How to prepare your business for the holiday season

Adobe’s Retail Unwrapped Holiday 2018 analysis found that customers spent $125.91 Billion on holiday season shopping.

Undeniably, holidays are the most profitable time of the year for business. Come holidays, almost every business metric spikes up. The in-store footfalls, website traffic, average order value, the number of support tickets — every metric in between demo to post-sales service increases substantially.

So, it helps to prepare for the season proactively. It will help you cash in on the holiday season opportunity without crashing your business functions.

When should you start preparing for the holiday season?

When does the holiday season start? In the US, the holidays span from Thanksgiving until the New Year. That said, November and December months are crucial for seasonal sales.

However, the search for holiday gifts start as early as September. Google Trends shows that shoppers actually started searching for “Christmas gift ideas” beginning in September 2018 itself.

holiday season christmas gifts

So, it is ideal to start the prep for holiday season as early as August or September.

Here is a quick list of popular holidays that your business should prep for proactively.

October 2019November 2019December 2019
- Halloween : 31st October- Veterans day : 11th November

- Thanksgiving : 28th November

- Black Friday : 29th November
- Green Monday : December 9th

- Free shipping day : December 14th

- Cyber Monday : 2nd December

- Christmas : 25th December

- New year eve : 31st December

Now onto the tough part. How do you prepare your business to make the most of the opportunity?

How to prep your business functions for the holiday season

A business, although works as a single unit, is made up of multiple individual functions. Each function is unique like any individual. They work differently and hence need individual attention.

From the spooky Halloween until the feasty New Year, your sales, marketing, operations, accounting, customer support and IT admin teams should be well-prepared to handle the holiday rush.

Here is how each team can prepare the right way.

1) Sales

Not that you are not selling during rest of the year. But, selling during peak seasons like holidays takes a whole lot of planning and organizing. If done right, you can make enough profits that can keep your business afloat for the next year.

To begin with, decide which holidays your sales team should participate in. Then, go about creating sales campaigns for these holidays. Some must-do’s include:

Prepare seasonal sales collateral

Don’t wait until October or November to start preparing sales collateral. There is a huge possibility that your employees would go on leave, en masse. It is better that you start preparing sales collateral for field sales and remote sales team as early as possible. If you start early, it gives enough room to create customized collateral for the season.

Have a definite return policy for holiday sales

The sales numbers inflate impressively during the holiday period, unfortunately so do the return rates. UPS estimated more than one million returns per day leading up to Christmas. In 2017 alone, the value of gifts returned was $90 Billion!

So, it is recommended that you have a stringent return policy for holiday sales. It helps cut down on unnecessary costs for handling logistics for returned goods. Such a policy can be created by October and hosted on the company website so that customers are well aware of it even when planning for gifts.

2) Marketing

If there is one function which faces the maximum brunt of the holiday sales, it would be marketing. After all, every existing business on the planet would be ramping up their marketing efforts. So it is wise to try something new while sticking to the conventional marketing methods. After all, this is the era of content marketing. Blogs, emails, social media — the digital medium can give you great mileage, even more than offline marketing.

To prep your marketing efforts for the holiday season, begin with creating a promotional calendar. The calendar should chart when and how each of your promotions will be rolled out. Plug into that calendar different forms of content and their roll out dates. This will help you stay in control amidst all other mayhem.

Publish relevant blog posts

Blogs spread knowledge. Knowledge that will empower your customers to make the right buying decisions. Take for instance, gift buying guides. Blogs that can help customers make the right gift choices will be in great demand months before the season kicks in. A well-written buyer’s guide can also help customers make ideal choices thus resulting in lower returns.

The only catch with blogging is that you must start early. Your blogs should be published by August or as early as September so that they are indexed, ranked and start getting visits when customers start online searching by October or later.

Leverage email marketing

If you have a sizeable email list, email marketing can help swell your holiday season sales. Use it as a platform to retarget customers who abandoned carts, added products to wishlist but didn’t complete the order, have been searching for products but haven’t made the purchase yet. Sending holiday coupons, promo codes, special discounts, etc. through email can also help. Of course, the activities for all of this should commence as early September.

Conduct social media contests

Holidays are a great time to activate your brand’s presence in social media. A surefire way to maximize your social media presence is to run contests.

Here are some holiday contests ideas you can try:

  • Be-Santa-to-Someone Contest
  • Make-a-Wish Contest
  • Comment-and-Win Contest
  • Photo caption Contest
  • The best holiday selfie contest

Run retargeting ads

During the holiday season, customer sentiments to purchase will be running high. Deloitte’s 2018 retail survey found that 51% of users will buy gifts for themselves while shopping gifts for others. So how does it benefit your business?

Retargeting ads can help turn customers who had earlier abandoned carts into paying customers. You can use the season as an opportunity to mail them coupons, promo codes, special discounts, free shipping and so on that will entice them into buying something for themselves. Cumulatively, those extra sales can contribute to your bottom line. Sometimes, all it takes is a small nudge to make hesitant customers buy.

3) Accounting

Holiday sales can be quite stressful for the accounting department owing to the fact that it is closer to the year-end as well. There are accounting traditions that a business can follow to have stress-free holidays.

Follow Internal checklists

Inventory purchases, stock movements, sales, returns, vendor payments, charge backs, reversals — make sure there is a process and internal checklist laid down for each activity. This will help avoid errors and double work.

Streamline inventory management

You can sell only if you have inventory. If you give your customers a sorry statement of stock-out, they will bounce off to your immediate competitor. So, having enough stock for meeting holiday season demand is necessary.

Make use of deductible expenses

Did you know that sending out holiday gifts to employees is a deductible expense? You can get up to $25 per person per year (US IRS). Remember that the expense is deductible only if you manage to maintain proper records of the amount spent.

4) Operations

Ask anyone in the operations side of retail and they will agree that the supply chain is a beast that is hard to tame. Come holiday season, that beast turns a bit more ferocious. Weather, traffic, inventory shortage, labor shortage — there are too many risks that you must mitigate with proactive preparation.

Engage 3PL providers

Your customers could be shopping from a mobile phone, visiting the store directly or placing an online order and picking it up from the store directly. During the holiday season, orders could come from all directions. Your logistics team should be ready to tackle the omni-channel deliveries. Engaging third-party logistics providers for the holiday season can help ease the pressure on logistics.

Expand storage space

When orders pile up, the need for storage space will shoot up exponentially. You need additional space to house the inventory until it is time to deliver them. Renting/leasing warehouses to store inventory one quarter of a year is not a cost-effective solution. The best bet would be to have a network of vendors who can give you temporary storage space. It will also help you scale your storage space dynamically without having to lock up capital in unused space.

5) Customer support

There is no holiday season for customer service. It is a machine that a business can never shut down. Especially during the holiday season the machine must run double, if not triple shifts. Two good ways to prepare it to handle the oncoming rush of customer queries include:

Create a holiday-specific customer support system

Create a specific team that can handle holiday season customer support tickets. Configure your phone system with holiday routing to ensure that the calls are directed to support teams that are working during holidays.

Further, train the staff to answer specific questions about products/offers that are rolled out during the period. If that doesn’t sound feasible for your business, then a better shot would be to empower customers to help themselves. Create FAQs, user manuals, instructional videos, etc. that will help customers find solutions on their own.

IVR scripts with seasonal greetings

If your business has an IVR system, the first thing that they hear while getting connected to the IVR would be a welcome message. To spread the seasonal cheer and to make customers welcome, customize the IVR welcome script. If your phone system allows for it, you can also customize a language-wise welcome message for each region.

6) IT administration

For IT admins, the biggest concern during the holiday season should be the increase in online activity.

Prep up servers can handle holiday traffic

There is nothing more disastrous like your website crashing or throwing up random errors when it is getting maximum traffic. To be on the safer side, ramp your server capacity so that it can handle the torrent of traffic during the holidays. Conduct stress testing and add new hardware/software to ensure that you have enough bandwidth to handle the traffic volume.

Cyber security measures

According to the Carbon Black Holiday Threat Report, cybersecurity attacks spike up as much as 60% during the holiday season. The days following Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas experienced maximum security threats. The aftermath of a cyber security attack is obvious loss of data and still worse — negative market reputation.

So make sure your IT team ramps up the cyber security defenses way ahead of the holiday season. Some must-do tasks include setting up encryption for the website, running vulnerability assessments, making the website immune to Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and Man-in-the-middle attacks, etc.

In a nutshell

Holidays — they are so many things to so many people. But, for businesses they mean only one thing — more sales. To take your sales graph to new heights and to cash in on the holiday sentiment opportunity your business should be prepared. The preparation must begin way before the holiday season kicks in – at least months ahead so that there is enough room to make amends.

Illustrations by Nikhil Kanda.