Last-Minute Holiday Checklist For Online Retailers

  • With holiday shopping in full swing, make sure you’re thoroughly prepared. Columnist David Rekuc has some tips to ensure you have a lucrative season.

    holiday-retailer2015-mobile2-ss-1920.jpgDecember is here, and the holiday shopping season is off to a great start — especially for the e-commerce industry. But when the pressure is on, it’s easy to let smaller details slip through the cracks.

    Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist with five ways to avoid a seasonal disaster.

    1. Prep Customer Service On All Promotions

    If you haven’t already, you must arm your customer service team with the tools they need to quickly resolve issues that will inevitably come up. The first step is to ensure customer service fully understands all promotions your store is running.

    My advice: Keep a shared, running spreadsheet of any offers you have planned, as well as their starting and end dates, how each promotion or sale works and any other information that could help a store representative field customers’ questions.

    When each offer goes live, have everyone take five minutes to walk through the steps for getting the offer. They’ll be taking calls, emails and chats about it all day, and it makes a big difference to have seen it first-hand.

    Finally, empower your customer service team with some sort of additional discount or free shipping code to remedy complaints and keep longtime customers happy.

    2. Be Clear About Your Shipping Cutoffs

    Online shoppers want to know they’re going to receive their purchases in time for holiday gift-giving. But at some point this season, you’re not going to be able to fulfill orders in time for Christmas. It’s a reality of e-commerce that retailers deal with every year.

    Having crystal-clear messaging about your shipping deadlines will put customers’ minds at ease, while not addressing the issue (or making your policy hard to find) could kill potential conversions.

    My advice: Run a site-wide ribbon with your shipping cutoffs. It’s out of the way, but still easy for customers to reference, no matter where they are in their shopping journey. It’s also easy to update as necessary throughout the month.

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    Keep in mind that many late-season shoppers will be willing to pay a little more to get their gifts on time, so feel free to promote expedited shipping options more than you typically would at other times of the year.

    Of course, if shoppers are paying a premium, they’ll want to know it’s guaranteed. So tread cautiously, and keep an eye on the forecast.

    3. Push Gift Cards Like Crazy

    If 2015 is anything like last year, sales will continue well into late December. When it’s no longer possible to get physical items to your customers by the 25th, it’s time to switch gears and start promoting digital goods, so you can keep selling right up to the closing bell.

    While not every store carries digital products, almost everyone can offer digital gift cards.

    Not only is this a way to squeeze out more sales at the last minute, but also a significant number of gift cards are never used. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal, citing TowerGroup research, reported that $41 billion in gift cards weren’t redeemed between 2005 and 2011.

    In other words, gift cards very often represent free money for savvy retailers.

    My advice: Push gift cards starting now, and offer additional value on gift cards later in the month. (For example, if most shoppers historically purchase $25 gift cards, offer $35 gift cards for $30.)

    Consider running a pop-up when you can no longer fulfill orders and digital gift cards are the only option.

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    4. Be Ready For Paid Search Bid Adjustments

    The holiday season is a roller coaster of conversion rates. If you don’t have the right bid adjustments in place, you can miss out on sales on remaining shopping days and waste a ton of ad spend on days when shopping slows down, you’re out of stock, or you’re no longer able to fulfill orders. Be ready to go with changes that reflect these unique fluctuations.

    My advice: Review last year’s conversion rates, adjust your bids accordingly, and make sure your paid search team is working closely with your marketing and merchandising teams. Truthfully, this topic deserves a column of its own.

    For more specific suggestions, check out my previous article on optimizing paid search campaigns during the holiday season.

    5. Have A Companywide Disaster Plan

    It happens every year: A major online retailer’s site goes down, and everyone is shocked. What amazes me is not that it happens but that some are still surprised by it. Neiman Marcus went down on Black Friday, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that happens to a retailer.


    The truth is, technical problems can pop up under the stress of hundreds or — if you’re lucky — thousands of deal-crazed visitors. The time to prepare your site’s infrastructure has come and gone, but what you can do now is make sure you’re ready for the worst-case scenario.

    My advice: Prepare a holiday-themed splash page that directs customers somewhere they can receive real-time support. Keep customer service and social media teams on call for disasters, and review messaging now to make sure it’s consistent, clear and concise.

    Final Thoughts

    For many online retailers, this month is the culmination of a year’s worth of planning. It’s an exciting time, for sure, but with increased traffic and sales comes an increased chance that something will go wrong.

    Take time for these small precautions to help ensure a smooth season.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

    (Some images used under license from


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