E-commerce planning for the holiday shopping season

Santa clause leaning around a corner pointing at a black Friday promotion banner.

In case you didn’t notice, the holiday season is approaching like a speeding train. Given that one fifth of all annual retail sales happen between Black Friday and Christmas, it makes sense to get on that train early. The beauty of this time of year lies not just in the seasonal boost in sales though. With good planning (and fantastic customer service), it’s also an opportunity to build a base of loyal e-commerce customers who will come back to shop with you again and again.

The question is, how can you take full advantage of this?

Plan for your important holiday season e-commerce shopping dates

Planning ahead for this season is the key to success. Leave it too late and you may find yourself dealing with a host of unforeseen issues which could have been avoided. The most important dates to work towards are:

  • 31 October – Halloween
  • 23 November – Black Friday
  • 26 November – Cyber Monday
  • 25 December – Christmas
  • 26 December – Boxing Day
  • January 2019 – Back to School

People shop online for Christmas from Black Friday all the way through to the 15th of Dec – or the very last possible day they can be sure their order will arrive in time. Some online retailers, especially overseas, even offer free shipping on this last shopping day.

14 tips to plan for the e-commerce holiday shopping season

These simple and effective tips will help you hop on that seasonal shopping train and maximise your year-round sales.

You’ll also find more information on our Black Friday post here

Let’s start at the beginning…


Before the season hits, get your e-commerce site and processes ready to go. Once holiday shopping has started, making any major changes will cost you more, both in time and money and in business.

1. Manage your risk

  • Develop your site sensibly:
    While upgrading your site is a good idea, this is not the time to do it. Make sure you have completed and tested any new developments well before the season begins i.e. by mid-October.
  • Allow for alternative arrangements:
    Your web hosting company should be optimising their systems, backing up information and keeping your site running smoothly. Unexpected issues can still arise though, especially at this time of year. Make sure your customers can contact you offline if they need to, just in case.
  • Stocking up and shipping out:
    Order in extra stock from your suppliers and make any necessary arrangements with your shipping provider well in advance.

2. Build trust elements into your site

Reassure your potential customers in every possible way that you are trustworthy. The last thing you need is them opting out because they’re not feeling safe.

  • Supply as much product information as you can, so they know exactly what they’re getting, including photos, detailed descriptions, sizes and colours
  • Provide social proof by encouraging and displaying reviews, as well as unboxing videos, wherever possible
  • Highlight your guarantees and returns policy.
  • Make use of the Google Customer Reviews (previously Google Trusted Stores) programme and display the badge on your site.
  • Make it clear how much they will pay for shipping even as they’re selecting their products.
  • Display their order total at all times.
  • Show them a progress indicator as they check out.

The retailer below does this really well and in a very visual way. Look out for these 4 elements:

An image of an e-commerce check out screen. At the bottom of this check out scrren there are 3 main blocks, advertising 30 day return policy, 100% customer satisfaction and free shipping. Next to these three main blocks there is a google customer review badge.

This is another real life example with very effective trust signals:

Image of the Zando website and they promises they have to their customers. They advertise free delivery, easy return and collection and 7 different ways to pay on their website

3. Prepare to capture email addresses

Maximise the rewards of your efforts to attract new e-commerce visitors by capturing their email addresses as they’re passing through, whether they buy from you or not. Then you’ll be able to follow up and start working on making them loyal customers. Find out more about building an email list here.

4. Plan for and hire seasonal staff early

Customer loyalty is built on great customer service – make sure you provide this during the holiday season rush. Depending on your business, you may need extra staff across any number of processes, from orders through to fulfilment and after sales support. Prepare well ahead of time so your holiday team is trained and ready to impress your visitors from the word go.

Promotions and attracting new traffic to your site

There are many different ways to drive traffic to your site this shopping season, for example, via social media, SEO or Google advertising. For some more ideas, look at our blogs on traffic strategies, online advertising, contests and a digital marketing framework.

5. Get them signed up early for special deals

The earlier you get potential customers onboard for this e-commerce shopping season, the more time you have to convert them. Even August isn’t too soon – see the banner below from Checkers. Social media posts and ads should land customers on your sign-up page, then you can start sending them email marketing to build the excitement.

This is a screenshot of Checkers Black Friday promotion page. At the bottom of the screenshot is a form on the page that allows users to fill in their details so that they can keep the consumer up to date with their Black Friday deals and news.

6. Be helpful in your email marketing

Nobody wants to receive boring promotional material these days. Rather use your email marketing to share useful content with your database, and if it’s fun too, even better. Earn trust by providing ongoing value. Your subscribers will then come to you first for gifts, and they’ll be happy to pay full price too.

7. Create excitement

A Daily Surprise landing page can really build anticipation. Get your audience to visit your site each day, leading up to the last delivery day, by giving them something new each time. It could be a different product on special per day, or sneak peaks of what will be included in a 1-hour flash sale on that last day.

Use your email subscription list and social media to create a sense of urgency and get people to the landing page. Also make sure you do your maths beforehand and follow up afterwards. Discounting is not a preferred strategy, so any discounts you offer need to be worth the new customers you gain.

8. Google advertising

Create advertising, including pay-per-click, for the approaching holidays. Potential customers will be typing in search queries like “Christmas gifts” or “Black Friday deals” and you want them directed to your site. Product Listing Ads (PLAs), a type of visual pay-per-click ad, work especially well this time of year. Whatever format you decide on, include as many pictures as you can (if the format allows for it), as they sell far more effectively than words.

Help your customers to engage and convert

While people are often happier to part with their money during the holiday season, making it as easy as possible for them benefits you too.

9. Help your customers buy

One of the most difficult things about holiday season shopping is deciding what to buy for family and friends. There are several ways you can ease the process:

  • Create a seasonal landing page with gift ideas organised in a helpful way.You could create visual categories, like Macy’s has in this example:

    Image of marcy's home page. With cristmas ideas for woman

    Or you can mine your data to find the most popular gifts and feature those on the landing page, as this business has done:

    A chirstmas guide that make ideal gifts or stocking fillers

  • Make items on promotion or sale stand out by using ribbons, like the green “Sale!” one in the image above.
  • Include a wish list option on your site, so potential customers can start adding items to that weeks before they actually purchase. They can then think about it and compare those products with others. It also makes it really easy for them to buy when they’re ready, for example just after midnight on Black Friday.
  • Give them several payment options so they can choose which one they’re most comfortable with, and display trust signals throughout the process. Even so, be sure to include at least one option that doesn’t require them to share their card details.

10. Add a last minute shipping option

For those who procrastinate on their holiday shopping as long as possible, this can be a lifesaver. They’ll pay anything you ask if you can still deliver in time, and you’ll also be creating grateful future customers. Check the logistics with your shipping agent, then promote the option through all your normal channels. Also consider a Google ad campaign based around ‘last minute deals’.

11. Turn browsers into buyers with urgency tactics

Anything that can encourage a potential customer to click now rather than later will serve you here:

  • Use language like “Selling fast” and “Last few in stock”.
  • Show inventory numbers on product and category pages.
  • Display a count-down to Christmas on your site.
  • Make delivery deadlines clear, then offer discounts for buying earlier. You could tier these, with prices rising the closer it gets to the holiday.

Go the extra mile

12. Follow up immediately on abandoned carts

At this time of year, people are easily distracted and they regularly check their mails for deals. This combination is your friend: reminding people of their basket is a very effective way to boost conversion rates.

The faster you send that cart abandonment mail, the higher the chances it will be opened. A mail sent 20 minutes after abandonment has a 46% chance of being opened, compared with 27% if the mail is sent a week later. So send one mail immediately, then follow up a couple of times if there is no response.

13. Surprise and delight your customers

Show your customers that you really appreciate them and you’ll build lifetime loyalty. It’s the little things that make a difference, and doing those things helps you stand out. You could send a “thank you for shopping with us” card or include a free gift or sample. A small gesture can reap huge rewards.

14. Aim to be proactive

Put a plan in place in advance to deal with any issues. Provide as much support as you can to your customers and deal with any problems as soon as they arise. If you really can’t fix it, then offer some form of compensation, like a gift voucher or hamper, to disappointed customers. That way you at least have a chance of rescuing the relationship.

The bottom line….

Truly growing your e-commerce business requires a change of perspective. Instead of focussing on a once-off sale, your aim should be to provide as much ongoing value as possible, along with an amazing e-commerce shopping experience every time they visit your site. That’s how you attract and retain loyal customers who will be happy to support you on your journey to success.

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