With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the Christmas rush and Boxing Day sales all coming in a single month, the end of the year can be a mad time for online stores. For many, it’s also the most lucrative month of the year. So, how do you make sure your business is fully prepared to take advantage of the holiday season? Read on to find out.
How big is the end of year market?
The season starts with Black Friday on 24th November. Whilst many people still visit physical stores for bargains on this day, last year saw online sales increase by 12.2% to £1.23 billion. This is eclipsed by Cyber Monday which saw online sales in 2016 rise by over 20% to £1.9 billion. That’s a £3 billion-plus spending spree in the space of a weekend. This, of course, is followed by the Christmas rush, which last year saw a £25 billion online spree followed by a £900 million spend on Boxing Day. And of course, these sales go on well into the new year.
What’s even better news is that forecasters are predicting a 1.8% increase in overall sales in 2017 with an expected growth in online sales of 14%. If you are well prepared, therefore, this holiday season could be a real winner. Here’s how to get your site ready.
1. Prepare your inventory
You need to think carefully about which products you want to promote and sell at each of the events. For example, you may want to use Black Friday and Cyber Monday to offload stock which hasn’t sold well throughout the year so you can concentrate on selling newer products in the run up to Christmas. If any of these fail to sell, you can promote them in the Boxing Day and January sales.
To prepare, you’ll need to consider the stock you already have and what stock you will need to order to meet increased seasonal demand. You don’t want to be in a position where you run out of items that are selling like hotcakes. To ensure this doesn’t happen, keep track of what’s happening in the market place right now. People will already be searching for specific products that they want, so see what is trending on your own website and on others.
2. Get your marketing strategies in place
You’ll need to create separate marketing strategies for each of the four events. So, once you have decided which products you are going to promote, you’ll have a better idea of how you can make your customers aware.
Here are some channels you should consider using:
a. Email Marketing
Email marketing has the best ROI of any marketing channel and if you have built a sizeable list of subscribers, you can use this method to successfully promote all your events. You can create different campaigns for different groups of customers, using their previous purchasing habits as a basis for deciding which products to entice them with.
Using email, you can send sales teasers, inform loyal consumers about the best bargains, reward frequent buyers with additional discounts, and remind people about wish list items and abandoned carts.
b. Social Media Marketing
Social media not only lets you promote your events to your followers, you can also use promoted posts to get your message to a wider audience and bring in new customers. Using creative marketing techniques, you can easily build up anticipation about the special deals you offer and the great products you are selling. To have the most impact, remember to customise your content for the different audiences that use each of the platforms and use hashtags.
c. PPC Advertising
Whilst PPC advertising can be expensive, it can be worth your while to use it for short-term campaigns, specifically during periods when you know customers are likely to spend significant amounts. This is especially true if you are promoting products which can give a reasonable return on investment.
3. Stay ahead of your competitors
Competition between rival companies hots up significantly during high profile events like Black Friday and the Christmas rush, so it’s important to keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing.
You may find it difficult to compete on price with some of the bigger companies, so make sure your potential customers aware fully aware of the advantages of shopping with you. It is here that your brand becomes important. What makes your company special? Do you offer expert customer support, loyalty bonuses, free shipping, discounts on future purchases, no quibble returns, Christmas gift wrapping? If so, make sure that your customers are aware.
4. Prepare your website
Make plans to modify your website in preparation for the holiday season. You could, for example, create a landing page for each event and put high profile adverts on your homepage and in your sidebars linking to them. Each landing page should be visually enticing, carry compelling content and have calls to action that lead directly to specially created sales pages on your online store. For Christmas itself, some stores completely redesign their website with images of Santa, snow and Christmas trees. Colour schemes are changed too.
Another useful onsite technique is to create blog posts for each of the events. Write about the special deals and products you have on offer and add tempting images. Remember to put links to your event landing pages or to the items themselves. Not only will these posts attract visitors to your blog, they may also show up in Google search results and drive more traffic to your site.
One technique you can use to boost sales whilst people are on your website is to build in scarcity. By making it look like you only have limited numbers of high demand products, customers become scared that they’ll miss out and thus buy with more urgency. If you have products which have sold out on other websites, especially Christmas gifts, holding yours back can enable you to charge much more for them. If you have the last available iPhone 8 on the market, for example, you can pretty well name your own price.
5. Make sure your website is technically prepared
The last thing you need when you are expecting the highest sales of the year is for your website to cause you problems. Here’s a checklist of things to consider.
a. Is your hosting up to the job?
Make sure that your hosting package provides you with sufficient resources to cope with increased traffic. You don’t, for example, want to run out of bandwidth and be unable to receive any more visitors until your next monthly billing cycle starts again. Nor do you want a website to start stalling if you get lots of visitors all arriving at the same time. Talk to your web host about your needs and see what they can do for you. If you need to upgrade packages, use a more powerful hosting solution or migrate to a new host, you want this to be done and dusted well before Black Friday.
b. Prepare your store
Before any event starts, you’ll need to ensure all the products are listed, correctly categorised and accurately priced. Make sure your discounts are clearly shown, that product reviews are available and, if you are going to use scarcity as a selling technique, that stock numbers are indicated too.
If you are using automated transactional emails to send offers to customers who purchase from you, these need to be created too. For example, you may want to include a discount code on all your sales confirmation emails during this period. ‘As a thank you for your Black Friday custom, we’d like to offer a seasonal gift. Get 10% off any Christmas shopping between now and 21st December with the code MERRYXMAS.’
c. Guarantee safe shopping
If you don’t have an SSL certificate, Google will warn your visitors that shopping with you is not safe. Getting an SSL certificate encrypts credit card and other data so that it cannot be stolen. If you have one, Google shows a green padlock icon before your address in the browser – this makes it much more likely that customers who haven’t used you before will feel confident enough to buy from you. Find out more about SSL certificates.
d. Be available
Finally, to help customers with questions, try to be available for them. The easiest way to do this is to use a live chat facility so that you can help them in real time whilst they are actually visiting your site. If this isn’t possible, make your phone numbers and email address clearly visible. An FAQ page is also very helpful.
Black Friday through to Boxing Day will, for many online stores, be the busiest time of the year. If you have prepared well it could also be the most profitable time, too. Hopefully, the advice shown here will help your website have a successful end to the year.
If you are concerned that your website doesn’t have the necessary resources to cope with periods of high demand, check out our wide range of hosting packages – we have something to suit businesses of all sizes.