Yeah, it might be still summer but you have to start preparing for the busy Christmas period right now! I was going to put a load of statistics in this bit about how Christmas sales are rising every year but come on, you know it is! More and more people are buying online than ever before. This is exactly why you have to start getting ready now as you could lose out on many sales if you aren’t ready for it! Below I’ve listed 3 ways that your business can get prepared for Christmas.
1) STOCK UP (GET EVERYTHING YOU NEED WHILE YOU CAN)
Probably the most important thing that you don’t want to get wrong. Buying stock at the right time can be crucial. Imagine that you hit the last week in November and your best sellers completely sell out. Then you ring up your wholesaler and they have a 2-week waiting time for those products, or even worse, they’ve sold out too! Devastating! It goes without saying that you can’t make sales unless you’ve got the product there to sell, so it’s important to prepare and keep up with your stock levels over the Christmas period.
However, for some small businesses, finding funds to buy the additional stock before the Christmas period can be a struggle. This is why you have to start planning right now. If you have no way of putting aside funds for buying extra stock, then I would suggest the following 5 things.
1) Selling some of your slow moving stock in bulk. (Try uploading job lots to eBay)
2) Putting on a sale to get rid of old stock. (Make sure that this is a quick weekend sale as there will be more sales coming over the Christmas period)
3) Asking your suppliers for a 30 days account. (This means you get the stock and then have 30 days to pay the invoice)
4) Speaking to your bank about a business overdraft, loan or credit card. (Overdrafts are a quick option. Loans and credit cards can take a while to get sorted)
5) Find anything that you don’t need anymore and sell it. (Old computers, excess stock and anything else you can find)
One thing to watch out for is ordering too much seasonal stock. The last thing you want is a warehouse full of Christmas stock in January. If you have great cash flow and storage facilities, then it’s not really a big problem as you can just save it till next Christmas but like most businesses, cash flow and warehouse space are two precious things that a business needs.
If you have already been through a Christmas period with your business, then the best bit of advice would be to really analyse what worked and what didn’t work for you last time. What items sold best? What didn’t sell? What delivery issues did you have? If you don’t have any previous experience and this is your first Christmas period, then try starting with researching what stock would sell best in your market at Christmas time. If you’re in the clothing business, then you wouldn’t buy a load of shorts, you would buy winter stock like jumpers and even Christmas related stock. If you are really unsure or have too much choice, then talk to your suppliers as they will know what products sell best at this busy time.
2) HIRE ADDITIONAL STAFF (IF YOU HAVE BIG PLANS)
You could have all the stock and all the customers in the world but if you don’t have the staff to help then your business will suffer. At Christmas time people are more stressed than ever when it comes to online shopping. If you can’t deliver on time, then you will more than likely lose that customer forever. A lot of businesses forget that people like to receive their orders in time so that they can be organised. Not everyone wraps their gifts on Christmas Eve you know!
I get it you know, you’re reluctant to hire extra staff as you don’t know how busy you’re going to be. Especially if this is your first Christmas in business. But I can tell you now that if you’re trying to get sales at this time of year and you have the right amount of stock then you will get busy. At Christmas time people get snapped up by better-prepared rivals so make sure you start looking now. I would suggest that if you are unsure about how much help you will need then get someone who can work part time whenever you need them. But be wary of your legal responsibilities as an employer of temporary staff.
3) PLAN YOUR MARKETING & PROMOS (EMAILS, DISCOUNTS, SOCIAL)
When it comes to the busy Christmas period you won’t have any time to think of what’s next. You need to plan every month. While you’re at it, plan January. Get those January sales planned out. In my opinion, January is the last stage of the busy Christmas period. Especially the first week or two. People have money to spend and are on the hunt for January sales. You need to join the sheep and put your items in the sale. You can be selective though, I usually try and get rid of most of the winter stock in January at a cheap price.
Anyway, going back to Christmas. You need to plan and then implement what you have planned. So what do I mean by this? You need to plan if you’re wanting to send out a festive email to your subscribers. Once you’ve planned it you then need to implement it and design the email so that it’s ready to be sent out. (Can’t design? Don’t worry, take a look at peopleperhour.com) Same applies to any discounts you are wanting to do. Plan what it is that you want to add to the sale, how long will it be in the sale for? What discount to give the customer?
Okay, now I’m going to make it even easier for you. I’ll provide you with information that I still use now to plan my online business for the busy Christmas period. We sell on ASOS, arguably the largest fashion site in the world, if we aren’t prepared then it would detrimental to our business. I remember not planning one year and it was such a stressful 3 months. You are quite literally just taking a stab in the dark if you don’t plan. I ran out of stock completely at the start of November. To make matters worst, our main supplier went bust and I could not get hold of any stock from them. I had no backup plan and having to ring new suppliers who had no trust in me was a real problem. I paid top dollar for everything, had no 30-day invoices and also had no idea what the quality of the stock was going to be like. As you can imagine it was a very expensive and stressful Christmas. I made sure that the year after I planned everything I wanted to do and how I was going to implement it.
This is when the research starts. I usually take a look at what worked last year. That could be anything from what product lines did the best to what promotions got the most conversions. If you have nothing to look back on then I would suggest talking to your suppliers and finding out what products sell best at Christmas time. Another tip would be to use Google Trends to see when people start to search for Christmas related gifts in your category and find out when they start to peak. I used the Google Trends tool to search for toys. As you can see below, every year from October it starts to peak and then starts to drop again when hits December.
After the basic research, I then start to put more of a solid plan together. I don’t spend too much time writing in depth plans about every single step I need to make as it will take too long. I tend to just write points with small plans under them. Below are some bullet points including areas that I plan followed by an example image from my Christmas plan last year. As you can see it’s nothing fancy and just a very basic plan for me.
- What promotions or sales I want to run.
- What emails I want to send out to my customers.
- What social media posts I will be doing.
- What adverts I will run via social and PPC.
- What blog content I need to create.
- What website content I need to create. From landing pages to promotional pages.
- What offline marketing and advertising I need to create.
- CHECK EVERYTHING
After the planning stage and just before the implementing stage I would check that everything is working. I don’t just mean checking if your site is live. Here’s a quick list of things that I check for before moving onto the next step.
- Are my staff happy? (The last thing you want is someone to leave at the busiest time of year)
- Is our stock system up to date? (You don’t want someone buying something that you don’t have in)
- Is our courier service planning any changes that could affect my dispatch team? (When is the last day they pickup for Christmas etc?)
- Is every single part of my website working as good as it should be? (How long does it take to check out on my site? Is there too many steps?)
- Is my mobile site just as good as my desktop site? (Is my mobile site as fast as my desktop site?)
- Do my suppliers have enough stock of my best sellers? (What if my supplier doesn’t have what I want?)
- Do I have enough cash flow aside to fund more stock and advertising? (I need to know how much I can afford to spend on stock and advertising)
- TIME TO START
Okay, it’s time start rolling out everything that you have been planning. Although for a lot of people it’s still nowhere near Christmas, most people like to be prepared way before Christmas officially starts. Google found that over a quarter of Christmas shoppers get their shopping sorted before Halloween. So, trust me when I say… Start now.
- GET SOME DISCOUNTS OUT THERE
Focus on getting out there to more people via social media and gathering more emails. Offer people 10% off their first order in return for their email or a Facebook like or maybe even run a competition on Instagram to get people’s attention. The more people you can reach in the next two months is more important than any other time of year.
- GET THE IMPORTANT CONTENT READY
Start creating your social media posts, emails, blog posts. The more you do now the less you have to do later on. You also might not have the time later on. Remember that you can schedule Facebook posts weeks in advance and you can share those posts via Twitter and Instagram too.
- MAKE SURE EVERYTHING IS ONLINE
By this stage, you need to make sure that all your stock you want online is uploaded and ready to go. Really this should have been done before but at this stage, this is your last opportunity to maximise sales.
- KEEP PEOPLE INTERESTED
During the busiest time of the Christmas shopping period, competition is fierce. Now is the time to boost your adverts and reach out to any customers that have bought off you in the past with any special deals you have planned.
- GET READY FOR BLACK FRIDAY (24th) & CYBER MONDAY (27th)
On the 24th of November it’s black Friday and on the 27th of November, it’s Cyber Monday. The two busiest days of the year for online businesses. If you aren’t prepared for these dates, then you will miss out on a lot of sales. I would prepare for these dates by making sure that I have all my promotions and adverts ready to go. I would make sure that all my products are ready to buy and that my site is ready for the extra traffic. The last thing you want is a website that crashes when people are trying to buy your products.
- HAVE ONE LAST PUSH AT FULL PRICE
When it gets deeper into December people are usually leaving it a bit late for Christmas presents. Even though a lot of people are still on the lookout for bargains there is more chance this month than any other month that people will be fine with paying the full price as long as they get the item on time. I found that offering a free next day delivery service all the way up to Christmas Eve is a real selling point. I usually don’t put anything into a sale until Boxing day.
- MAKE IT CLEAR WHEN THE LAST SHIPPING DATES ARE
I’ve learned this the hard way by some very unhappy customers. My first Christmas in business I had made a good amount of sales and there was a couple that I didn’t send till later on in December and they didn’t get there till after Christmas. As you can tell the customers were very unhappy. Always make it clear when your last shipping pickup is. DO NOT promise something that is out of your control.
- GET READY FOR THE JANUARY SALES
Even though this post is about getting ready for Christmas I would say that the January sales are the last stage of the Christmas rush. It’s a great opportunity to get rid of any surplus stock by putting on a sale. You don’t want all that winter stock just sitting there in your warehouse right? Hopefully, you would have already planned the kind of January sale you want to have in terms of discount.
KEY DATES FOR CHRISTMAS 2017
- 24th of November – Black Friday
- 27th of November – Cyber Monday
- 20th of December – Last posting day for 2nd class.
- 21st of December – Last day for 1st class.
- 23rd of December – Last day for Special & Next Day delivery.
In summary, make sure that you plan way in advance. Find out what the key to a successful Christmas is. Is it buying the right kind of stock or just being super consistent? What ever it is that works, keep doing it. Don’t take any huge risks, especially financial. Keep your common sense hat on. Just because your supplier is saying that you should buy one million Christmas hats doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for your business. (Remember they want to have a good Christmas too). The last bit of advice would be to just do what you’re good at and try not to over think all of this. It’s quite basic really, just don’t over sell the whole Christmas thing. I would recommend not having floating snow on your site, not turning all your banners red and to not go over the top with it. The customers are there to buy your products, remember that!