The Online Stores Holiday Season Is Closer Than You Think - Here's How To Prepare

As summer reaches its peak, most people are probably more preoccupied with building sandcastles at the beach than preparing for the holiday period.

But as e-retailers, we know that – at the time of writing – there are just 121 days until Christmas day itself. And there's no avoiding it – that most wonderful, chaotic time of year will be here before we know it!

We all know how important this period can be. Since the turn of the century, holiday sales have soared by nearly half to $3.12 trillion, and e-commerce is an important component of this growth. Indeed, while the growth of overall holiday sales between 2012 and 2013 was a relatively modest 4.1%, e-commerce sales rose by 12%.

And yet so many online retailers are underprepared. Studies suggest that 42% plan to begin their marketing push in September, and 23% even later than that, in October. This is even more surprising given the delivery issues which plagued online retailers in 2013.

There's no way around it: the holiday period is a busy, chaotic time, and plenty of elbow grease is required if you're to maximize its potential. But you can give yourself the best possible chance of success by getting started now. Here are a few ways you can start planning now...and preserve your sanity later on in the year!

1. Get your inventory ready and up to date

If you haven't already bought up your inventory for the holiday period, this should be an immediate priority. It should really be in place and ready to roll by the end of August to avoid any last-minute drama.

It's also really important to make sure that your inventory levels are up to date and accurate. The last thing you want in the holiday rush is to sell stuff you don't actually have – a total customer service nightmare which you can ill-afford at any time of year, let alone at Christmas! If you're selling across multiple channels, make sure you have processes in place to ensure your inventory is accurate across them all. (Of course, AmeriCommerce customers will be all set in this regard – our Admin Console gives you everything you need!)

2. Determine your key dates

Now is a great time to take a strategic, analytical view of the holiday period and define exactly what you can achieve logistically. Work out how long it generally takes to fulfil your orders, factor in the inevitable seasonal delays, and this should give you a realistic, achievable pre-Christmas order deadline. This date should be communicated clearly – and regularly – to your customers, helping to avoid any confusion or post-sales complaints.

The temptation, of course, is to extend this date and milk as many last-minute sales as possible. But remember, even if it's due to issues beyond your control, a customer needs that order in their hands by Christmas Eve, or you can bet they'll be 100% blaming you! 'Under-promise, over-deliver' is always the best policy.

3. Tidy up your customer data

The holiday season is a great opportunity to target your database with timely, relevant communications. However, if your database is clogged up with old, out of date, obsolete customer data, you can undermine all that hard work, however awesome your messaging might be.

Take the time to go through your database and tidy up this data in the coming weeks. The improved accuracy can help you be much more targeted in your communications, resulting in greater focus, relevance and chance of success!

4. Get your merchandising ready in advance

Merchandising and product information is incredibly important. Not only is it a great way to showcase and sell your products, the content on these pages is actually indexed and picked up by search engines, driving more traffic.

Putting together the content required for these pages – and getting them live sooner rather than later – not only allows you to take care of this important task before you get insanely busy, but also allows time for the pages to be indexed.

We're talking great product photography, videos if necessary, and compelling, unique product descriptions – everything you need to showcase your products effectively!

Related Reading: How important is Product Photography in Ecommerce?

5. Plan your marketing and gather content in advance

It's no secret that the most effective marketing is proactive rather than reactive – of course, this means investing significant time and effort into advance planning.

As you approach your busiest time of the year, you want to make sure all you're doing is launching your campaigns – not creating them. So nowis the time to start pooling content that will help your sales drive over the seasonal period. You can write blog articles, create graphics, and plan e-mail/social content in advance, meaning that all you need to do during the holiday period is schedule or send out your content.

This all takes the weight off your shoulders when it comes to that busy period, freeing you up to concentrate on logistical stuff.

It's also a good idea to pre-plan your discounts and promotion codes. What can you realistically afford to offer your customers? Once you've made a call on this, make sure the functionality is tested on your website sooner rather than later to avoid any technical problems during the busy period!

Closing thoughts

There's a pretty consistent theme running through these points, and that's advance planning. Studies have shown that more than half of e-retailers won't even begin their marketing push until September, so getting all this leg work done in August is sure to give you a healthy head-start when it comes to maximizing your seasonal success. The simple message is this: plan now, win later! If you ask us, it's never too early to start planning :)

Have you started planning for the holidays yet? Let us know in the comments section..