As we turn a page on the calendar, I find it hard to believe that the year is half over and that supermarkets jack up the price of hot dogs right before the July 4th holiday.
While most of our thoughts are on a three-day workweek, fireworks, the tank of propane you keep forgetting to pick up and whether or not someone is going to ask for a vegetarian burger, I’ve been thinking about something else – Christmas.
Before you start saying, “Scott, you’re a freak,” hear me out. In the eCommerce world, the latest you want to make any major changes to your website is September. Come October, you want your site to be in top-shape for the busy 4th quarter. That means, you have 90 days to get your site tuned-up and squeeze in a summer vacation.
While I don’t have a list of top vacation destinations to share with you, I do have a list of things you should be working on over the next three months in preparation for the biggest shopping season of the year:
- Store Redesign – If it’s been 18 months or more since you’ve given your site a facelift, now is the time to act. Stores that haven’t been redesigned in a while probably don’t have the latest conversion optimizing features installed, may not be using code designed to improve load time, may have a dated look that turns shoppers away and may not be using a layout that is easy to shop from. A design done today differs greatly from a design done two years ago, both on the front and back-end. If you’re considering a redesign, consider going with a responsive design that allows your site to be displayed perfectly across desktops, tablets and smartphones.
- Add Features – Just because you can’t afford a full redesign, doesn’t mean you can’t add some features your store may be missing. Consider mainstays such as social media sharing tools like AddThis, product reviews, cross-sell, up-sell and recommended product modules, and a favorite of mine – Scratch ‘n Save.
- Go Mobile – More and more people are shopping via their smartphone than ever before, and that trend is not expected to decrease. Forcing your mobile users to view your desktop site on their small screen phone, is a conversion killer. If you’re site is not responsive or you’re not serving a separate mobile version for these visitors, now is the time to consider doing so. Contact your shopping cart provider to see what mobile options are available for your store.
- Email Marketing – I’m often surprised at how many store owners do not take advantage of email marketing. This channel can be lucrative! An email two or three times a month is all you need to do to alert your customers to new products, a special sale, or a coupon they can use on their next order. Building your email marketing list now will ensure you have a nice base of subscribers you can email your holiday deals to in the 4th quarter.
- Socialize – Social media is where it’s at, and if you’re not there, you’re missing out. While social media isn’t the place for you to expect an immediate return on investment, it is the place for your to build rapport with your customers so when they’re looking for something you sell, your store is the first place they turn to. If you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ page for your business, get cracking – those three are a good place to start. Once you have them up and running, invite your customers to follow you to build your fan base. Post at least several times a week so you’re active and in front of your followers.
- Review Policies – Now is the perfect time to get rid of those tired, jump-through-hoops-for-me customer service policies you’ve been hanging on to for years. Look, competition is fierce and it’s betting harder and harder to bag a sale. Don’t turn customers away by having unfriendly policies designed to make your life easier because you don’t want to deal with returns or exchanges. Look at the policies of your competitors and others and adjust yours to be in the best interest of you and your customers.
- Get Service in Shape – If you normally have to beef up customer service or warehouse staff for the holiday, start planning when you’re going to need the help and how you’re going to train them. Have a training program ready to roll the day they start to ensure that when the busy season hits they’re able to answer customer questions, take orders and pick, pack and ship with accuracy. You’re going to get many new customers during the 4th quarter, so make sure you provide them with quality service that will make them come back in the new year. Good training and adequate staffing ensures a trouble free experience for you and your customers. If you can’t handle customer service in-house, consider outsourcing to a qualified call center – but start investigating them now.
- Check Inventory – The last thing you want displayed on your site is “out of stock” notices on your products. Start planning holiday inventory levels now and work with your suppliers to maintain stock at all times. Look at historical reports to anticipate sales spikes on individual items and stock them accordingly. If you have new items schedule to arrive and you anticipate them being hot movers, don’t get caught short by running out of new items during the holiday. Improper inventory management can ruin your business and lead to additional costs and customer frustration.
- Prepare Your Warehouse – Now would be a good time to get your warehouse ready to handle additional inventory and the influx of holiday orders. Check out my post on how to prepare your warehouse for the holiday rush and start planning.
Proper preparation can lead to a successful holiday season, but you can’t wait till the last minute to get your house in order. Use the next 90 days to put your nose to the grindstone to ensure that your trips to the bank in December will leave you smiling rather than weeping.