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Omnichannel commerce | Marketing

Get Ready for Holiday

image: Santa's ready for business and standing in the snow with his lantern.
13 steps to implement now... if you haven't already

If you're like a vast number of retailers, summer isn't so much a time for fun in the sun as it is the time to get ready for the Christmas season onslaught. That's why we've put together this list of tips to help ensure you're prepped once the Christmas buying season is in full swing.


And if your business isn't a seasonal one, you could still benefit from much of this advice year-round.


Make sure your ecommerce infrastructure can handle traffic spikes.

Before you enter your peak selling season, test your website to be sure it can handle, without leading to sluggish load times, the spikes in traffic that you'll hopefully experience. Look back at last holiday season to see how high your traffic spiked on your busiest day, and then test for an even greater increase. Your ecommerce platform provider and/or your hosting service can help you run the tests and offer options to help you scale up should you need it–but get in touch with them sooner rather than later.


Consider hiring a consultant to conduct a security audit of your online and mobile operations.

According to a 2013 report by Ponemon Institute. 64% of companies surveyed said they suffered an increase in online fraud and/or website attacks during high-traffic days such as Cyber Monday. Even if you don't conduct a full security audit, make sure your antivirus software, firewalls, authentication systems, and other systems are as secure as possible.


Hire and train seasonal staff before the sales rush.

This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many seasonal sales staff, contact-center employees, and warehouse workers are plunged into the job just as volume and sales begin to rush upward.


Optimise your on-site search.

Especially among shoppers using mobile devices, typos abound when inputting terms into a site's search function. If your on-site search isn't optimised to accommodate misspellings, synonyms, variants, and related terms, you're in effect telling shoppers that you're out of the product they're looking for when it's actually just an aisle away.


While you're at it, make sure all searches return some sort of result. If a shopper searches for "red urn," and you don't have any, don't present a results page that simply says "Item not found." Your search function should offer some sort of choice: of similar items, of related search terms to try, even of best-selling products. Also include a phone number and an email link should the shopper want to reach out for assistance.


Nail down your holiday promotion calendar—but also consider contingencies.

Will you be offering free shipping during Cyber Weekend, or will you try to beat the competition by offering it the week before? Will you be participating in any local mall or high-street "fair days"? Once your cutoff date for standard shipping has passed, will you be offering a discount on two-day shipping? By mapping out your promotional calendar well in advance, you can be sure you have adequate support in terms of social media, email, direct mail, and the like.


That said, leave some wiggle room. What if your sell-through is 15% below expectations two weeks before Christmas? You should have on hold contingencies to help goose sales, such as a day of flash sales, as well as the supporting promotional assets so that you can implement them if need be. By the same token, let's say sales have exceeded expectations. Once you've raised a celebratory glass, you may want to consider canceling, or at least not promoting, those price cuts you had planned for the week before Christmas.


Optimise your emails for mobile.

A full two-thirds of emails in the U.S. are opened via mobile devices, according to email marketing services provider Movable Ink; in the U.K., the number is lower, at 53%, according to email software provider Litmus, but still a majority. For that reason, ecommerce consultancy LyonsCG advises taking a "mobile first" approach to email design: "If your email layout features multiple columns, you'll need to arrange for content to stack vertically on mobile devices, creating a long scrolling page. You should also consider placing navigation at the bottom of the email so you give more prominence to the merchandise and offer," it suggests in its white paper "Ecommerce Strategy for 2015 Holiday." What's more, "If you extend an offer in an email, increase the chances of it being redeemed by making it scannable in-store on your customer's smartphone."


Offer and promote gift cards or certificates.

And if you already offer them, promote them prominently in the run-up to Christmas.


Clarify your shipping deadlines, return policies, and other terms and conditions.

In particular, you want to make sure your cutoff dates for Christmas delivery are crystal clear and prominently positioned.


Decorate all your touch points.

You deck out your home and your bricks-and-mortar store in tinsel, ornaments, and lights, right? So do the same with your website, your social media accounts, and your emails. Whether you change the color scheme to a seasonal palette, add snowflakes to your backgrounds, or add a countdown clock ("Only X more days to order in time for Christmas delivery!"), dress up your business's virtual presence as you do its physical presence.


Create gift guides.

There are a number of approaches you can take. For instance, you can organise your offering by price, or you can do so by recipient. The latter offers additional options: by gender, by age (especially if you sell products for children), by interest (travel buffs, foodies, fashionistas, DIYers). Create tailored landing pages on your website, link to them in special emails, tout them in direct mail, and replicate the experience in-store.


Set your code-freeze date, and make sure any and all website projects are completed by then.

You don't want developers making any code modifications during your peak selling season; after all, each modification brings with it the chance of introducing bugs or unforeseen issues that could hurt your site's performance. By reviewing previous years' traffic and sales figures, you can anticipate when you need your site ready for peak performance. Make sure any changes you want to implement (including some of the above suggestions) are locked and loaded by then.


Plan (and even write) your seasonal blog posts.

Goodness knows you'll be pressed for time once the Christmas shopping season gets into high gear, so try to have a few posts ready to go. Gift suggestions for various types of recipients, similar to your gift guides, are good for several posts. You can also promote any deals you have planned or offer gift-wrapping and entertaining suggestions, among some no-brainer topics.


Create (or improve) your contingency plans.

To quote the family-friendly airplane version of the film Forest Gump, "It happens." Websites crash, cash registers break, credit-card processing fails, shipments don't arrive... These can (and do) happen at any time of year, but the stakes are raised during the Christmas shopping season. Not only do you have more traffic, whether in store, online, or on the phone, but shoppers tend to be more stressed and less forgiving.


So make sure you have contingency plans in place. Look back at years and crises past, review how you handled them, and be prepared should something similar occur again. If you're lucky enough to have never experienced any sort of emergencies, congratulations—but don't assume your luck will hold out. Create a backup plan for the most potentially disruptive, such as a server crash or a power failure.


Email marketing provider Bronto, in its "Top 12 Marketing Tips for the Holidays" white paper, also recommends putting together a holiday emergency contact list: "This document should include everyone on your team and related vendors as well as the reasons they should be contacted–especially outside of business hours. Having this information organised before the holiday rush can help decrease panic in a crisis situation and allow you to more quickly resolve issues."

author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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