9 Last minute steps to having your most successful Christmas yet

9 Last minute steps to having your most successful Christmas yet
Christmas 2015 looks to be the best opportunity yet for online retailers as shoppers head online to avoid the crowds. Make the most of it by following these steps.

#BlackFriday may be quiet on high street. Web traffic, however, higher than last year. @curryspcworld says up 70% on last year

— Harry Wallop (@hwallop) November 27, 2015

This year is going to be huge for ecommerce. And further to that, over half of website visits were from mobiles and tablets. In fact, for the first time, over a third of online sales on Black Friday were made on mobile and tablets this year.  The Guardian ran a humorous live blog about Black Friday, showing the vacated streets of high streets and shopping centres across the UK. The changing high street is a fascinating topic, but for this post let's focus on how you can make the most of all these customers going online to do their festive shopping.

This year, eMarketer predicts that total retail sales will increase 5.6%, whereas online retail sales will increase 13.9%. People are comfortable shopping online and prefer the convenience in most cases

Ecommerce also has great benefits to store owners. Unlike physical retail, large amounts of traffic and orders don't necessarily mean huge increases in staffing requirements. If you can prepare your staff, processes, hosting and inventory, there's every reason to think this could be your most profitable Christmas yet.

So how can you make the most of it with your online store? Find out below.

1. Decorate your store for the season

First things first: Inject some festive spirit in to your website and remind them that gifts need to be purchased in time for Christmas. Add some colour and festive icons to get your visitors in the mood.

You can do this whilst still remaining true to your brand and not losing any class, as the two examples here show. And if all else fails, a Christmas hat atop your logo can work well.

These strong banners and call to actions should link through to a dedicated gift section, which brings us to point 2...

2. Merchandise for gifting

If you sell products that can be used as gifts, make sure you've added a 'Gifts' section to your main menu with a curated set of gift ideas. If you have a lot of products, group these in to price brackets e.g. 'Under £25', 'Under £50'.

Another good idea is to break out your gift range so that it meets a need, adding a stocking filler section is a brilliant idea. You can see an example below on the website of one of our clients, Gereg Williams.

Keep in mind that the buyer might not be an expert in what they are buying. Lingerie is a classic example where the buyer is sometimes clueless on which item to pick. Gift cards can work wonders at this time of year so make sure you clearly offer them in your store. Our client Negative do a great job on everything, including this unmissable fool proof gift option in their product listings.

Don't forget about your email marketing. Email is still the best converting channel when it comes to ecommerce so align your email campaigns with what you're offering in your online store.

3. Prepare your sales

It turns out that sitting around with the family after Christmas dinner drives a lot of people online. Last IBM reported that year Average order values on Christmas day were up 6.2% since 2013. Shoppers want to get to deals early and it seems as if the traditional boxing day sales are starting earlier and earlier...

It is therefore essential you prepare for the post Christmas shoppers. It would be a good idea to prepare and plan the products you want to put on sale and at what price you're going to list them. Ultimately this will maximise your sales, whilst at the same time minimising the amount of time you will have to spend updating your online shop on Christmas Day. Make sure you set up your promotions based ahead of time to avoid last minute panic. It also goes without saying that your sales items need to have sufficient inventory available, or at least, real time stock updates to ensure you aren't selling things you no longer have.

4. Offer special return options

Let's face it, we've all bought presents for people in the past who politely asked for the gift receipt. At Christmas time, your customer will always have this scene playing in the back of their mind, and will want to know that you have a good returns system. 

If you choose to extend your returns policy around Christmas time, then make sure you make this very clear to any visitors. With the security of knowing that their loved ones can return the gift if they get it wrong, customers will have less reservations about purchasing from your site.

Don't let the potential for lots of refunds put you off this. If you stick with you regular returns policy you might not fully benefit from the most frantic shopping days of the year.

5. Make sure you deliver close to Christmas Day

Let's face it, a lot of people leave Christmas shopping too late. In fact, 40% of men in Britain don't start Christmas shopping until 17th December. 

The closer you can deliver to Christmas Day, the more competitive your business will be.

It also goes without saying that Christmas delivery date cut offs should be added to all your delivery information pages. Some stores even add the final order cutoff date for guaranteed Christmas delivery in the header of their site.

6. Test on all devices

This year more people will browse your website from mobile and tablet devices than traditional desktop computers. 

You can't afford to have a website that doesn't work well with mobile. Getting a responsive website that optimises content to the display size is the best way to solve this problem. 

Traditionally the hardest part of an ecommerce site to optimise is the checkout process. If you don't have time to completely redesign your checkout process, you could quickly introduce PayPal offsite payments.  Paypal is already optimised for all devices and it also allows customers to checkout with just their email and PayPal password, rather than typing out lengthy card details.

7. Stock up

It is vital that you have enough stock to meet the demands of your customers when heading in to the Christmas period. Stock planning is a huge topic but a good starting point is to look at the volumes you did last year and work out if you should expect more of less orders based on what's happened so far in November and December.

8. Be ready for more traffic

Now for a note on hosting.

If you aren't using a hosted platform like Shopify, you need to ensure you're ready to deal with higher than usual traffic levels. Even a small outage can cost you thousands in lost orders.

Shopify hosts 200,000 sites and at last count was handling well over 500,000 page views a minute. So even a huge spike in your own traffic shouldn't affect your store availability.

If you host your own website, cloud-based hosting providers will allow you to 'scale up' your servers to cope with demand. After busy periods you can then shrink down your infrastructure - and therefore costs- to normal levels.

Performing a quick test of your page speed loading times will help you decide where to start optimising when it comes looking at other areas of improvement in page speed. A faster loading page will also help reduce the load on your servers by ensuring each request is dealt with as quickly as possible.

9. Encourage new customers to return

First off, the easiest way to get return customers to buy again is to do an exceptional job of the first order.

Another idea is to use packaging to your advantage by including discount codes that can be used throughout January. You may also want to add in free samples of upcoming new products.

The brilliant thing about selling online if you gather an email address with every order. Use your email list of existing customers to generate sales with campaigns throughout the year.

Conclusion

Hopefully these last minute steps will let you make the most of this Christmas. They're just a starting point and there's a load more advice elsewhere on our site.

If you need help improving your Shopify store, consider one of our retainer plans. For full redesigns, we can also help.

About the author

Alex is a founder at WeMakeWebsites and an international speaker on ecommerce. He teaches the ecommerce course at General Assembly and The Guardian, and has spoken about ecommerce at Google, Top Drawer and London College of Fashion. WeMakeWebsites build beautiful and effective online stores for creative retail companies, you can view recent examples of our Shopify work here.

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