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Is your ecommerce business prepared for the busiest time of the year?

With Black Friday at the end of November and Christmas a month later, everything is lined up for your business to finish the calendar year on a high.

But, though the stars may be aligned, there’s still a lot of work to do if you want to see those sales figures reach their full potential. At the time of writing, we’re halfway through October and now is the perfect opportunity to get set for the busiest time of the year. Throughout Boxtopia’s history, we’ve worked with all kinds of ecommerce businesses, so we’ve picked up some tips and tricks on how to succeed in the winter season that we want to share with you.

Marketing campaigns

What’s the point of doing anything for the holiday season if no one knows about it? There are three key parts to setting up a strong marketing campaign that will raise awareness of your winter efforts:

1. Decide on the goal

What are you aiming to draw people into with your Black Friday and Christmas marketing efforts? Is it a blanket 10% off all products? Is it an offer on a particular range or category of products? Or are there individual items that you’re doing great deals on?

The offer at the end of the marketing funnel should deliver on the messages that people were initially drawn to. If you’re offering a site-wide discount, invite people to explore and find hidden bargains. If the discount is on specific products, shout about those and make sure they feature prominently on your homepage or other key landing pages. Getting to the goal of the campaign should be the sole focus of the larger strategy.

2. Promote your business with paid advertising

Seasonal marketing isn’t exclusively pay-to-play, but paid advertising will almost always help your cause. Now isn’t the time to go into setting up paid search or social accounts - although we will say that almost any company could benefit from doing so - but we can give some tips to bear in mind for your existing ads.

The most important thing is to make sure they’re up to date. If you have a campaign running for a product that’s going to be discounted, make sure you tell people! Wherever you can, update your ad titles, copy and extensions to shout about the offers that you’re running, though bear in mind that if competitors are also advertising and have higher discounts, you may lose out. This is why it’s important to set your offers with care.

Another top tip is to look out for the countdown timer ad extension. Adding a countdown gives sales a sense of immediacy and exclusivity that your competitors may not have, giving you that all-important edge.

3. Make the most of organic visibility

The slower, incremental gains of SEO (search engine optimisation) aren’t as well suited to seasonal promotion as paid campaigns, but there are ways to make your existing organic visibility do some of the heavy lifting prior to Black Friday.

Every site will have a handful of pages that perform very well organically. For smaller sites, that’s normally the home page and one or two category or service pages. The trick for Black Friday and Christmas is to make these pages gateways into your wider site. Consider implementing a banner, sidebar or popup for these pages that lets people see your deals and get to them with one click. The easier it is to navigate to different pages of your site, the more pages people will view. That’s true at all times of the year, but it’s particularly important when you have specific deals to draw attention to.

Stock levels

Even ecommerce stores with no physical shops sell material products (unless you’re offering downloads of some description). If this is the case, you need to make sure that your stock levels can cope with increased demand. Why? Having the right stock levels in advance of Black Friday or Christmas makes it easier to deliver on customer orders in a normal timeframe, which gives them a much better impression of your brand and makes them more likely to return. For the holiday season to be truly successful, you need to bring in new customers who will return in the future.

However, predicting the stock levels you’ll need is easier said than done. If you’ve run seasonal campaigns in the past, you may have some idea of how much you can expect your sales to increase. If you haven’t run anything like this before, your job will be somewhat harder. In the absence of a reference point, one solution is to stock a large number of the products that you expect to sell well and make your deals ‘while stocks last,’ increasing the exclusivity of the sale but saving you from struggling to cope with unanticipated demand.

Preparation for delivery

This time of year is one of the best opportunities you have to reach new customers. Being prepared to give them excellent service is essential, as is the impression your delivery methods and packaging will give. From the moment the order confirmation email hits their inbox, customers new and old will expect good delivery times and their products to arrive in excellent condition. This is true whether you run your own store, or operate primarily on another platform, like eBay or Etsy.

We believe that having the right packaging in place can make a big difference to customers' experience of your brand, which is why we encourage many of our own customers to use our box calculator to create exactly the right box and why we have a branded printing service to help you make your packaging more distinctive. The trick is to be memorable for all the right reasons, which is only possible if every aspect your service is thoughtful and high quality.

Depending on your delivery method of choice, it could be tricky to keep up with demand. If you use a courier service, informing them that you may be sending more packages than normal around this period may be helpful, though they’ll undoubtedly know this if they regularly deal with ecommerce businesses. If you think you’ll struggle to deliver within your normal time frame, then make that clear to customers on your website. The most important ground rule in the holiday season is to deliver on the expectations you establish early on. Under-promising and over-delivering are vastly preferable to disappointing new customers.

With Black Friday just 6 weeks away, set yourself up for success by starting your preparations now. It’s too good an opportunity to miss out on.

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