A guide to getting your online store ready for the Christmas shopping season

The holiday season is well and truly upon us. Technically this post is about 3 months too late, as the stats show that people start thinking about Christmas gift ideas as early as the beginning of August! The truth is, we've been busy with the day to day of running Zibbet and this post, that we had planned to do for some time, has been delayed until now. So, don't be like us. Don't get caught up in your day to day of running your online store, being a Mom, working a full-time job, and everything else you have to do in your busy life. The Christmas season is the most profitable time of year for online businesses and it's well worth spending the time to make sure you get your store ready for it.

The Good News

Even though people have already been searching for Christmas gift ideas, it really starts ramping up in early November and keeps on increasing right up to a few days before Christmas Day. The graph below shows interest over time for the search terms "Christmas Gift Ideas" over the last 5 years. As you can see, the inflection point where it really starts to climb is late October / early November and peaks between the 17th - 22nd of December. Hands up all you last minute shoppers – I know you're out there! 🙋

Christmas Gift Ideas

So, rest assured, you haven't missed out. But, the time to act is NOW! Let's get into it.

Decide what holidays you'll focus on

It's tempting to participate in every holiday leading up to Christmas, but this generally results in less sales as you do everything half-baked. Instead, choose 1-3 and do those really well. Focus is a powerful thing.

Here's some key holidays to consider:

  • November 24 - Thanksgiving (United States)
  • November 25 - Black Friday (US)
  • November 26 - Small Business Saturday (US)
  • November 27 - Advent begins
  • November 28 - Cyber Monday or Mega Monday (US/United Kingdom/Canada/Australia)
  • December 5 - St. Nicholas’ Eve (Europe)
  • December 6 - St. Nicholas’ Day (Europe)
  • December 24 - Hanukkah begins
  • December 24 - Christmas Eve
  • December 25 - Christmas Day
  • December 26 - Kwanzaa Begins
  • December 26 - Boxing Day (US/UK/Canada/Australia)
  • December 31 - New Year’s Eve
  • January 1 - New Year’s Day

If you were to choose only 3, we'd recommend Black Friday, Cyber Monday and of course, Christmas Day.

Planning

Once you've chosen what holidays you'll focus on, it's time to start planning. We highly recommend that you use a calendar to help you stay on track and know exactly what needs to be done each day. The key here is to have everything planned as far in advance as possible. Things only get more hectic as Christmas approaches, so making sure you have done all the hard thinking upfront will make things less stressful and more likely to get done.

Any calendar will do – just pick what works for you. Some like to have a big calendar that gets stuck on the wall. I personally use a combination of Google Calendar, to remind me about things I need to remember, Todoist, to organize my daily tasks and Asana, to manage the bigger projects that I collaborate with other people on at Zibbet.

How will you promote your store?

You need to decide what channels you're going to use to promote your store. As we mentioned above, focus here is important too. Don't try to do all of the marketing channels mentioned below. You're better off focusing on 1-2 and executing them extremely well instead of doing a mediocre job of all of them.

The marketing channels you should consider:

  • Social media
  • Content creation (Blog posts, YouTube etc)
  • Email marketing
  • Paid online advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook Ads etc)
  • Press

Let's go through each one in detail and give you some ideas on how you could use each channel to drive traffic to your online store.

Social media

Social media marketing is the most popular way to drive traffic to an online store. Currently, the most common social media platforms are: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. Snapchat is also one to sit up and take notice of as it's rising in popularity.

Regardless of the platform you use, the same rules apply. You first need to build an audience. You do that by consistently producing content that is engaging and valuable to your audience. Once you've done that, you can occasionally promote your products and expect them to buy it. Most people are doing the opposite of that. They're creating no value, hence they have very few followers, and all they do is promote and promote and promote their products. The they wonder why social media doesn't work for them.

Give more than you take. That's how you win. – Gary Vaynerchuk

If you already have an engaged audience on social media, then this channel is a must for you. Here's some things you should be doing:

  1. Keep providing value to your audience. Don't turn into a newb and start promoting non-stop just because it's the holiday season. By all means promote a lot more than usual, but balance it with value.
  2. As you can see from the graph above, most people leave gift buying to the last minute. Keep this in mind and ramp up your promotional frequency as Christmas gets closer.
  3. Give your audience an incentive to buy from you early this holiday season. Remember, there's 100s of other companies vying for their money so make sure you are on their radar early. You can offer them an early-bird coupon code or hold a time-limited sale in your store.
    Remember: on Zibbet you can create a separate section called "Christmas Sales" and only put that section on sale by a given %. Products in your store can be a part of multiple sections.
  4. Use Buffer to schedule your social media updates. This enables you to plan well ahead and schedule your updates to be posted across all of your social media channels automatically.
  5. You can boost engagement by including a relevant image with your social media update. Facebook posts with images see 2.3X more engagement than those without images. Buffer also reported that for its user base, tweets with images received 150% more retweets than tweets without images. (Source) If you're not a designer, we highly recommend trying out Canva. It's an easy and fun way to create professional looking images.

Content creation

In a lot of ways content creation is similar to social media. Whether you have a blog, create video content for YouTube or have your own Podcast, the same rules apply – you have to create valuable content first if you are to build an audience.

If you're a content creator and have an engaged audience, here's some things you should be doing:

  1. This one is obvious. Make sure you're creating content that is relevant to the holiday season.
  2. If you're writing a blog post, make sure you consider SEO (search engine optimization). It's an easy way to drive more organic traffic to your post, which will pay dividends in years to come as well. This is also important for YouTube, so choose your video titles wisely.
  3. Engage your audience with a competition. Get them to do something that amplifies your products and your brand for a chance to win a great prize.
  4. As mentioned in the social media section above, keep providing value within the context of the holiday season and give your audience an incentive to buy early using coupons and time-limited sales.

Email marketing

Email marketing works. It's especially effective when it works hand in hand with your other marketing channels. For example, if you write a blog post, you should be sending your audience an email to let them know about it and also encourage them to share it with their friends. Email marketing is a great way to amplify all of your promotional efforts. Depending on your list size, this might be your most profitable marketing channel.

If you have an email list, here's some things you should be doing:

  1. As mentioned above, drive traffic to relevant content that you've created. Use it to amplify your time-limited sales, exclusive offers and competitions.
  2. Experiment with subject lines and try to find what language gets the highest open rate. Don't gloss over this and only spend 30 seconds thinking of a cute subject line. If they don't open your email at all, then all the time you spent writing the perfect email is wasted because you failed to write a compelling subject line. Best practices for email subject lines.
  3. There are some emails that are more important than others. For the really important emails, here's a tip to double your open rates. Send the first email and then wait 2 days. After the 2 days, segment all the email addresses that didn't open your first email and add them to a new list. Then, re-send the email to this list with a different subject line and tweak the email copy slightly.
  4. Track click-through rates within your emails. If someone has clicked through to your website, depending on the call-to-action, they have shown purchase intent. Create a new list for these people and call it "Purchase Intent". This list will grow with every email you send out. Chances are most of these people won't convert into sales. If they do, you can remove them from this list manually. Then, when you feel the timing is right, send this list an exclusive time-limited deal that is only available to them. Maybe is a great discount, or maybe a surprise gift with their purchase. Make them feel special, and I guarantee you'll make some sales from this.
  5. 56% of emails are first opened on a mobile device. So, send yourself a test email and make sure it looks great on mobile. If it doesn't, choose a new template that is mobile optimized.

Paid online advertising

If you've never tried paid advertising before, we don't recommend experimenting with it in the holiday season. You'll pay more per click than you would at other times of the year and without knowing if you can convert that traffic into sales, it's risky. However, if you have an advertising budget, you'll be happy to here that on average conversion rates also increase 60% and average order value grows by 30%. (Source)

Here's some things to consider when using paid advertising this holiday season:

  1. Depending on your experience, we recommend choosing one advertising channel. As I keep saying, focus is important. Each channel is different and requires different copy, different imagery, different ways to optimize for success... the list goes on.
  2. If you're to choose one, we recommend trying Facebook ads due to it's ability to accurately target your audience. You'll be surprised at how targeted you can be. The various advertising formats Facebook has also work well for showcasing your products.
  3. Use relevant and enticing copy to grab the attention of your potential buyers. Use words like "Free Express Shipping", "Christmas Sale" and "Today only".
  4. Experiment with your copy and imagery. Track click-throughs and conversions. Constantly optimize as you learn what works and what doesn't.

Press

There's still time to get some press. For example, you could put together a useful and fun holiday gift guide that showcases various products. Of course, one or two of the products point back to your online store. Here's some tips on how to pitch bloggers to feature your guest post:

  1. Relationship matters. It pays to build the relationship with the blogger early. You can do this by following them and engaging with them on social media and commenting on their blog posts. The stronger the relationship, the more likely they are to feaure you.
  2. Do your research and make sure you're pitching them something that is relevant to their audience.
  3. In your initial email, make sure you address the blogger by name. Be polite, personable, brief and to the point. Be sure to spell-check your email before sending!
  4. Follow-up with the blogger if you haven't heard back from them after a week. Only follow-up once. If you still don't get a reply, chances are you won't ever get one. Go back to step 1 and build the relationship first.
  5. Perfect your pitch over time. It takes trial and error. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from bloggers that decline your offer.

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For more ideas, check out our roundup of the best resources online on How To Drive Traffic To Your Online Store.

Ensuring a great customer experience

If you do a good job of the above, you'll start to make some sales. Make sure you take this opportunity to give your customer an above-and-beyond experience.

Packaging

Make packaging fun by seeing it as another chance to get creative. Make sure you pop a coupon code in there to encourage repeat purchases too!

Check out our 5 Product Packaging Tips To Engage Your Customers.

Shipping

Remember the graph above? As you can see, most people are leaving their Christmas shopping to the last minute. Make sure you know your shipping cut-off dates and communicate this to your customers.

In early December you should be creating an Express Shipping product or you can add it as a product Variation. How Product Variations work on Zibbet.

For your international customers, December 10 is generally the last guaranteed delivery date, even if you send it Express. So, make sure you send a promotional email out to let them know. Urgency creates action.

Here's a few examples of deadlines for delivery before Christmas Eve, within the United States:

  • USPS First Class Mail: December 16
  • UPS Ground: December 18
  • Fedex Ground: December 18
  • USPS Priority Mail: December 20

Remember, it's okay if it doesn't make it to them by Christmas Day, but only if the customer is informed that may be the case. Managing expectations here is super important as you don't want to leave your customers disappointed.


I hope that's a helpful guide for getting your store ready this Christmas shopping season. If you have any other ideas that have worked well for you in the past, please share them in the comments below.

May 2016 be your best year yet! 🎅🏼

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