[121eCommerce’s Opinion] Holiday Sales Preparations: Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid

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holiday sales mistakes

In 2018, holiday eCommerce sales totaled $126 billion – a 16.5% increase from the $108 billion generated in 2017.

By making a few smart moves, you can take advantage of the surge of holiday traffic – and start making more sales!

But if you don’t take the right steps to prepare for the holidays, they can turn into a disaster. Site downtime, payment problems, loading issues and more could plague your store, and damage your reputation and your sales.

So, what mistakes should you avoid when preparing your eCommerce store for the holidays?

Let’s take a look at the top 10 most common holiday sales preparation mistakes.


1. Not using email marketing & other tools to build buzz

First and foremost, you need to make sure that you’re promoting your holiday sales ahead of time using email newsletters and social media tools, including Facebook ads and Instagram. If you want to move the most merchandise this holiday season, your loyal customers need to know about your sales – and why they should shop from you.

If you don’t advertise your holiday sales and build buzz in advance, you’re going to fall behind other retailers who did – and that’s never a good thing.

2. Failing to use free shipping promotions

Free shipping is one of the most powerful promotions available. 93% of customers say that they are encouraged to buy more products if free shipping is available, and 58% of customers say that they have added more products to their shopping cart to qualify for a free shipping promotion.

Even if it means that you will have to offer lower overall discounts on some of your items, you should definitely consider implementing a free shipping promotion during the holiday season.

3. Not ordering enough inventory

Nobody likes to shop for an item and add it to their cart only to find out that it’s out-of-stock or back-ordered. Before the holidays start, you need to think through your merchandising approach and make sure that you’re fully stocked on your most popular items.

Sure, a few stockouts are inevitable. But by using the data you’ve gathered about your products during the rest of the year, you should be able to predict which ones will be the most popular throughout the holidays and stock up accordingly.

4. Discounting only unpopular items

Yes, discounting an item that’s not selling well is a good way to make sure you break even or even turn a little bit of a profit. But if you only discount your unpopular items, customers won’t be happy with the overall quality of your holiday sale.

In the future, they may even stop shopping at your store during the holidays, because they will know you probably won’t have any sales on the items that they really want. So make sure that you have great discounts on some of your most popular items, too!

5. Using shady price manipulation tactics

We know you wouldn’t do this – but a lot of eCommerce retailers do. First, you raise the cost of your items a few days before the sale. Let’s say that a $14.99 toy goes to $19.99.

Then, you announce your holiday sale! It’s a blowout! The toy goes from $19.99 to $14.99! Customers are saving 25% on this hot item! Except they’re not. They’re buying it at the original price – and you’re taking advantage of a psychological trick to make them think they’re getting a good deal.

Sure, this can work – for a little while. But if your customers pay attention to your prices and start to notice that you’re raising prices before sales, they’ll be furious, and you may end up alienating them. They may never make another purchase on your site again.

Risking the integrity and reputation of your website isn’t worth making a few extra sales, so we highly recommend against these kinds of pricing tactics.

6. Not preparing for a surge in holiday traffic

Surges in traffic are good – if you’re prepared. But if you’re not, they can cause performance issues that may cost you sales.

We’ve all been there. A holiday sale leads to a surge in traffic. All of a sudden, your payment processor fails. Your pages start loading slowly, or your website starts to crash because it can’t handle the traffic.

Make sure that your web host allows you to scale up your website quickly if you need to. Ideally, you should be able to add more capacity with just a phone call or the click of a mouse, so that you can keep your site running if you encounter an unexpectedly high surge in traffic.

You should also look for a host that has “failover” capabilities. This means your site can switch to another backed-up server seamlessly if there is an issue with the host, ensuring it never goes offline.

7. Not providing a dedicated holiday landing page

How can your shoppers take advantage of holiday deals if they can’t find them? You should create and promote a dedicated holiday landing page, and advertise it using PPC tools like Google AdWords and Facebook.

In addition, you should place a holiday landing page front-and-center on your website’s homepage. It should only take a single click for shoppers to see your limited-time deals for the holidays.

8. Unclear shipping dates

You need to make sure your shipping deadlines are very clear on your website. It’s a good idea to invest in a real-time shipping estimation tool that appears at the checkout. This tool will allow users to get an estimate for when their package will arrive based on their location and chosen method of shipment.

Lots of people do last-minute holiday shopping online, so you’ll want to make sure they know whether or not their packages will arrive on time. It may also be a good idea to offer more expedited shipping options so that shoppers can get rush delivery for their items if they need it.

9. Short-staffed post-holiday customer service teams

Once the holidays are over, you can breathe a sigh of relief, sit back, and start assessing your sales performance, right?

Well, not quite. More than 11% of all items purchased for the holidays are returned – and that means your customer service team is probably about to be hit hard by return requests. You will want to make sure that you have a large enough team to handle all the customer support issues that may crop up after the holidays.

Besides, it may be a good idea to spend some time redoing your FAQ pages and the information on your customer self-service portal. Providing answers to customers’ questions without contacting customer support reduces the overall burden on your support team.

10. Blowing your budget on PPC ads too early in the season

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads are a great way to reach shoppers this holiday season. Platforms like Google AdWords allow you to put your website front-and-center when your customers are looking for holiday deals.

But the cost of PPC ads also tends to grow around the holidays. Some top search terms can double or even triple in price. If you’re not keeping an eye on your PPC campaigns, you could blow your budget early.

We recommend scaling back your usage of popular (and expensive!) search terms, and looking for long-tail keywords that are more cost-effective – and more likely to attract buyers. This will let you stretch your holiday PPC ad budget, and get more customers for less.

Treat this checklist as a to-do list

As you head into the 2019 holiday season, use this list of 10 mistakes as a checklist. But unlike other checklists, this one has no leeway. Sorry to be harsh, but the stakes are big here. You need to do every item on this list.

They’re not hard.

They’ll just take some time to set up.

But that time will be well spent.

Because you want your shoppers to be “well spent.”

Have a great holiday season!

October 9, 2019
October 22, 2019
September 26, 2019
Martina s.
October 16, 2019
Thank you for the useful post! I will definitely try these tips!
Polina Litreyeva
October 16, 2019
Hi, Martina! Thanks for your comment. We are glad to be helpful.
October 23, 2019
OMG, holidays are soo soon!
Polina Litreyeva
October 23, 2019
Hi, Bob! Yes, it’s time to prepare your store. :)
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