Unless it’s late November, the word “holiday time” may give you a shudder as you wonder, why are we talking about Christmas while we’re still enjoying final days at the beach? You may think you have eons of time before you need to think about your holiday strategy. But, while we all recognize that the holiday blitz starts earlier and earlier (is that really a Christmas display after the Halloween candy is taken down?), the behind-the-scenes prep needs to happen right now if you want the season to be a success.
The holiday sales checklist starts early
Holiday sales are fantastic for most brands out there. Your company most likely looks forward to these revenue surges just as much as anyone. However, it takes quite a bit of work to make it your “best holiday season ever.” It’s all about getting your ducks in a row early in the year – and covering a few major areas outlined below.
First, take a look at your inventory numbers throughout the entire year, specifically focusing on the peak holiday time. Compare them to previous years’ numbers and use them to make your projections for this year. Also factor in any major changes such as new product introductions. Based on these numbers, figure out where your inventory needs to be for this holiday season. What lessons have you learned in prior years that could make your inventory planning more seamless in this go around? When planning the amount of product on hand for the holidays, you must examine every possible statistic you have (and endless ‘what if’ scenarios) to make this number right.
Order volume explodes during holiday time and it almost always requires more hands to move it. Will you need to hire a seasonal staff in your call centers starting in November through early February to accommodate the increased number of orders and subsequent returns? Do you need more employees who can work the longer holiday hours? Additionally, do you need to bring on more seasoned IT professionals to handle any possible hiccups on the website during high traffic times? If you have hundreds of customers stranded at checkout (with very full and expensive shopping carts) who decide to give up and go elsewhere, the lost amount of profit will far exceed what you will pay a few extra IT people to ensure it’s working right.
Increased orders place greater pressure to your fulfillment center, sending packaging and shipping into overdrive during peak holiday times. Well before the holiday time hits, get your systems into place, and acquire all the materials that you’ll need. Also know your dates for delivery and make them known. For example, if customers need product to arrive in time for the holiday, tell them when they will need to order to make that happen. Be sure to add the caveat that unexpected weather may delay delivery.
What unbeatable holiday deal worked best in previous holiday seasons? How can you tweak it to make it even more impossible to pass up? Does this incentive also work well for your bottom line? For instance, if free shipping got a ton of people in the door and boosted sales, but made you lose money with the amount you had to pay out-of-pocket to the postal service, it wasn’t worth it. Find a happy place that both delights your customers and benefits your bank account.
You will be talking frequently with your customers during the holiday push. After all, you want to stay top-of-mind. Help them with their holiday shopping by making some great gift ideas and enticing promotions. Start planning your communication outreach strategy right now, mapping out your emails (with design templates), and editorial calendar of posts that you’ll do across your blog and all of your social media channels.
Can part of your holiday sales go to something that your company believes in? Decide what charity you are going to contribute to and start netting down all of the details and any marketing materials that will accompany it.
Appearing in a product review or special magazine feature (i.e. “the best gifts for everyone on your list”) at the start of the holiday season will drive sales and build momentum. Because publications require a huge amount of lead-time, start pitching your product to the right person at least six months prior to December.
Start talking to people that matter to your brand early and pick up the pace around November. Include everyone from bloggers to influential people on Twitter. Offer up an exclusive product giveaway JUST for their readers, or see what kind of promotions they like best. The more mentions you receive during the holidays (spread out across many unique sites), the greater the chance of making your holiday season unforgettable.
If you are lucky enough to nab those product reviews and press mentions, you’ll need to rework your entire checklist, making sure your inventory, staffing, and fulfillment procedures reflect the new volume-boosting element. Luckily, if you start your planning now, this holiday season will be one for the books.
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