Preparing Your Online Business for Christmas 2016


A cautionary note on Christmas:

Across retail you often hear retailers talk about people moving home and/or having a new child as 2 key opportunities to attract new customers – the logic here is that customers are more exploratory, are shopping for items generally unknown to them and are open to new experiences when preparing for these 2 key life events. The logic here is absolutely correct and has tonnes of data to back it up!

I am a strong advocate that Christmas is another such opportunity. Christmas is a gifting season and gifting by its very nature involves people shopping for items that they might not normally shop for. This is a huge opportunity for you as a retailer to expose lots of new customers to your shopping experience and grow your customer base — giving you not only bumper sales for Christmas but also, and more importantly for the future success of your growing business, HUGE growth momentum for the entire following year.

Christmas also has 1 more key thing in common with people purchasing for moving home and/or having a new child – that is that people are VERY emotionally invested in their purchase. When a customer purchases a Christmas gift it is usually as a gesture of friendship, love, appreciation etc… As a retailer this really brings into focus the importance of getting your service absolutely spot on because, as much as it is true to say that Christmas is a huge opportunity for retailers, if not properly prepared for (staffing, stock, freight, technology etc…) you can very quickly see a huge opportunity turn into a huge fail that can kill momentum for the following year and make for a very challenging late December/early January full of massively disappointed customers – hint** remember the emotional nature of the purchase decision and remember a time when you bought a Christmas gift for a loved one and were let down by a retailer…


About the customer:

The customer is the centre

When I think about Carroll’s Irish Gifts e-Channels, I see us as primarily a customer service company. The fact that we sell Irish Gifts is in many ways a minor factor in our customer service experience.  I try to use this vision to focus the decisions that I make and that my team emulate. Remember to put the customer front and centre in everything that you do.

4 key customer requirements/needs

Your 4 key customer requirements/needs are:

  • reliable and functioning website
  • available stock
  • delivery as per your stated delivery times
  • available and knowledgeable customer support

**if you do these 4 things correctly for your customers you shouldn’t go too wrong.


Planning — Expect the best case scenario and prepare for this:

Keep honest Christmas notes every year and use them

  • What worked and what did not work last year?
  • What products came under pressure?
  • Could you have reacted better/differently?
  • What will you do this year to prevent the same from re-occurring?
  • Look at your dispatch metrics (exchanges, returns, damaged items)
  • Your different e-Channel metrics (website(s), Amazon, eBay etc…)
  • You should have logged major customer support issues/trends in your Christmas notes and these should have already been dealt with, but, if you haven’t, you need to do this and ensure these trending issues don’t re-occur


Look at last year’s Analytics

  • Look at the traffic and sales increases you achieved in Christmas 2015
  • Look at conversion and abandonment
  • Look at top and worst performing pages
  • Look at the effectiveness of Christmas home page callouts and other key messaging
  • Look at marketing performance, CPA, ROI, conversion rate, device and country performance
  • Look at newsletter frequency, open rates, click through rates, conversion rates
  • Look at search bar performance, track popular search terms for last Christmas, search bar conversion rates
  • Look at this year’s current performance metrics


Plan stock requirements and source Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals

  • Look at what items sold in 2015 over the Christmas Period
  • Forecast key sellers for Christmas 2016
  • Pick the products you want to really push over Christmas and negotiate volume discounts with suppliers
  • Liaise with suppliers to secure Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals **ensure these are deep discounts of a minimum 50% off. The key is quality over quantity – it’s better to have a small number of exciting offers rather than a large number of boring offers
  • Forecast Christmas 2016 sales (make sure to highlight key dates e.g. Black Friday, your busiest day, your busiest week)


Staffing, resources & technology plan

  • Plan staffing and rosters (plan staffing through to end of January not just end of December)
  • What is your maximum dispatch output per FTE staff?
  • What volume of customer support increases are you expecting?
  • Is your current technology capable of handling your forecasted increases?
  • Remember the 4 key customer requirements/needs. The better you are at the first 3 the less customer support will be required


Dispatch areas and freight planning

  • Do you have enough space in your dispatch area to handle the forecasted increased volume of orders?
  • Re-train dispatch staff on the importance of speed and accuracy
  • Ensure dispatch staff are well drilled on how to prevent breakages (remember that bubble wrap is not the cheapest packaging material so usage needs to be appropriate)
  • Also training on proper wrapping/product presentation procedures (remember that a lot of these purchases are gifts!)
  • Bulk order boxes, bubble wrap, void filling paper, tape, paper, shipping labels etc… (remember that all of these are in huge demand from your suppliers over Christmas so order early and often to be sure you do not risk running out of these)
  • Get your freight companies open/close dates (Saturday collections/deliveries?)


Marketing plan

  • Identify key dates for 2016 (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday also remember to add YOUR busiest days from last Christmas)
  • Develop a marketing calendar through to the end of January not just until end of December
  • Include all marketing activities e.g. PPC, e-Mail marketing, Facebook, Twitter, Blog articles, SEO, re-targeting campaigns etc…


Have Christmas kick-start meetings with key stakeholders

  • Directors
  • Buyers
  • Operations and HR
  • Marketing
  • Your eCommerce team


Pre-load as much Christmas marketing and Christmas website content as possible

  • Website content can be created in advance and either pre-loaded or just uploaded as per the marketing calendar
  • Email marketing campaigns, Facebook posts, blog articles etc… can be created and scheduled
  • Other marketing activities like PPC, re-targeting etc… can also be created ahead of time
  • The key thing here is to get all the heavy lifting done well ahead of time so that you are simply monitoring and tweaking these marketing initiatives during the busy selling dates
  • Remember you want your team to focus on the 4 key customer requirements/needs



Here in Carroll’s Irish Gifts we are certainly extremely excited about Christmas 2016. By documenting our Christmas experiences internally and using regular, open communication we get better at Christmas retail every single year. Hopefully your sales exceed your forecasts, if they do, don’t let this positive turn into a negative — communicate openly and regularly with key stakeholders — be flexible and adaptive across your business. Remember to thank staff for all the hard work – they are the engine room of your successful Christmas!!

I hope the above article acts as a useful guide for all of my fellow retailers, particularly those operating in the eCommerce space. Best of luck to you all for Christmas 2016 — I hope you use this Christmas season to create a hugely positive customer experience and to catapult growth into 2017!

Brian Howe, Carroll’s Irish Gifts

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