25 Tips for eCommerce Holiday Planning

25 Tips for eCommerce Holiday Planning

In 2022, holiday retail sales were big business, with eCommerce sales growing 3.3% over 2021. eCommerce stores, in particular, get a bump in engagement and sales as shoppers rush to complete their holiday shopping at the end of December—or spend the holiday season avoiding the crowds and shopping from home on their phones.

No matter which market you cater to, planning is essential to get their attention, hold their attention, and fulfill their orders with a bow on top. That puts eCommerce holiday planning at the top of your to-do list—starting now.

We know the holiday rush is stressful. That's why we've gathered our top tips for online sellers. See what you can do now to set the foundation for your holiday sales, how to prep for the season, and how to keep the sales momentum going through the start of 2024.

eCommerce Holiday Planning Starts Now: 5 ASAP To-Dos

Christmas in July isn't just a marketing campaign; it's the start of the countdown to the main holiday season in winter. If you haven't started preparing for fall and winter sales, your competitors might already be ahead of you. Here are five tips to immediately start your holiday planning efforts.

1. Check Your Suppliers' Availability

Suppliers are gathering their materials and queueing up their fulfillment orders now. Reach out to your preferred suppliers and manufacturers as soon as possible to check their availability and their preferred deadlines for your orders. Make sure you reach every vendor you use: product suppliers, shipping service providers, and packaging companies (especially if you prioritize that luxe unboxing experience).

2. Find Backup Suppliers

Many of the supply chain issues that plagued the holiday shopping seasons of the past few years have been resolved. But if you've ever had that heartstopping call from a vendor who can't fulfill your order, you know how important flexibility is. Add a few backup vendors to your list. Know their pricing, timelines, and ability to comply with the fulfillment processes for your online storefronts.

3. Forecast Anticipated Holiday Shopping Demand

This is a tricky step, but it's a vital one. Industry experts are anticipating a 4.5% increase in holiday shopping from the 2022 cycle. So if you have data and analytics from last year, you can do the math and make sure your digital shelves are stocked. If your store is brand new or if you've seen a lot of growth and last year's data isn't helpful, know that holiday shopping accounts for approximately 30% of retail sales. More detailed analytics and forecasting tools can give you better breakdowns based on your industry or individual store performance.

4. Plan Your Marketing Budgets for Holiday-Related Campaigns

Holiday shopping is a critical time for every consumer-facing business (and most B2B ones), which means stores are vying for limited customer attention. You'll need to fight hard for both new audiences and repeat shoppers to notice your online store amidst all the noise. So take the time now to allocate the rest of your annual marketing budget to lead generation across your target market's most popular channels.

Related: Walmart Inventory Financing: Challenges & Options

Pro Tip: PPC ads will see a markup on popular keywords. So explore a diverse array of marketing options, including Sponsored Ads on Amazon and Walmart, content marketing, podcast ads, and everything in between.

5. Get Financing for Inventory, Marketing Ads, and Warehousing

eCommerce stores don't have to stick to conventional business loan options, credit cards, or low budgets. Consider financing through growth capital and merchant advance options. If you have a Shopify store or Amazon store, or if you're a Shopify seller, you can get funds based on your store's current and anticipated performance. Depending on the structure of the advance, you might have a fixed repayment obligation or repay the advance through a percentage of your incoming sales. 

Financing means you can reach customers and participate in the holiday shopping season without running out of savings or taking out risky loans. By starting your eCommerce holiday planning now, you can have the funds for your prep efforts or know exactly what to do during the holiday rush.

Jingle All the Way Through September: 10 Important Tasks Before the Start of the Holiday Shopping Season

Holiday shopping isn't underway yet, but you need to be ready to spring into action as soon as September ends. Consider these helpful tips along the way:

6. Get a Clear Read on Your Current Inventory Levels

Check your inventory, especially for the products you think will be popular purchases throughout the holidays. Not only do you need to know your aggregate inventory levels, but you also need to know how much is available in each of your distribution centers—especially if you use separate Amazon and Walmart fulfillment options alongside more generalized 3PLs.

7. Create Plans for the Two Biggest Holiday Risks: Surplus and Out-of-Stock Items

When holiday shopping starts in earnest, you won't have time to brainstorm solutions to complex problems. Develop plans for:

  • Surplus: What are you going to do if some of your holiday goods don't take off as planned? Can you sell them at a discount? Can you sell them after the holiday season?
  • Out-of-stock: The obvious answer is to order more. But you also need to be able to gray out out-of-stock options and communicate shortages to customers so there's minimal frustration or confusion.

8. Create Your Ads, Content, and Other Marketing Content

If you haven't already created all of your marketing materials, now is the time. This includes:

  • Product descriptions for holiday goods so you can upload and publish your product pages with just a click
  • Inserts for your packages
  • Email copy for shopping cart reminders, completed purchases, and delivery emails
  • Social media marketing messages
  • Ad copy for PPC and sponsored ads
  • Scripts for radio ads and podcast sponsorships

9. Decide What Promotions Are Best for Your Business and Customers

Calculate what types of promotions and holiday sales you can offer. Consider what products you can use as "loss leaders," how big of a discount you can offer while staying in the black, and how steeply you want to discount products on Black Friday or (for surplus goods) in the final days of the season.

10. Take a Second Look at Your Demand Generation and Demand Fulfillment Budgets

You may have already completed this step of your eCommerce holiday planning in July or August, but it pays to do it again near the end of September. You can also set calendar reminders to look at your budgets, anticipated spending, and financing channels in October, November, and December so you don't miss valuable opportunities.

11. Figure Out Your Shipping Timelines

Logistics will be one of the biggest challenges once holiday shopping kicks off. Reach out to your fulfillment centers to know the "deadline" for customer orders so they can reach their destination before December 24th. Also, become familiar with the deadlines published by major carriers like USPS and UPS.

12. Queue Up Your Holiday Shopping Email Campaigns

When online shoppers place an order, they want immediate engagement—thank you emails, emails about delivery times and shipping updates, the works. This is even more important during holiday shopping when last-minute shoppers are nervous about delays, or you have an opportunity to secure more sales with a post-purchase coupon. Set all these emails up now so you don't have to worry when holiday shopping really starts.

13. Start Ramping Up Inventory

Depending on the products you sell, you might have an extended order timeline. Alternatively, you may get most of your business in the first half of the holiday season. Carefully start increasing your order volumes and your inventory holdings during your eCommerce holiday planning stages.

14. See What Competitors and Influencers Are Up To

Gauge your current preparations by looking around the market. You might get some clever inspiration by glancing over at your competitors, or you might be reassured that you have different approaches to succeed with less friction. Also, see what popular influencers in your industry are doing: recipes, trends, or eco-friendly themes. Even though holiday advertising hasn't necessarily gone into full swing, these trending ideas will echo throughout the rest of the year.

15. Get Your Analytics Engines Started

If you don't already have your dashboards set up for easy demand generation and demand fulfillment tracking, put those tools together now. You and your team should know what reports, portals, and measuring tools you'll be using throughout the season. This puts everyone on the same page and prevents miscommunication.

Fa-La-La-La-Finish Line! Holiday Planning Season Is Over—Holiday Shopping Season Has Begun!

Once October makes its entrance, it's the full-time holiday shopping season. Finish up your eCommerce holiday prep work and transition to a focus on fulfillment with these tips:

16. Launch Your Campaigns Across All Your Channels

Hopefully, you've already set up your content in timed and automated channels. Now all you need to do is start the sequences, begin your PPC ad campaigns, and publish your seasonal product pages.

17. Continuously Monitor Inventory Levels and Refine Your Forecasts

No matter how much eCommerce holiday planning you do or what data you have from past years, every year is different. Remember—industry experts anticipate a 4.5% increase over 2022, but the markets are different now. So stay glued to your real-time analytics and metrics so you can place timely orders.

18. Consider All the Fulfillment Costs Before Promoting Sales and Discounts

Carefully calibrate all of your promotional pricing changes based on the true cost of fulfilling the order, not just the unit price of the product. Reaching new shoppers is just as important as increasing sales, but dipping too much into the red is dangerous.

Related: Tips for Using Financing to Scale Your Amazon Business

Pro Tip: This rule doesn't apply to seasonal goods you can never sell again. If they aren't taking off, offload them as strategically as possible—even as free gifts!

19. Communicate Shipping Deadlines to All Your Customers

Start telling your shoppers about the shipping deadlines you researched earlier. Communicate the deadlines via email to encourage more sales and stay top-of-mind. Also, list those deadlines in your ads and on your product pages so shoppers are never left guessing.

20. Make Sure You Have Enough Holiday Staff

Even if you don't have a brick-and-mortar store, you still need seasonal staff. Increase your team's hours, find seasonal experts, and don't let budget constraints stop you from having the staff you need to succeed—some finance options don’t put the money into strict spending buckets, so you can purchase what you need.

21. Have Some Financing Channels Ready for When Sales Kick Off

Speaking of financing, it's time to check your budgets again. A merchant advance now can get you over the hump through the end of the shopping season. At this point in the year, look for options that grant you the most flexibility so you can move quickly. Many banks and traditional lenders will be too busy (or on vacation) to help.

22. Monitor Your Marketing Results So You Can Make Timely Changes

The holiday season has back-to-back holidays and events. Set time aside so you can make sure each holiday-specific campaign comes to an end once the date passes. After all, you don't want to be wasting money on Black Friday ads on December 10th because of a missed click!

23. Iron Out Your Return and Exchange Policies

Unfortunately, every peak shopping season is followed up with holiday returns. Make sure your returns and exchange policies are clear and friendly. You don't want all of your hard work on lead generation to go sour at the start of 2024.

24. Start Launching Your New Year's Resolution Marketing Deals

There's no time for a break! As the big holiday season winds down, New Year's resolutions will start to take center stage. Begin queuing up your ads and products so you can immediately switch to the new focus without any holdover holiday jingles.

25. Always Over-Deliver, Never Over-Promise

This salient tip is evergreen. During your eCommerce holiday planning, attract attention with big promotions and exciting value propositions, but make sure your ad copy and inventory numbers match reality so no one is disappointed on Christmas morning.

Find the Right eCommerce Holiday Planning Partner All Season Long

Starting your eCommerce holiday planning in the summer sets your business on the right track for a profitable season. So does having access to flexible, low-cost financing. At Onramp, we provide flexible growth capital and merchant advances that are designed to help you buy what you need. And we only profit when you do—you pay back the advance when you make sales, not before. Reach out today and let us help you check financing off your store's holiday to-do list.