8 Ways to Prepare Your Online Store for the Holiday Shopping Season

You’re about to enter the most profitable – and busiest – time of the year.

Man in christmas market by Chalabala

It’s almost October, and you know what that means? The countdown is on until there’s tinsel everywhere and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is on endless repeat. But if you’re a retailer with an online store, the holiday onslaught means something completely different: you’re about to enter the most profitable – and busiest – time of the year.

In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, 20% to 40% of yearly sales for small and mid-sized retailers take place within the last two months of the year. What’s more, this year’s holiday eCommerce sales are predicted to grow by 15.8%.

So if you want to get in on the action and make the most of the holiday season, now’s the time to start preparing your store so you don’t miss out.

Here are 8 to-dos you should cross off your list before the holiday season sets in.

Calendar Note Schedule Memo Manage Event Concept by Rawpixel

1. Plan, plan, plan

Planning is so boring, right? But if you want to rake in the sales during the holidays, you need a game plan. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose track of holidays when you’re busy dealing with the day-to-day of your business, what with managing stock and shipping, marketing, and customer service.

Firstly, work out which holidays you want to target. There are quite a few during the last two months of the year, so if your store is still new, you probably don’t want to commit to all of them just yet. Stick with 2-3 this year so you don’t get overwhelmed and burned out. The major three I’d suggest are Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.

Next, grab a calendar and start marking down the dates you want to run and advertise promotions for your online store. You’ll want to note down dates and times for:

  • Updating sales information on your website
  • Updating graphics and banners
  • When you want to start email and social media marketing

There are lots of free tools you can use to create your promotional calendar, such as Google Calendar. Once it’s done, you’ll have a clear plan for your store for the rest of the year.

2. Organize your inventory

Next, you need to think about your stock levels and figure out which product lines you need to order from your suppliers and how much. The best place to start is your analytics for last holiday season. Note down which items were popular and how many you sold. Also, think about the items you’re currently selling and make an educated guess about how much more stock you might need.

If your store is new and this is your first holiday season, you’ll want to focus on your current product line and the items you anticipate will be popular in the next couple of months, taking into account current trends. It’s a good idea to check out social media and what’s popular so you can make the most informed estimates possible about what to order before getting in touch with your suppliers.

Christmas gift boxes by karandaev

3. Sort out shipping and returns

Shipping and returns are two important things to keep in mind because during the holiday season when shoppers are buying gifts, timing – and having a present delivered on time for a loved one – is everything.

Now’s the time to review your shipping providers. Have they been reliable? Have you received any complaints? Did they deliver on time last holiday season? If you’re happy with your existing providers, get in touch with them to check their anticipated delivery times for November and December. If you haven’t been happy, now’s the time to shop around for new ones.

Also, make sure your shipping options and delivery timeframes are easy to find on your site – including at checkout – and update any new information for the holidays.

You’ll also want to think about your returns policy and consider extending the time frame that customers can return orders. During the holidays when people are buying gifts ahead of days like Christmas, they’ll need more time to return products that are the wrong size or just unwanted! So update your returns policy and make it clear just how much time customers have to send items back and who’s responsible for shipping costs.

4. Ensure you have extra staff on hand

Remember when I said earlier that the last two months of the year are the busiest for retailers? The holidays are a hectic time so if your business is just getting by with the staff you’ve currently go, you’ll want to consider hiring casual staff to help out as orders ramp up. This is particularly worth considering if you run your store on your own – without help, you’ll burn out!

Think about the aspects of your online store that you could really use some help with. Are you able to get someone on board that can take care of your marketing? What about customer support? Or maybe a couple of people who can help with shipping? Advertising for extra help now will save you headaches as the coming weeks get busier.

Woman shopping online with a credit card by Milkosx

5. Update your site

Now’s probably not the time to overhaul your site design! But it’s definitely worth reviewing your site to see how you could make smaller improvements to your product pages. Product photography is hugely important when you’re trying to persuade people in to buy your stuff. After all, people remember 80 percent of what they see and just 20 percent of what they read. So investing in quality photography is well worth the time and effort.

Other improvements you could make to your site include:

  • Product descriptions
  • Customer testimonials and reviews
  • Displaying stock availability
  • Displaying “related” and “recommended” products
  • Adding wishlist or “save for later” functionality
  • Displaying shipping information

Our eCommerce marketplace features extensions for all of the functionality mentioned above, so if there’s a particular feature you want to add to your store, there’s bound to be an extension or plugin that can do it for you – and the holiday season easier.

Retail Shop Store Sale Open Business Commerce by Rawpixel

6. Marketing

Remember that promotional calendar you put together earlier? Now’s the time to get more detailed and consider how exactly you’re going to market your online store over the next couple of months.

Think about your ad spend (Facebook, Google Adwords), social media posts, blog articles, pop-ups and email campaigns. Plan out your content for each channel, as well as what copy and graphics you’ll need and timeframes for putting it all together.

There’s a lot to organize, but free tools like Trello can help you visualize what you need to do and stay on task so you can check off to-dos as you go. Other resources like Envato Elements (there is some fantastic holiday season imagery!) can help when it comes to finding graphics for your campaigns.

7. Test your site

Remember when it used to take minutes, not seconds, to load a web page on dialup? No? Okay, well I’m showing my age! These days, consumers don’t have time to sit around and wait for your website to load, as the stats show:

  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • A 1-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
  • If an eCommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.

Scanning your site with a web performance tool like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix or WP Checkup will help you identify what aspects of your site need improving. It might be that you need to optimize your images, update your theme or template, or clean up your database.

Also, more sales means more traffic to your site and there’s nothing worse than a customer experiencing an error, or – heaven forbid – your site going down mid-purchase. So before your site starts getting busier, check out services like Locust that can swarm your site with millions of simultaneous users and test how your server performs. If the results are good, that’s great! But if your server performs badly, it’s time to talk to your hosting company about increasing your bandwidth or upgrading your hosting package.

8. Track your progress

Now that you’ve got your online store prepped and ready for the holidays, there’s one last thing you need to think about: tracking and analytics. If you haven’t already, set up Google Analytics on your site so you can monitor your traffic and measure the success or otherwise or your promotional campaigns. Tracking your progress this year will also ensure you have the data you need to make informed decisions for next year’s holiday season.

If logging into Google Analytics puts your head into a tailspin, check out Getting Started with Google Analytics guide. There are many Google Analytics alternatives worth exploring, too.

Christmas Decorations by Dream79

Time to start prepping for next year!

Getting ready for the holidays is like shopping for Christmas gifts – making a list, checking it twice, and working out what adjustments you need to make to your online store and your day-to-day business routine will ensure you finish off the year with a solid game plan, strong sales, and less stress.

So if your holiday season prep isn’t already underway, get cracking!

Jenni McKinnon

About the Author Jenni McKinnon

A copywriter, copy editor, web developer, consultant, course instructor and founder of WP Pros(e), Jenni McKinnon has spent the past 15 years developing websites and almost as long for WordPress. A self-described WordPress nerd, she enjoys watching The Simpsons and names her test sites after references from the show.