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Christmas and Beyond: A Complete Guide To eCommerce sites and Holidays


After a long and challenging year, it’s time to enjoy and celebrate the holiday season. Christmas is right around the corner, along with boxing day, and then New Year’s Eve. Whatever you favourite holiday is, it’s never too early to start celebrating. As you decorate your home for the holiday season, have you thought about how you will deck up your eCommerce site? Spread the festivities and good cheer (and rake in profits) by dousing your eCommerce site with a Christmas and holiday flavour. 

Traditionally, eCommerce sales, especially retail, have soared during the holiday period from November all the way to January. The coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive increase in eCommerce sales as many people still prefer to avoid in-store shopping. As Australians embrace the home delivery sales model, the upcoming holiday season is expected to have 25-35% higher eCommerce sales as compared to pre-COVID times. The competition is fierce, but with adequate planning and preparations, you can come out on top.

Why Make Holiday Changes to an eCommerce Site?

When you already have a reasonably successful eCommerce site, why would you want to change a good thing right? Wrong. Just because you are successful now doesn’t mean you can’t increase growth. This year especially, as eCommerce sales during the holiday season are predicted to reach new heights. 

During holidays, there are an abundance of promotions, sales and discounts available, and that includes from offline and online businesses. Ahead of Christmas particularly, customers are shopping for family and friends, not just themselves. Sales encourage shoppers, especially impulse buyers to make a purchase and fast. Setting up promotions is easy with modern eCommerce platforms, but holidays deserve something a little extra. Some reasons why you should give your site a holiday makeover:

  • Attract customers
  • Stand out from the crowd
  • Encourage sales
  • Improve branding

Efforts made during the holiday season can reap you benefits year-round. Happy customers will form a positive association with your eCommerce site and brand, and are likely to return throughout the remainder of the year. So, what are you waiting for? Get those creative juices flowing, and brainstorm for new and quirky ideas to implement into your eCommerce site. 

How to Get a Holiday Ready eCommerce Site

Once you have made the important decision to give a Christmas and holiday spin to your eCommerce site, it is time to get planning. Regardless of whether you have a few days left or a few weeks to the holiday season, there is always something extra you can offer consumers. There is no go big or go home when it comes to holiday preparedness for an eCommerce site – every small effort counts. A capable development team can help bring your holiday vision to life effectively and quickly. By breaking down the steps involved, it will be easier to prepare your eCommerce site for the holidays. The main aspects to consider are:

1. Understand the Consumer

The first step to any business success is always to understand the consumer, and that holds true for eCommerce sites during holidays as well. Based on your specific niche, delivery locations supported, and product range, analyse your target customers and existing customer base. Which holidays are they most excited for? When are they likely to make a purchase? How do they search for products to buy? How likely are they to engage in impulse purchases? What budget do they typically have? What are their shipping preferences?

With an eCommerce site, you can cater to a larger geographical area than a traditional retailer. The holiday purchasing behaviour is likely to change depending upon the location and demographic. Use analytics reports from the past year, and the last holiday season if possible, to identify patterns in customer behaviour. Check out popular consumer forums and social media networks to learn about new trends for the upcoming holiday season. Browse the eCommerce sites of competitors to see what else is being offered in the market.

2. Backend

During the holiday season, especially around Christmas, you can expect that the traffic to your eCommerce website will rise significantly. While the number of visitors may increase, the patience of users is likely to decrease. Accordingly, it is vital that the backend of your eCommerce site be in optimum condition. The site performance should be robust and fast, and able to support fluctuating traffic and quick transactions. Slow loading sites can instantly turn away customers seeking fast Christmas shopping. 

Apart from site speed, this is a good time to check the navigational structure of your site, find and fix broken links, and reduce page redirects. Developers can help run a full performance audit of your eCommerce site, weeding out potential issues before the holidays begin. Use this time to identify any third-party apps, integrations or tools you want added to your site. Check all of the payment modes you are currently offering and if there are any additional payment modes you want to support. An optimally functioning site can reduce bounce rates and abandoned carts while encouraging customers to spend more time (and money!) on your site.

3. Product Line-up

Take this time to carefully go through your current product catalogue, keeping in mind customer interests, new trends, and competitor offerings. The holiday season is the best time to launch new products or category lines. Customers are keen to buy, have a shopping budget, and are looking for new and interesting products. If you do not want to add extra products or categories, you can simply play around with the product presentation.

A great option is to experiment with innovative product gift bundles. By bundling products together, it becomes easier for customers to gift an entire set of items without having to manually combine each individual item. Product bundles also offer a sense of a better value proposition. Link content resources with your product bundles or add detailed product descriptions to help customers see the benefits of buying the bundle as opposed to individual items. 

Try out curated category pages using existing products and targeted audience segments. The potential for curated category pages is immense and is a quick and easy way for customers to discover new products that they may not have otherwise found. Support the curated category pages with fresh and fun content, helping customers relate with the category and its products, thereby increasing customer engagement.

4. Adequate Supply

One of the worst things that can happen during a busy holiday season on an eCommerce site, apart from the website crashing of course, is running out of supply! Be prepared ahead of time that the demand will be greater during Christmas and the holidays, so that you can accordingly stock up in advance. Online purchasing trends, your sales in the last holiday season and the first half of the year can help you get a broad estimate of expected sales. 

Try to strike a suitable balance between understocking and overstocking. For items with a long shelf-life it is better to be overstocked rather than run out of product when it is needed. Being out of stock is discouraging for customers, and even more so when purchases are time-sensitive, like in the lead up to Christmas. Customers are likely to immediately turn to your competitors and not look back. 

Be sure to stock up on your bestselling items, new products, and the items that you will be directly or indirectly promoting, for example products featured on curated category pages. Try to have multiple suppliers or backup suppliers in case stocks suddenly run low. If you want to limit the risk of overstocking, you can also consider having a dropshipping setup.

5. Shipping

Among the biggest reasons behind the popularity of eCommerce is the convenience of home delivery. During the holiday season the importance of fast and affordable shipping grows even further. Before Christmas, you can anticipate a greater than normal number of shipments, and the demand will likely continue until the end of the holidays. 

Be prepared with your fulfillment operations, and if required take on the support of third-party fulfillment services. Hiring services of a 3PL is a smart way of meeting the increased needs during the holiday season without spending time, effort and money in expanding in-house shipping capabilities. For local deliveries, or if you have bricks-and-mortar stores, you can also offer curb side pickup as an option to your customers. Many customers have a clear preference for pickups rather than waiting for delivery. Customer anxiety about deliveries is natural, so help alleviate that by setting realistic delivery expectations and transparent tracking of the shipment process. 

For an eCommerce site, apart from shipping preparedness, logistics and fulfilment, another aspect of shipping is the costs involved. Expensive shipping or hidden shipping costs are among the leading reasons for cart abandonment, and during the holidays customers are looking to save money wherever possible. However, close to holidays such as Christmas, there is a greater demand for fast shipping, and customers are more likely to be willing to pay more for fast shipments. If possible, free shipping is an excellent option, but for many eCommerce sites, it just might not be practical. Consider offering reduced shipping costs, or low shipping costs upon purchases above a certain amount. This will help increase sales and encourage customers to complete their transaction. Always show accurate shipping rates or estimates to promote trust and transparency.

6. Website Design

Appearances are everything when it comes to first impressions. Give the design of your eCommerce website a holiday-inspired makeover by including festive elements and new banners. A holiday themed look indicates to new and returning customers that you have made an effort and are offering dedicated deals for the holidays. 

There is great potential in revising the look of your eCommerce website, you can incorporate new promotional imagery, highlight important features and discounts, and overall create a positive browsing experience. However, when you use Christmas and holiday themed designs, remember to maintain the original theme of your brand. Since a vast majority of eCommerce sites are likely to be adapting their design for the holidays, it is vital to stand out from the crowd. For returning customers, you want to make sure they feel the familiarity of your original website. 

A perfect balance between the old style and new holiday designs is a must for an effective eCommerce holiday season. Check out examples of how other sites have re-designed their look in the past, and consider what elements are important in the branding of your site. If possible, take the help of graphic designers and developers to design a responsive and festive holiday storefront. Once you have the website design finalised, expand the same theme, styles and imagery to the social media accounts of your brand. By having a cohesive design and theme on your website and social media handles, you can reinforce holiday sales and offer a unified front to customers.

Holiday Discounts and Marketing

Discounts, promotions and marketing are at the core of a holiday-ready eCommerce site. Once your business is ready across both the backend and frontend, it is time to focus on the discounts and marketing strategies. Using consumer knowledge and creativity, you can devise a successful plan of action for the holiday season.

Discounts

Offering too many discounts may seem counter-intuitive, since you would actually be reducing the sell price. However, discounts are a powerful way of attracting customers and increasing sales volumes which directly results in greater revenue. It is important to balance out the potential profits you stand to make with increased sales, versus the losses due to discounts. 

There is no fixed formula when it comes to discounts and deals, but bigger is more often better. The goal of any discount is to offer customers a perceived value addition. Plan out a series of promotions beginning from when you want to start the holiday promotions, until as late as you want to continue them. Try out a variety of promotions applicable on everything from seasonal items to best sellers and new products. Here are some of the types of discounts you can offer:

  • Percentage Discount: A flexible form of discount, this can be used as a certain percentage discount over specific products, overall orders or any combination. For example, 50% off, 10% off. This is a great way to announce discounts over larger selections of products or categories. 
  • Dollar Value Discount: Offer a certain amount of dollars off products or orders, for example, $10 or $15 discount. A dollar value discount has been found to have greater success in encouraging conversions as compared to percentage discounts as customers don’t need to calculate the final discount amount. 
  • Buy One Get One (BOGO) Discounts: These types of discounts are designed to encourage customers to purchase more numbers of similar products. The BOGO discounts can be used as buy one get one free, buy one get one at discount, buy two get one free, or any combination desired. 
  • Free Shipping: If your eCommerce site typically has shipping costs involved, offering free, discounted or faster shipping can be used as a purchasing incentive and value addition. Experiment with offering free shipping on certain products only, on purchases above a certain value, or even for flash sales. 
  • Discount Codes: Unlike other types of discounts and deals, discount codes or promotional codes are indirect. These discount codes can be placed anywhere – including your social media pages, newsletters, emailers, welcome messages, abandoned cart emails, and even on website pages with high bounce rates. Since the discount codes are not commonly available, the value of these codes increases in the mind of the customer, encouraging them to quickly purchase when they find a code.

The best discount offerings will have a healthy mix of different types of discounts, piquing the interest of consumers and encouraging them to purchase. To encourage a positive response, always try to clearly indicate the last day of the discounts, so that consumers have an urgency to purchase.

Marketing

Discounts are only half the battle and cannot reach their full potential without adequate marketing and promotions. Marketing serves to highlight your discounts, new product line, and holiday offerings, bringing your brand into the view of potential customers. Generic marketing campaigns might be fine year-round, but when the holiday season comes, it’s time to ramp up marketing efforts. 

Based on when you are planning to launch Christmas discounts and holiday campaigns, short-term marketing strategies may be more effective. Try to cultivate a strong existing customer base that will be with your brand long after the holiday season ends. This year, the holiday competition is expected to be  fierce amongst eCommerce sites as consumer shopping preferences shift from offline to online. As a result, strong marketing efforts and a unified marketing strategy are critical. Here are some marketing suggestions for the holiday season:

  • Paid Ads: Going old school with paid advertisements is a marketing tactic that never fails. As Christmas approaches, the costs may get more expensive, but it generally yields adequate results. Paid ads can be displayed on Google, on listings, social media and even offline. Depending upon your target consumer group, you can choose an appropriate avenue, or mix it up across multiple channels. 
  • Remarketing: The concept of remarketing is gaining popularity and is becoming a useful way to display ads. In remarketing, users who have interacted with your site are shown your advertisement when they browse Google, its partner websites or social media. As users have already seen your eCommerce site, they are more likely to respond to advertisements after they leave your site. 
  • Social Media: Everyone is on social media, whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit or Quora. Utilise the reach of social media by creating catchy posts, announcements and discount codes. All discounts and holiday offer details can be shared and promoted on social media. Try experimenting with contests and polls for greater customer engagement. Make sure you have social media buttons on your eCommerce site that are working properly so that customers can instantly share their favourite products and deals on social media. 
  • Site Pop-ups: Setting up site pop-ups are an excellent way to catch the attention of users without distracting from your eCommerce site. Use customised images and bold designs that are memorable and convey your message clearly. These site pop-ups can be used for your eCommerce site’s main landing page, selected products or category pages, checkouts, before abandoned carts and at any point of the users’ journey. They can also be triggered by certain user behaviours, such as adding products to carts or crossing a specific value threshold, for greater impact and influence.
  • Email Marketing: Existing customers are a valuable resource and have higher chances of spending more during your holiday sales. Employ emailers to share discount details and promotional campaigns with customers. For an extra impact, you can also share discount codes or special deals that are accessible specifically from the emailers. Also include referral deals in the emailers to encourage existing customers to spread the word about your eCommerce site and its deals.
  • Use Your Blog: Blogs are a common part of eCommerce sites, with many eCommerce platforms providing dedicated support for blog sections. While you primarily might be using the blog for content marketing, it is an excellent source of information for users. Many times, customers can feel overwhelmed with the amount of shopping they need to do for Christmas and the holidays. Provide answers and resources through the blog such as gift giving guides, shopping guides, product recommendations, and novelty item descriptions. Consider the problems the customer might face and the products that provide the solution to generate content that motivates customers to purchase from your site. Having an updated blog also improves the credibility and branding of your eCommerce site. 

When you plan a marketing strategy, make sure that it is consolidated across all channels to give a unified appearance and stronger impact for your brand. Use creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to stand out from the crowd, and keep in mind the time-frame you have available since holiday promotions are time bound.

RELATED POST: 10 Tips for Optimising Your Digital Marketing

Tips to Beat the Competition

There is an abundance of eCommerce sites currently in the market, including marketplaces, niche sites, local and global giants. However, the internet is a great levelling platform, offering all brands a relatively equal playing field. Here are some tips to help your eCommerce site beat the competition this holiday season:

  • Personalised Experiences: Provide customers with personalised shopping experiences and offers using AI and machine learning. Customers are more likely to respond positively to a personalised shopping experience and tailored product recommendations.
  • Emphasise Urgency: Holiday shopping is generally time bound, so indicate that your sales are too. By having a limited amount of time to access your discounts and promotional offers, you can encourage customers to quickly purchase with minimal shopping around on other sites.
  • Guest Checkouts: Many customers prefer a no muss no fuss checkout process without having to fully register an account, which can be a lengthy and cumbersome process. Support guest checkouts to make this possible without pressurising registration, and customers may themselves choose to register in the future.
  • Fast Shipping: During the holidays, timing is crucial. Try to offer fast shipping options so that customers can get their orders on time. A great option is to offer multiple shipping options at varied price points and delivery times, and customers can choose the most suitable option. Ensure that the shipping process has full transparency with regular updates. 
  • Mobile Optimisation: Smartphones and tablets are a household staple and many customers prefer shopping on mobile devices. Make sure your eCommerce site and all the holiday updates are responsive and accessible from mobile devices. Check that transactions can be completed without any errors. 
  • Streamlined Shopping: Offer your customers a streamlined experience across devices so that they can stop and pick up their shopping journey easily and conveniently, making them more likely to purchase. 
  • Gift Cards: Gift cards are popular amongst consumers as they require minimal effort on the part of the buyer when gifting to a loved one. By offering gift cards on your eCommerce site, you are encouraging purchases. Despite having a gift card for a limited amount, customers are more likely to spend extra money above the gift card value. 
  • Add a Holiday Touch to Deliveries: Enhance the holiday feel by adding a holiday note or extra coupons to shipment packages. This promotes positive associations with your brand and motivates customers to shop again soon. Based on your bandwidth and the amount of shipments, you can experiment with the holiday-themed customisations.
  • Support Easy Returns: Increase the trust between your brand and customers by supporting easy and fast returns. Customers will feel more confident in making experimental purchases if they know they can return items if needed.
  • Reward Customer Loyalty: Have an easy to register and fast customer loyalty program at the ready to help new customers instantly and effortlessly register. Studies have shown customers are more likely to register for loyalty programs if the process is simple.
  • Excellent Customer Support: During the holiday season, you can expect a significant increase in traffic. As a lot of that traffic is likely to be new users or customers shopping in a hurry, having a robust customer support system is important. Ramp up your existing customer support to take into account the extra traffic. Customers facing problems and having to spend time looking for solutions have a greater likelihood of leaving your site altogether.

Conclusion

Holiday season is approaching, and with Christmas and the New Year, shopping is only going to increase. As a result of COVID-19, eCommerce sites are expected to have unprecedented success and sales. Cash in on the trend by making your eCommerce site fully holiday ready. Regardless of how much time is left before Christmas, you can still devise suitable promotions and marketing strategies, and ready your site for more traffic. 

Channel the spirit of the holiday season through your eCommerce site and deck it up like a Christmas tree. Due to competition amongst eCommerce sites, it may seem challenging to optimise your site for the holidays but rise up to the challenge! A little bit of expense and effort now can help you have an amazing year in 2021, with an abundance of returning customers you gained through the holidays. 

Good luck, and let the holiday season begin!