Guide: How to Create a Winning Holiday eCommerce Strategy

The last quarter of the year of often the busiest and most profitable for many eCommerce businesses. The last few years have seen online sales surge during the festive season, meaning it’s more important than ever to have a robust holiday eCommerce strategy in place. In 2021, global online holiday sales reached a staggering $886.7 billion, which represented a 14.1% YoY growth.

While we’re faced with rising inflation and soaring prices, it’s likely holiday shoppers will be looking to cash in on the best deals around. As a result, it’s expected holiday shopping will start as early as October this year so customers can stock up ahead of price rises. This also means there are going to be even larger volumes of traffic when key dates such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday come around.

With an array of key dates to prepare for, increased volumes of traffic, high customer expectations, and competition at its peak, planning ahead will be key for success.

Getting your products in front of the right people, at the right time, and selling items at the optimal price are all imperative in creating a successful and profitable holiday season.

This comprehensive guide will arm you with all the tools you need to create a winning holiday eCommerce strategy. We’re going to look at what customers want and expect from their online journeys. You’ll gain actionable takeaways on how you can set yourself apart from the competition, all while creating stand-out online experiences that leave your customers feeling festive!

Get comfortable, grab a coffee, and get ready to refine your eCommerce strategy this holiday season!

Key dates and product promotions to concentrate on

October 20 – Diwali

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, lasts five days. It’s a time to celebrate good over evil, and it’s now become a time when customers expect to find great deals. The preparation that goes into Diwali sales is comparable to Black Friday celebrated here in the UK and the US.

Light up your customers’ faces with jewelry, clothing, sweet treats, floral decorations, and lamps. Electronics are also becoming more and more popular for this celebration.

Shine a light on new product releases and great deals in the week preceding Diwali to get your customers glowing with excitement. 

October 31 – Halloween

This celebration can prove to be more of a treat than a trick for retailers. Make the most of spooktacular and creative campaigns to generate interest from your audience. Halloween is widely celebrated in the US and it’s also becoming more and more popular around the world.

Keep it creepy with costumes, sweet treats, and haunting home decorations, lanterns & candles (mostly in the Netherlands).

Halloween tricks: Localize your campaigns and make sure they’re ready to launch at the start of October.

Maybe just ‘Halloween tricks’ as we’ve already used the trick-or-treat thing above?

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November 05 – Bonfire Night

Another great opportunity to get your customers fired up. Bonfire night (celebrated in the UK) brings people together all over the country to watch firework displays and eat toffee apples. It’s a time for people to wrap up warm and brave the cold November nights.

Keep your customers snug and smug with firepits, fireworks (to be sold between October 15th and November 10th), sparklers, and winter woollies.

Spark your eCommerce success by offering rapid delivery options just in time for the big bang.

November 11 – Singles Day

Celebrated in China and quickly gaining popularity around the world. Singles Day or Double 11 is the unofficial public holiday for those who are single and looking to mingle. It has turned into a day of shopping where people can show some retail love.

Put your customers on cloud nine with cosmetic and beauty products, fashion & apparel, and electronics.

Pair up with popular online marketplaces such as Alibaba or JD. Localization will be key and appeal to your customers’ generosity with kits and bundles.

November 25 – US Thanksgiving (October 10 in Canada)

Thanksgiving Day is a big deal in the US and Canada. It’s a time to celebrate the harvest and blessings over the year. It’s a time of year when families and friends exchange gifts and get prepared for the mass sales over the next coming days.

Let your customers feast on cookware, festive decorations, personalized gifts for hosts, and party games.

Make your customers feel even more thankful with segmented campaigns and make sure your stock is ready for the preparations which generally start 3-4 weeks before the big day.

November 25 – Black Friday

Originally celebrated in the United States, Black Friday sees crazy deals hit our stores and screens in the US, UK, and over Europe. In 2020, online sales grew drastically due to the pandemic, with $4.8BN global sales taking place on Amazon alone!

The Black Friday bargains customers will be looking for range from televisions, phones, tablets, and appliances, to, surprisingly, jewelry.

Create the best Black Friday experience by focusing on your best-performing products and consider selling on Amazon. Landing pages featuring your Black Friday bargains could see you increase conversion rates by over 50%.

November 28 – Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday or Blue Monday is Black Fridays’ online counterpart. Black Friday deals have moved away from being deals only offered in-store to being online. This means these three days after Thanksgiving in the US are a mass shopping spree.

Like Black Friday, make sure your Cyber Monday deals get your customers’ tech tastebuds tingling.

For a super Cyber Monday, make sure your eCommerce store is optimized for mobile. You can also build hype around your holiday season deals with a countdown banner to the big day.

December 12 – Green Monday (US)

With only twelve days to Christmas, Green Monday (coined by eBay in 2007) marks one of the retail industry’s most profitable days during the holiday season. It represents the day when many online shoppers rush to get last-minute presents and deals.

Make your customers green with envy by making sure you’ve got a range of payment methods. Easy checkout options are also a must, so think guest checkout.

December 14 – Free Shipping Day

Free Shipping Day unsurprisingly is a day where online retailers offer free shipping to customers. You also need to guarantee the items will be delivered before Christmas for those last-minute shoppers.

Free your customers’ desires with Great deals on last-minute Christmas present gifts.

Make the most of the last shopping sprint in the run-up to Christmas by offering your steepest reductions. It’s a one-day-only event, so you’ll be guaranteed to generate a lot of customer interest.

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December 17 – Super Saturday

Super Saturday, or Panic Saturday, is the last Saturday before Christmas when customers want to make sure they can get their hands on the last gifts for their nearest and dearest. It’s a major day of revenue marking the near close of the holiday season shopping spree. Brands that offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery before Christmas will reap the benefits of sales from shoppers looking to get those last-minute purchases. You could also consider offering free shipping for orders over a certain threshold to boost your AOV.

To make this Saturday super special, make sure your stock levels will cater to demand. Importantly, make sure you provide reliable delivery and be super clear on the delivery timescales to offer extra reassurance.

December 18 – Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that lasts eight days. This festival of lights is celebrated with nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, and fried foods. Hanukkah gift-giving mostly includes small gifts to children and food items.

Let your customers light up the cold December nights with holiday-inspired candles, classy cookware, party games, and delicacies for all the family to enjoy.

December 24 – Christmas Eve and Christmas

It’s common in some parts of the world to exchange gifts on the eve of Christmas. With that in mind, this will really be the last-minute sprint to stock up on gifts and goodies before settling down for the festive celebrations.

To note, here’s a list of some of the countries where this is practiced:

  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Make Christmas special by localizing your campaigns to ensure you aren’t sending last-minute Christmas Eve deals to those countries. It’s also a good time to start gearing up for the big New Year’s Day sales.

December 31 – New Year’s Eve

For retailers, this is the last day to make the final adjustments before the next sale season starts. New Year’s Day sees mass discounts in-store and online attracting crowds to match.

Top tips to boost holiday eCommerce sales

During the holiday season, there are plenty of opportunities to drive quality visitors to your site. However, there’s also plenty of scope for you to extend the reach of your products beyond your eCommerce site to drive even more online sales. Another consideration is around the shelf life of your seasonal products and how to ensure you sell the maximum volume at the optimal price.

Below, we’re going to list the ways you can get your amazing products in front of more amazing customers to boost your holiday eCommerce sales.

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Extending the reach of your products

Marketplace sales this year are set to soar by as much as 17% over the festive period. This will largely be due to customers wanting to keep costs down and make the process of shopping online easier. They can find everything they need in one place and reduce shipping costs by having several items shipped together.

So, if you’re looking to get your products in front of as many festive shoppers as possible, marketplaces will be the place to be. Remember, marketplaces all have different listing requirements you must meet to ensure your products get surfaced at the top of search results. Each marketplace essentially has its own search engine so, just like with SEO; you need to ensure your products are optimized for search based on the specific criteria set out by each marketplace. The same will also apply if you choose to sell on social media platforms.

Another great option for extending the reach of your products is by entering new territories. Many of the key dates in eCommerce are celebrated across the globe, so it’s a great opportunity to gain vital extra selling days across different time zones. Just like with your product data for marketplaces, you’ll need dedicated product data and promotional assets for each of the geographies you’re selling in. Customers expect to shop in a language that’s familiar to them, and this should also apply to your sizing and pricing information, too.

Making use of dedicated landing pages

Dedicated landing pages are a great way of showcasing all your promotional products in one place. A landing page often focuses on one offer i.e., the products you want to push out during the festive season. They also differ from a product page in that there’s no header or footer navigation which helps increase conversion rates.

For key dates like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you’ll have specific products you’ll be discounting and promoting. If they’re all in one place, it’s going to make it so much easier for your customers to get eyes on all your juicy deals. It’s important to note that you want to make the checkout process as quick and easy as possible. Therefore, you may want to include a quick checkout on the page itself or have a “buy now” button that takes your customers directly to a single checkout.

Remember to be as informative as you can, include high-quality digital assets including video, and create a sense of urgency by showing stock levels or a countdown banner of how long is left on the promotion. You may also want to create upsell and cross-sell opportunities by displaying related or complimentary products.

Clearly defining what’s on offer, in one centralized, dedicated area will massively improve results. On average, dedicated landing pages tend to have conversion rates of around 10%, so it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Maximizing End of Life (EOL) stock sales

Making sure you sell all your seasonal items in good time will be a key consideration, especially if that stock is heavily Christmas, Thanksgiving, or New Year’s themed. It may be perishable, or unsuitable to be sold at other times of the year, and you don’t want to incur the cost of storing stock until it comes back into season. End-of-life (EOL) stock can be a huge problem for eCommerce businesses. Essentially, when it’s not sold, it’s a loss in profit.

The most obvious and effective way to sell your EOL stock is through a clearance sale. This sounds quite simple, but it takes some careful planning to avoid over-using clearance sales. In other words, the overuse of clearance sales reduces their impact. If customers notice your stock is often on sale, there may be some hesitancy when they’re browsing the products in your sale.

Clearance sales, not discount sales

There’s an important distinction between a discount sale and a clearance sale. A discount sale is a promotional tactic used to attract more customers. On the other hand, a clearance sale is purpose-made to get rid of excess stock.

Customers know this difference, and this makes stock clearance sales much more effective than discount sales. This is because your customers usually think they’re getting a better deal.

Use prices, not percentages

It’s the holiday season. Everyone is stressed and trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Nobody wants to be doing mental maths to work out what 34% off $42.60 would be.

Give your customers the new price and the old price so they can easily make the comparison. This is a much more effective way of communicating a discount compared to a percentage off.

Timing is everything

There’s little point in starting your clearance sale once the season is completely over. The intrepid consumer may snap up some of your deals in preparation for next year, but these customers are few and far between.

Start your sale early in the season with a smaller discount, rather than at the end with a huge discount. In doing this, you’ll be able to sell more stock at a better price. This will lead to a healthier balance sheet because you’ll be making better profit margins, all whilst reducing your would-be excess stock.

increase-eol-sales-with-pim

Where to sell your End-of-Life stock

Website clearance section

Your eCommerce site is the perfect place to start your clearance sale. Create a dedicated clearance section on your site with all the excess stock you want to sell. This is a great way to channel customers towards the deals you want them to see. Having this dedicated section on your website can increase your conversion rates by up to 50%.

Marketplaces

Even with the most careful inventory management, sometimes you’ll end up with more excess stock than planned. Diversifying sales channels can help to deal with this kind of situation. Sell on multiple marketplaces to reach a wider pool of consumers. You’ll likely see increased sales, especially given 62% of global online sales took place on marketplaces in 2020.

Email and text alerts

You’ve likely got access to extensive customer information, especially if you’re using a loyalty program. Use this information to notify previous customers of your upcoming sale via email and text alerts. Another option would be to let your customers know about price reductions on items they previously showed interest in or had added to their carts. You can also use this information to send personalized offers on your clearance items to enhance the customer experience.

Overcoming the key challenges during the holiday season

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

This is just as true today as it was back in the 1700s when Benjamin Franklin coined the saying. Planning and scheduling seasonal eCommerce campaigns is vital to overall success.

The first step to scheduling any kind of campaign, especially scheduling a seasonal eCommerce campaign with so many different key dates, is to anticipate any obstacles you might have to overcome that could potentially cause setbacks.

Seamless management of all your product promotions

To create an effective campaign, it’s best to create awareness all while pushing out your promotions at the same time. Good time management is essential. Ensure all teams know what is needed and when it is needed, as eCommerce campaigns are built on the collaboration of several busy teams. Collaborating effectively has a huge influence on the success of your holiday season.

Advertising platforms such as Google Ads enable you to set up and schedule advertising campaigns ahead of time. They also provide other automation options such as budget updates, so if you’re already comfortable with your budget and objectives ahead of the season, scheduling your advertising means you can focus on other objectives once the season begins.

Having a wide array of products to sell over a season is a great strategy but being able to pick and choose which products should be promoted is also key for a successful seasonal campaign. This is especially important for Black Friday and Cyber Monday planning, as products should be carefully chosen for promotion based on the discount you offer.

Effective stock control and management

A projected increase in sales will, of course, require eCommerce businesses to increase stock levels. This increase in stock can come in the form of increasing the volume you already have, as well as branching out into new product lines. This means you have more assets to manage across the buying season within products and promotions. Having all this new data to keep track of can be overwhelming for a business, especially during a busy season.

Furthermore, you want to guarantee the best possible customer experience, and there’s nothing worse than placing an order just to be told the item is no longer available. You need to be transparent with stock levels, so customers aren’t left feeling disappointed. A great way of ensuring your stock levels are always up to date is integrating your ERP with your PIM and/or eCommerce platform.

Clearly displaying your stock levels is also a great way of creating a sense of urgency. If a customer sees there are only a few of their desired items left, they’ll be more likely to add it to their basket to avoid missing out.

increased-holiday-season-site-traffic

Dealing with increased volumes of traffic

During the holiday season, you’re likely going to see huge increases in traffic to your eCommerce site. You want to ensure you deliver a seamless experience for the influx of customers who’ll be browsing for bargains ahead of the festive season kick-off. Slow page load times can translate to huge losses in revenue and can severely impact your SEO rankings. 47% of consumers expect a page to load within 2 seconds. If this isn’t the case, they’ll vote with their feet and go elsewhere.

The first step is to avoid making any big changes to your site template or eCommerce platform ahead of the spike in traffic. The last thing you want is your eCommerce site experiencing technical issues when you’ve got lots of eager visitors looking for their best buys. Another consideration would be to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for static resources on your eCommerce site. The good news is some eCommerce platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce have this as a built-in feature, as will any good PIM/DAM solution.

Other factors that will help with your site speed include ensuring your site is optimized for mobile, optimizing images, enabling compression, and clearing browser cache. You should also ensure your checkout process is simple and involves as few steps as possible. This will contribute to better site speed, and it’ll also reduce your cart abandonment rate.

This increase in site traffic will also mean a larger influx of customer queries. Make sure your FAQ page is fully up to date so customers can answer their own questions, offer a Live chat functionality so customers can get their queries answered in real-time, and make sure your social media presence is on-point for any customers reaching out via those channels.

Perfecting your omnichannel strategy

Consistency is definitely key in any omnichannel strategy. It’s essential to give customers consistent messaging across all touchpoints. Whether they’re scrolling on social or inspecting product details in-store, your imagery, descriptions, and messaging all need to be aligned.

There’s more of a focus on creating an experiential touchpoint when visiting an online store. You can use online channels to promote in-store promotions or campaigns to deliver a stand-out experience. QR codes are a great way of blending the online and offline experiences, so something to consider!

You can harness your product data to help create this consistency with Product Information Management (PIM). It gives you the power to create rich product descriptions and attention-grabbing digital assets across all channels. Your PIM is your single source of truth for all product data, so making sure everything is on-brand is super straightforward.

omnichannel-sales

Reducing product return rates

Around 30% of online purchases are returned and dealing with product returns can cost eCommerce businesses up to 65% of the total value of the product. This represents a huge loss and a massive headache if you’re facing high product return rates amid increased supply chain issues.

A positive product return experience can translate into increased loyalty. On the other hand, a negative return experience will often deter a customer from making a repeat purchase with you. The first consideration when looking to reduce product returns lies in the quality of your product data and digital assets. The better the quality and clarity of your product data, the less likely the item will be returned. A common reason for online return rates is around sizing. Therefore, you may want to use sizing charts to give clear information about your different sizes,

With predictions indicating people will start their festive shopping earlier this year, you may also want to consider extending your returns policy for the holiday season. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to return items and let them know about any changes to your returns policy well ahead of time. Think of things like locker systems or offering in-store returns (BORIS) to facilitate the process. You can improve the experience even further by offering a free returns policy exclusively for the holiday season.

Creating seamless online customer experiences

The festive season can be a stressful time of year for shoppers, especially in the current climate. The focus is on making this time of year an enjoyable one for our nearest and dearest, so customers will want to get their hands on the best deals out there and the best bang for their buck to make it as special as possible. As such, you need to make sure you’re getting your products in front of the right people at the right time, as well as ensuring the entire process is sleek and straightforward.

Here are some final tips to help you take over the festive period and boost seasonal eCommerce sales:

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Get your SEO strategy on point

Ensuring you target the correct search terms is vital in ensuring you generate the maximum amount of relevant traffic during the holiday season. Get your SEO strategy in check, and make sure all your product data and digital assets are fully optimized to make sure your eCommerce site ranks as well as possible in SERPs.

Factors like site speed and including User Generated Content (UGC), such as product reviews and lifestyle shots are also considered important ranking factors, so be sure to include this type of product content on your product pages too! Video will also be another important element to include on your product or landing pages. This is because it engages customers and encourages them to spend longer on your site, which sends positive signals to search engines.

Offer personalization

80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that offers personalized content and promotions, so it will be worth considering for the festive season. Offering personalization will set you apart from the competition and make your customers feel understood and valued. There are plenty of tools and technologies you can leverage to create personalized and tailored experiences for each of your customers. You can even take this a step further and hyper-personalize the customer experience by using real-time behavioral data to provide the most relevant products or services for each consumer.

Keep conversions high and abandoned carts low

Around 50% of shoppers will abandon a purchase if their preferred online payment method isn’t available. You don’t want to lose your customers at the final hurdle and diversifying the payment methods you offer will enable you to cater to different preferences.

The simplicity of the checkout process will also influence how high your cart abandonment rate is. Keep it simple and ensure it involves as few steps as possible. Make sure you have cart abandonment emails ready to send out to any customers who have left items in their carts and make use of retargeting strategies across different advertising and sales channels to capture their attention.

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Overall, there are plenty of opportunities to significantly drive sales this holiday season. Having the right tools and technologies in place will ultimately give you more time to focus on wider business objectives that will help drive revenues even further. Planning will be key to success, and you’ll be sure to end the year on a high!