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Start Prepping Your Ecommerce Store for the Holidays Now

This year, Macy’s announced that they would be moving the start of their Black Friday sale two hours earlier than the previous year—to 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day. Regardless of what you think of this tactic, one thing is clear: retailers need to be getting an early jump on the holiday season. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, now is the time for ecommerce retailers in particular to start promoting their holiday sales.

If you haven’t promoted your online store before the holidays in years past, you’re probably missing out. In 2012, Black Friday brought in more than $1 billion in sales, and not everyone who purchased items that day braved the brick-and-mortar stores; 57.3 million people visited at least one online store on the shopping holiday. And Cyber Monday actually outdid Black Friday that same year, ending in almost $1.5 billion in sales. If you want to reap the benefits of these shopping days this year, you’ll need to make sure that consumers know about the great deals you’re going to be offering ahead of time.

So what’s the best way to build awareness of your brand and special deals before the holidays? Good tactics include:

  • Holiday email promotions
  • Holiday incentives (such as discounts, free shipping, or free gifts)
  • Holiday-specific content marketing (on social media, your blog, and more)
  • Looking at last year’s sales data to formulate this year’s plan

I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at each of these strategies in upcoming blog posts, but this week I’m going to talk about basic prep that you should be doing now—if you haven’t already started—in order to be ready for the holidays.

Put Together a Promotional Calendar

One of the first things you should do is create a promotional calendar to help yourself stay organized and meet deadlines. You can use a free online tool like Google Calendar if you want, or if having something tactile helps you remember, you can print off a large calendar to display in your office and put sticky notes on important dates.

Dates you should be marking on your promotional calendar include:

  • The holidays your company is planning to focus on (these will most likely include Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas, but you may include other holidays depending on your target audience)
  • When you are going to launch holiday email marketing campaigns
  • When you are going to launch social media marketing campaigns
  • When you are going to offer special discounts (many businesses offer Free Shipping on December 22nd, for example)
  • When you are going to update content on your website

Develop Copy for Ads and Email Campaigns

Good ad copy requires time to develop, so if you do all your copywriting in-house, now is the time to start working on holiday emails and ads (if you typically hire freelancers to write your copy, it’s a good idea to contact one of your trusted freelance writers now, too). Consumers will be surrounded by promotional copy during the holiday season, so start brainstorming ways to make your copy stand out.

You should concentrate on keeping your copy short and to the point. While this is a piece of advice that can be applied to advertising copy year round, it’s especially important during the holiday season, when shoppers may be more rushed than usual. You should also go beyond the basic benefits of your product to highlight some of its holiday benefits (e.g. “a gift for the person who has everything,” “great stocking stuffer”) and any special deals you are offering with the product (e.g. extended return policy, free shipping).

Make a Gift Guide

Consumers start searching for possible Christmas gifts well before December 25th, and the search term “Christmas gift ideas” peaks around December 15th-21st, as you can see from this Google Trends chart from 2013:

Google Trends Christmas Gift Ideas 2

You can help your potential customers come up with gift ideas and attract more traffic to your site by creating gift guides for your products. You might, for example, create gift guides for different members of the family (Gifts for Dad, Gifts for Mom, Gifts for Girlfriend/Wife, etc.) or for different types of interests (Gifts for Outdoors Lovers, Gifts for Gadget Lovers, etc.), depending on your products.

You may also want to consider offering gift cards on your website and promoting them at the end of your gift guide with a call-to-action that says something like, “Still stumped? Purchase one of our gift cards.”

Display a Shipping Deadline Calendar

Everybody knows a few proactive holiday shoppers who have ordered all their gifts by December, but for every proactive shopper, there are at least ten procrastinators who leave their shopping until the last possible minute. These shoppers will thank you if you create and prominently display a shipping deadline calendar on your website, showing the cut-off date that they have to order their gifts by if they want them to arrive before December 25th. Make sure that you’re including the cut-off dates for different shipping rates (Expedited vs. Normal) and different countries, if you ship internationally. Not only will this serve as an informative reminder, it will help create a sense of urgency and encourage shoppers to take action sooner rather than later.

The holidays always feel like a hectic time, but they’ll feel less hectic for your business if you start preparing for them now. Keep an eye out for the next post in this series, in which I’ll provide tips for effective holiday email marketing.

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