We may be at the beginning of August but in retail terms, Christmas is just a few weeks away. To help you prepare for a successful festive season we’ve put together a timeline of the steps you need to be taking right now, all the way up to Christmas.
Most online retailers will be experiencing their quietest months in the summer, so it’s best to use this time productively. Spending time in August researching will put you in the best position to plan and prepare for the holiday season in September.
- Research previous years: Look back at last Christmas to see what you did well and how you can improve. Also use Google Trends to find out when people are searching for your products.
- Improve your business: You can research keywords to improve your search engine ranking, as well as find new apps and software that can make your business more efficient. August is also a good time to look into different couriers, you want to make sure you can offer a reliable and cost-effective delivery service in the run up to Christmas.
Once you’ve done your research, spend September planning how you’re going to use it.
- Create a marketing plan: This should include any promotions and sale you're going to run, when you're going to email your customer, what content you're going to publish, and what advertising you're going to do. You should create a detailed marketing plan, working back from Christmas. with specific dates and time frames for each aspect of your plan.
- Update your website for winter: Take a look at your website and check if any of your pages or product photos have a summer theme, and make a plan for updating or replacing them. Even if your whole website isn't going to be festive, you still want to make sure your products seem relevant to the winter season.
- Order stock: If you haven't already, plan what stock you need to order and when - set yourself reminders to order each item. If you don't have much storage space then account for this and don't over order, but make sure you have suppliers that will be able to restock at short notice.
- Hire staff: Did you struggle to fulfill all your orders last year? If you think you need to hire someone for the run up to Christmas then start the recruitment process now.
October: Get started
With everything planned out and organised, now it’s time to put it all into action.
- Start your marketing plan: Start by encouraging people to shop before the main festive rush, and draw them in with discounts and offers. Encourage signing up to your mailing list; try offering discount or voucher if they enter their email address, this way you're growing the list of people you can target by email in the next couple of months.
- Update website information: Ensure all the delivery, returns and contact information is correct, and make it as accessible as possible to build confidence and trust with your buyers.
- Use your keywords: Make sure all your products have the relevant keywords and are SEO optimised so that they have the best chance of ranking highly. It can take a while for pages to rank so you need to get this done now. Find out more about Christmas SEO for your online shop here.
- Write your content: To avoid running out of time you should start writing the blog posts and social media that you've planned now so they're ready to publish over the next couple of months.
November: Promotions and marketing
By November business should be picking up, so you’ll want to make last orders, checks, and changes to make sure you’re ready for the final rush leading up to Christmas.
- Key dates for the holiday season:
Black Friday: 25 November
Cyber Monday: 28 November
Small Business Saturday: 3 December
Royal Mail last posting dates will be added here in October 2016.
- Keep your customers coming back: This is when you want to focus on Christmas promotions, bundles, and keeping in touch with customers using email and social media.
- Stock check: Check stock levels in the first couple of weeks of November, and put in any final orders for pre-Christmas products. You also need to make sure you have enough staff to fulfil all the orders quickly - there's still time to find part-time staff.
December will be your busiest month so you’ll spend most of the time fulfilling orders, but you can also give one final marketing push for late orders and promote post deadlines.
- Post deadlines: While you continue to promote your online shop you need to be making customers aware of the final posting dates to give them a sense of urgency, encouraging them to buy sooner rather than later.
- Promote: Offer your final deals and discounts, and send out a few final emails. Promote your next day delivery options to attract last minute shoppers.
- Dispatch all orders: Before the final posting date check all your orders to make sure they've all been dispatched. Make sure your final posting deadline is obvious, and if someone orders after the cut off then let them know that it won't arrive in time for Christmas.
- Prepare for the sales: While the end is in sight for Christmas, if you're going to do a sale on Boxing Day or in the New Year you'll want to start preparing for it now. Set aside some time to work out which products you're going to discount, and how you're going to run your sale and promote it. If you spend time planning for after Christmas, you'll be able to relax and have a few days off.