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Get Your Online Shop Ready for Holiday Sales

by Katherine Raz

October 23, 2017

Online shops make a huge chunk of their annual sales during the busy holiday season. Retail sales skyrocket so predictably between Black Friday and New Year’s Day, even if you did nothing to promote or prepare for the holidays, you’d likely still see a boost in your shop sales. But if you really want to maximize sales — and limit headaches! — during the busy holiday shopping days, you need to have a plan.

We talked to a handful of seasoned online shop merchants to get their best tips for boosting holiday sales, and they all said pretty much the same thing: plan ahead. Most everyone had a version of the same strategy.

  • Make a holiday sales calendar that outlines key holiday shopping days with shipping cutoff dates for your shop
  • Plan your holiday promotions around those dates
  • Create all marketing collateral in advance, scheduling it if possible
  • Focus your time on fulfilling orders and customer service, not on last-minute promotions

Sounds awesome, right? Let’s take a dive into what it takes to execute a smooth holiday sales plan in your online shop.

Plan your marketing around key holiday shopping dates

Even if you aren’t creating promotions for big holiday shopping events, be aware of when they are. Holly Marsh, Aeolidia project manager and owner of the handmade accessories business MarshMueller, suggests avoiding Black Friday or Cyber Monday for your big holiday promotions. “I’ve found better success doing a sale either the weekend before or weekend after,” she says. “There’s usually too much noise with big TVs, Amazon deals, etc.”

Key holiday shopping dates for online retailers:

  • November 1st (the day we put the Halloween decorations away and the holiday decor comes out)
  • Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, with big brick-and-mortar shopping events dominated by big box stores)
  • Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving, dedicated to the concept of “shopping small”)
  • Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving, generally considered to be the biggest online shopping holiday)
  • Green Monday (a term coined by eBay to describe the second Monday of December, also a big online holiday shopping date)
  • Day after Christmas (December 26, and Boxing Day in Canada, when after-Christmas sales go into effect)

Determine your custom order cut-off dates

If you offer made-to-order items in your shop, you should have a cut-off date for delivery of custom goods before the holidays. Clearly communicate timelines for custom order fulfillment so customers know if they still have time for ordering custom gifts. This applies to both your online shop and selling at events.

“I usually do a craft fair in the second or third weekend in December that is my last big selling event,” says Jennifer Montgomery, owner of the online shop Paper Sushi. “I can guarantee customers who buy a custom stamp at that event that I’ll have them produced and shipped within 3-4 days. That makes Christmas delivery pretty certain and is the only reason so many people buy them at this event.”

Determine your shipping cut-off dates

Figure out when your final days will be for guaranteed holiday delivery. Include:

  • Holiday delivery cut-off dates for in-stock items
  • Holiday delivery cut-off dates for custom orders
  • Final day for guaranteed holiday delivery (regular shipping)
  • Final day for guaranteed holiday delivery (expedited shipping)

Make sure your marketing and website copy clearly communicates your shipping cut-off dates.

Don’t forget to order product packaging, too! Stock up on shipping supplies, labels, ink, business cards, and whatever else you need to get your orders out the door well in advance of the holiday rush.

Prep for holiday pop-up shops and craft fairs

What craft sales or holiday pop-ups are you planning this year? Add them to your holiday promotions calendar. To maximize holiday sales both in-person and online, your booth should:

  • Promote gift-y items
  • Have posted information about custom gift orders and shipping information (“Yes! We can ship these to your aunt in Arizona! Here’s how.”)
  • Be stocked with lots of business cards and print collateral that customers can include with gifts
  • Be stocked with gift certificates, if you offer them
  • Include an email signup list with incentive, like signing up for post-holiday sales alerts

Plan your marketing calendar in advance

Now that you have your important dates figured out, you can start putting together your holiday marketing calendar.

Figure out what holiday promotions you’re doing, if any

“I’ve learned not to go overboard in my holiday promotions,” says Jane Pearson of the shop Janery. “I keep my sales limited all year long, and then find that a simple 20% off, short-term promo starting on or after Black Friday is sufficient. In the past I’ve tried to be more like big box stores, even offering 50% off for Black Friday one year, and that was just silly. It devalued my brand and sales were just as good with the smaller discounts.”

So what holiday promotions will you plan on running? Some ideas:

  • Shipping promotion
  • Gift with purchase
  • Special holiday-only products
  • Discounts
  • End-of-year clearance sales

Decide how you’ll communicate your promotions

You don’t want to scramble around at the last minute putting a panicked 20% off email together. So before the holiday season kicks into high gear, figure out how you want to tell your customers about your planned holiday promotions.

Some marketing ideas to get your holiday promos out there:

  • Christmas countdowns
  • Giveaways
  • Social giving campaigns
  • Gift guides
  • Facebook ads
  • Instagram ads
  • Emails

Figure out what assets you need for promotions

Once you decide you’re going to do a 12 Days of Christmas countdown giveaway on Instagram, for example, spend time creating the images and graphics you’ll use to run your promotion. Stuff to gather beforehand:

  • Holiday props for staged photos
  • New product images
  • Stock imagery
  • Graphics
  • Ad copy
  • Email copy and graphics

Gather everything you need and put it together before busy holiday sales kick in!

Schedule your content in advance

To maintain your sanity during the busy holiday season, stay focused on customer service and order fulfillment, not last-minute marketing. Schedule as much of your holiday marketing content as you can in advance. This should be a lot easier now that you have everything in a calendar, planned out, and with all your assets collected already.

Schedule time for yourself, too

You might want to figure out what your own work cutoff date is for the holidays. This is a busy season for online retail, but you don’t want that business to cut into your ability to enjoy a little downtime yourself. Build your calendar so that you can take time off during the holidays, too!

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