day.

Review last year’s performance when thinking about promotions for your affiliate program. Were there any that performed well that can you repeat this year? Are there any promotions you didn’t try last year but would like to test this year? At Musictoday we’ve experienced success with codes for gifts with purchase, for example, so think of some distinct and compelling offers to improve conversions.

Most importantly, keep your affiliate publishers updated with the latest product additions and promotions throughout the holiday season. Incentivize inactive or top performing publishers with commission increase promotions.

5) Retargeting

Ongoing retargeting campaigns using Google’s Display Network (GDN) or Facebook are great to have live year-round. They become even more important during the holiday season. Push visitors to convert with advertisements after they have left the store as they visit other sites across the web.

If you’re new to retargeting, a tracking pixel should be added to your site to start building audiences now. Audience rules can be based on site pages visited, you can also set audiences for specific durations. On Facebook, the minimum is 1 day and the maximum is 180, and on GDN the minimum is 30 and the maximum is 540. Musictoday recommends audiences of 30 days and 90 days as you’ll remarket to recent visitors who have a higher potential to convert.

With Google’s feed-based dynamic remarketing you can show customers personalized product ads featuring items they showed interest in while visiting your store. For static banners, be sure your creatives are the latest and greatest, plus feature some fun seasonal flair! Lastly, adjust budgets and bids for your campaigns leading up to and during the season to maximize revenue potential.

6) Paid Search

Although auditing and clean-up should be a year-round initiative, use the first weeks of fall to review your AdWords account and add new search campaigns and keywords as needed. If you’ve added new departments to your store, or you’re getting ready to stage holiday landing pages like gift guides, now is the time to prepare.

Keywords should be refined and built around the categories and products you expect to perform well during the season. Use holiday specific terms like ‘gift ideas’, ‘Black Friday promotions’, or ‘Cyber Monday deals’ in ad copy. Additionally, ad copy should reflect offers in the store and promotional holiday themed sitelink extensions should be added and linked to holiday landing pages like gift guides or Cyber Week specials. Be sure to adjust budgets and bids as needed to get in front of more potential customers as they search for products.

Examples of Google's Paid Search Ads - E-commerce holiday tips
Google’s Paid Search Ads

7) Store Housekeeping

Early fall is the perfect time to audit your online store. Review the site thoroughly for broken links and missing opportunities. Create new department pages for recent merchandise additions and ensure your site and any new pages added are search engine optimized. Organic search traffic is a top revenue driver, so we recommend performing an analysis for hidden potential and for new pages to be built and optimized for SEO now. We also recommend steering clear of any major site redesigns and changes to layout and navigation during the season – you want returning customers to recall their prior experiences and avoid disruption.

8) Holiday Shipping Deadlines

The holiday season passes by pretty quickly and people like to plan purchases ahead of time. Give shoppers a heads up on your shipping deadlines by making the dates clear throughout your store. Being upfront about shipping deadlines prevents confusion and disappointed customers, earning their loyalty and trust. Don’t forget to highlight return policies for your store, as many purchases made will be gifts at this time of year.

9) Amazon Seller Tips

According to Internet Retailer, 33.5% of online shoppers said they planned to make half of their online holiday purchases on Amazon this year. To capitalize on this opportunity be sure product descriptions and images are optimized, and stock levels are kept high throughout the season. Refine product search terms with seasonal words like ‘gift’. Don’t forget to stay on top of alerts in Seller Central to keep customers happy!

10) Think Ahead to Next Year

Prepare for 2018 this holiday season by documenting what the competition is doing, it may come in handy next year. In January, perform a holiday season post-mortem so you can apply this year’s learnings to 2018 initiatives.

Key 2017 Online Shopping Dates

  • October 31, Halloween: Reach shoppers planning costumes or decor, plus those gearing up for the holiday season.
  • November 11, Veterans Day: Thank U.S. military veterans for their service or run a matching donation campaign for the cause.
  • November 11, Singles’ Day: A Chinese holiday celebrating being single is the world’s biggest online shopping day of the year. Brands worldwide have started to follow this trend.
  • November 23, Thanksgiving: Use this U.S. holiday for Black Friday sneak peeks and grab the attention of shoppers dreading the Black Friday chaos.
  • November 24, Black Friday: This U.S. phenomenon started in 1952 and marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. It has been adopted by retailers around the world.
  • November 27, Cyber Monday: The purely online version of Black Friday broke sales records in 2016 with online sales of $3.45 billion. It also marks the first day of Cyber Week, which ends December 3.
  • December 4, Manic Monday: The name says it all. Manic Monday is when there’s a rush to order gifts in time for Christmas.
  • December 11, Green Monday: Another case of the Mondays, in the U.S. Green Monday has grown 15% year-over-year. And, is one of the last few days to ensure gifts are delivered on time.
  • December 15, Free Shipping Day: Consumers are offered free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.
  • December 26, Boxing Day: This UK national holiday with disputed origins, is now primarily known for shopping and family time. It’s also celebrated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and more.
  • December 31, New Year’s Eve: Consumers seek end-of-season deals, particularly in the UK where the January sales begin the next day.

Ready to start holiday planning for your store? Contact your store’s account manager to get started! Looking to work with us? Send us a note and let’s chat!

About the Author: Jasmine Van Schaick is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Musictoday. She manages projects across affiliate marketing, display remarketing, organic SEO, corporate content development and more.