November is nearing, kids are working on their holiday wish list, and retailers and ecommerce brands are primed and ready for the busiest time of the year. That’s right, Black November is almost here, and for months, if not the better part of the year, commerce brands have been learning from initiatives of the past, making necessary changes, and have their army of marketing and promotional materials ready to land in your inbox, mailbox, ad panels, and of course social media.
In an effort to better understand some of the unique happenings around the holiday we recently reached out to eight different ecommerce brands and retailers to see the kind of initiatives they enact leading up to November. From stress testing their site, to projecting how much inventory customers may want, these veteran ecommerce owners, founders, and marketers may just happen to help inspire you to prevent something that could impact your revenue this year.
Technology and Marketing
Our company generally generates roughly 40% of our annual revenue and 43% of our profit during Q4. To say Q4 is important to our business’s success would be an understatement.
Leading up to the busy holiday season, we focus on two main areas: technology and marketing. For technology, we make sure our website/servers can handle the increased load. This unfortunately includes enabling DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service Attack) protection. Sadly, especially around this time of the year, unscrupulous competitors chose to try and knock their competition online instead of actually compete or earn business. In addition to subscribing to a DDOS protection service, we make sure our distributed network of servers are capable of handling the increased user traffic we usually see during Q4 by performing several load tests before we enter the busy holiday season. These allow us to simulate and stress test our website to make sure it can handle the anticipated increase in traffic.
Next, we prepare for the holidays by looking at historical sales trends and gearing up for a spike around specific products that are more popular than normal during this time of year so as to not leave a single customer disappointed. Being that we’re a distributor, and we don’t inventory our own products, this requires us to pre-purchase inventory months in advance from our suppliers so we have our own guaranteed/dedicated inventory. I may or may not have 25,000 ornaments in my basement still from last year’s inventory purchase, but we’re hoping new forecasting technology and data will make sure we get it right this year!
Bret Bonnet, Quality Logo Products Founder
Push Older Inventory Through Flash Sales
Flash sales are tremendously useful in ecommerce for this time of year, because it positions your company in two ways: First, you will be able to stand out amongst your competitors by offering significantly lower prices on select products that may have been discontinued previously. Second, you will be able to reduce holdover inventory in advance of new product in 2018.
Putting off a flash sale until mid-November and then orchestrating the bulk of your advertising campaign towards that will be an extremely good way to build awareness and even inspire other purchases.
Also, be sure to offer free shipping! Shipping costs are the number one cause of cart abandonment, and this abandonment is entirely avoidable. Free shipping is also useful from a business standpoint because it raises the perceived value of your product.
Augie Kennady, ShipMonk Media Relations Director
Brand Awareness and Foresight
Build your brand up as much as you can before Black Friday hits.
We’re currently running giveaways, doing co-brand collaborations on Instagram and anything else we can to grow our mailing list before the holiday season is in full swing and everyone is competing for eyeballs.
Also, review last year’s promotions, and successful promotions from other companies to help refine your strategy for this season. You’ll want to outline your strategy for this season, and look for ways to innovate and do something different than the standard deals. Have a clearly defined content calendar and road map for all of your emails, advertising promotions and content. Make sure your team is aware of the big objectives and revenue goals.
Last, but most importantly, is to make sure that you have taken time to forecast your inventory and you have enough in stock for the holiday season before it hits.
Ryan O’Connor, One Tribe Apparel owner and founder
Start Planning in Q3 and Use Project Management Software
We start planning in Q3 (and even earlier in some cases as we gather ideas and testing data throughout the year). Because we use several different marketing channels (email, social, influencer, affiliate, blogs), it really helps to plan early and communicate with one another so marketing campaigns and content don’t overlap in terms of the discount and type of promotion. We use Confluence, Jira, and Trello to keep track of tasks internally, which helps out a lot when managing campaigns across the different channels.
Our holiday email promotions include Black Friday, Cyber Week, and a New Year’s blowout sale. These were finalized in September, and we also finalized our FameBit influencer campaign for the holidays in September, which will run from late October to the end of year. The details for holiday promotions on social media and Google Posts are completed; it’s just a matter of setting up the campaigns. Our blog schedule, particularly for TomatoInk, is also set up for the remainder of the year, and most of our contributors have already submitted their articles, with many articles focusing on a holiday topic.
Katy Smith, Comp and Save Content Manager
Black Friday? Black November
When we’re preparing for the holidays, and Cyber Monday in particular, there are a number of ways to stay ahead of the game. Some of the things we focus on are: staffing, online strategy, social media strategy, mobile strategy.
For staffing, we hire temporary employees who help out with everything from shipping out orders to answering customer service queries. Our online strategy includes redesigning our websites with Cyber Monday landing pages and including Cyber Monday promotions and sales. Regarding social media, we like to run contests and promotions for all of our fans and followers. Social media and word of mouth can create incredible awareness. Lastly, our mobile strategy is crucial as about half of our sales come through mobile commerce. We have a dedicated mobile look, and we also have our own app, which makes it very easy for customers to view our content.
We’re really pushing sales earlier with Black November (sales the entire month). Sales don’t start on Black Friday anymore as most companies start earlier to try to top each other. Spreading sales throughout the month versus over a few days helps with order fulfillment and customer service tremendously.
Brandon Chopp, iHeartRaves Digital Marketing Strategist
Shipping: Primed and Ready
In addition to prepping for the technical aspects of campaigns and marketing techniques on my ecommerce platform there’s an aspect that might not be readily mentioned by others: packing and shipping. Stocking up on packing supplies in my color palette for the holiday season, as well as having custom bags, boxes and labels created. The technical side of that is working through holiday shipping deadlines and pricing with suppliers and then preparing clear messaging for customers about deadlines.
Sarah J. Whittington, Owner of TheSmootheStore.com
Learning From the Past
Last year, I was super unprepared with inventory! So this year, I have really invested in building up my inventory stock so that I won’t have to send out those dreaded it-will-be-a-two-week-wait-for-your-item emails to my customers – especially in December! This is tricky, because you are basically making a guess as to what products will sell and which will be the most popular. However, I find that looking at the data from the previous year really helps making this prediction, as well as going with what my gut tells me.
Also, last year I received a lot of customer emails/calls about the same subjects over and over again. These emails took a lot of time to respond to, and it was all information that I could easily add to my website. Over the past few months, I’ve added an FAQ page and a monogram guide that has already help cut down on those inquires. Along with this, I have also updated all of my auto-emails that go out after purchase to have a bit more info as well!
Another thing I’ve done for the holidays is add an Under $50 category. Not only am I able to get creative when pitching to media outlets (many gift guides focus on an under $50 price point), but it allows my customer to easily navigate to these products all on one page.
Kirsten La Greca, Rosa Gold Founder
There are a few ways we are preparing for the Christmas period on our social media channels. One is preparing great content and images for our Instagram account, which is the channel that converts the best for us. We reach out to influencers with specific guidelines and ask them to tag us. This is an attempt to bring new followers into our funnel.
We will then re-use those same images on our own feed targeting Gorilla Socks’ followers. The other way of leveraging Instagram is by creating specific content using photoshop. Our social media manager, Marco, creates images in line with particular dates. For example we create ad hoc images for Black Friday which we then use on our feed but also on our website.
Our feed is divided in three parts. The first focuses on our cause, we post images of gorillas which we are trying to help save. The second on landscapes and panoramas which aims to bring new followers to our page, and only one line focuses on our bamboo socks. This Christmas, like the rest of the year, we want to be focused on our mission rather than forcing our product on customers.
Gianluca De Stefano, Gorilla Socks Cofounder