The Complete Timeline for 2018 Holiday Ecommerce Planning

6 Min Read
Mike Sole

While the retail industry continues to see a shift in holiday shopping behavior, sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas can still be a make-or-break situation for merchants. Black Friday used to be about waiting in line and snagging the best in-store deal. Over the years, however, online shopping has taken a stronghold in the market

NRF reported that holiday sales in 2017 increased by 5.5 percent, exceeding expectations. Online and other non-store sales experienced an even higher increase of 11.5 percent over the previous year.

If your business is striving to see similar results this season, strategizing well ahead of time is key. This calendar can help ensure that you’re making the best possible use of your resources during this crucial time of the year.

August: Evaluate Your Auto-Scaling Environment

Take time to review your website performance and prepare for increased site traffic. Poor site speed can lead to lower conversion rates on websites as well as on mobile apps. Use last year’s metrics as a gauge for understanding when and how your customers conduct their end-of-year shopping.

High loads are easier to handle for retailers that use auto-scaling. With the push of a button, more servers can be added to handle a load increase. Ensure that is all set up and well tested before the holiday season begins.

September: Get to know your customers. Really.

At Corra, we find that even mature brands are having difficulty understanding their data and, more importantly, their main audience. You can’t engage your customers if you don’t know them, and determining how to best influence the purchase behavior of your buyer personas should be an ongoing effort.

Taking a look back at 2017, we identified some successful tactics our clients have used to pinpoint areas for potential improvement. Combined with other testing methodologies, qualitative UX testing has proven particularly successful in uncovering the “why” behind every interaction, leading to improved experiences that delivered increased sales and greater brand loyalty.

For example, when redesigning Beyond Yoga’s storefront, Corra used qualitative UX testing to validate its new taxonomy and navigation approach. Through our research, we determined that the best way to elevate the brand and communicate its body-positive manifesto was to divide the primary navigation into two components — the shopping experience and the brand storytelling experience. After launch, Beyond Yoga continued to implement new design enhancements that better targeted their customers in preparation for a successful holiday season, and adopted an Agile approach for rapid and continuous delivery of high-quality development.

Now, priorities are started, completed, and then evaluated in 2-week segments to avoid fire drills, meet a set budget, and deliver on the scope.

High impact enhancements like a Gift Guide page were completed in time for an incredibly successful Cyber Monday, leading a year-over-year 103 percent revenue increase and 138 percent conversion rate boost on Cyber Monday 2017.

Ensuring that your marketing aligns with customer behavior can work in your favor as well. Do you have products that shoppers like to research ahead of time? Use optimization and personalization tactics to get those details out there and shorten the time it takes for them to convert from researcher to buyer. Each shopper has different needs and behaviors, and keying in on these behaviors can vastly improve site experience — and in turn, your revenue.

October: Implement a code freeze

By October, your site should be ready to handle the peaks of the upcoming busy season. Once October hits, you don’t want to be making any major changes that could risk slowing down or breaking your site during the critical sales period. Also, don’t forget to share a calendar of your upcoming marketing initiatives (including big sales, offers, or promotions) with your support partners to allow them to monitor specific events on certain dates. It’s also worth thinking about some extreme scenarios. What if a promotion goes viral? A great opportunity could turn into a big risk when a site crashes.

October can also be a good time to ensure you’re using every tool available to integrate your holiday marketing campaign across digital and brick-and-mortar channels (if that applies). After all, your customers will expect the same fluid, quality experience whether they’re shopping online or off.

November 1-21: Build excitement and capture early sales

Early November is the time for grabbing shoppers’ attention through marketing efforts. Consumers generally eat up sneak peeks of the hottest holiday sales items in content formats like holiday gift guides and leaked holiday sales ads.

This time can also be used to capture early sales by offering discounts on specific items or categories. Stores are beginning to extend the holiday sales period to before Thanksgiving, and this practice doesn’t seem to adversely affect post-Thanksgiving sales. Retailers can harness the excitement customers are beginning to feel for the holiday shopping season.

November 22: Thanksgiving night

When Black Friday sales began moving to the wee hours of the morning, brick-and-mortar stores started to open their doors on Thanksgiving night to edge out the competition. However, after some backlash, many stores reversed this policy, and now several retailers even make a point of saying they will not be open on Thanksgiving.

This is where online merchants have a strong edge. Nobody faults an online store for having sales available on Thanksgiving night. Families can stay together and enjoy a relaxing day at home while also taking advantage of the hot holiday deals. This is a time when ecommerce focuses on sitewide sales, limited-time discounts, and holiday and gift-themed items.

November 23: Black Friday

68.3% of online shopping carts are abandoned before a purchase is completed; however, despite the effectiveness of abandoned cart emails, less than a third of major US merchants send cart recovery emails.

While consumers wake up to inboxes bursting with promo emails, creative cart abandonment programs can help retailers stand out from the crowd through highly personalized messages.

For example, Corra’s client Sigma Beauty leveraged Listrak to implement a Browse and Abandon solution. 90 minutes after shoppers leave the site, they receive a message with the subject line, “take another peek!”. The email features a large image of the browsed product with a button making it simple to return to the page, as well as three “you might also like” products based on items frequently purchased with the browsed item. The strategy led to a 34% open rate and a conversion rate 24.63% higher than regular marketing messages.

To drive even more traffic, you can also strategically time your deals to kick in before competitors’ deals. “We’ve seen an ongoing trend with retailers jumping the gun on the Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend”, notes Scott Zakrajsek on Shopify. “Sneak peeks hit inboxes a little sooner… then a steady pulse of promotions, countdowns, and deals until the final days before Christmas.”.

November 26: Cyber Monday

The Monday after Thanksgiving is considered by some to be the official beginning of the online holiday shopping season. In 2017, more than 81 million people shopped online during Cyber Monday, according to the NRF.

Retailers wishing to be noticed from amidst the plethora of products and brands pitched that day must be prepared with a three-pronged attack that includes extraordinary deals, super effective messaging, plus a powerful website that can handle huge traffic volumes, mobile check-out, and lightning-fast check out.

Consider marketing tactics such as flash sales, free shipping, double rewards, rewards for customers who pass on your messaging to friends and family, charity giveaways, social media contests, and/or abandoned cart emails. You can also optimize mobile conversions via text messages, push notifications from apps, click-to-call, and one-click checkout features. Finally, don’t forget to target customers differently depending on whether they’re new or tried-and-true.

December 14: Shipping Deadline

Some retailers offer free shipping on this day, and that can be a big deal to consumers. Last year, 48 percent of U.S. customers named free shipping and promotions as key factors in their buying decisions over the holiday season.

Though the date isn’t set in stone, the deadline for guaranteed delivery by Christmas should be well advertised on your site so that customers feel a sense of urgency to place their orders.

Reminder emails, countdown clocks on your landing pages, one-click checkout, and/or messaging during checkout can help ensure timely orders. To beat the competition, you could also eliminate minimum purchase requirements for free shipping on this day, and/or offer free upgrades to next-day delivery.

December 22: Super Saturday

There are always shoppers who wait until the last minute, and with Super Saturday falling so late this year, gifts can’t be shipped in time for Christmas. Still, in a 2017 NRF survey, 53 percent of consumers said they planned to continue shopping as late as Super Saturday.

That means the best option for ecommerce retailers is likely to focus on digital gift cards that a buyer can receive and/or send immediately.

Post-Christmas: Sales and gift cards

Don’t forget about attracting customers and boosting profits through post-holiday sales. Last year the New York Times reported that the day after Christmas was likely the fourth busiest shopping day of 2017. Remind your customers to use those gift cards with emails, landing page messages, and digital ads.

Corra can help you prepare for the most profitable season and implement high-impactful tactics that drive results. Would like to learn more? Contact us today!

Mike Sole

Mike Sole is Director of Support at Corra. Mike has 30 years of IT experience, and has worked with companies such as Xerox and Times Mirror. He also has over 8 years of experience in Agile development and has implemented the Agile methodology that Corra utilizes in the TotalCare program.

Corra, a Publicis Sapient company, is the global commerce leader and SI helping brands and organizations grow by evaluating, building, and optimizing their digital commerce ecosystems. Our vast experience with composable and headless implementations speeds time-to-value and provides technical freedom to our clients. Our TotalCare managed services program provides gold-standard support, enhancements and ongoing commerce strategy. We are strategic thinkers, accomplished engineers, and award-winning experience designers. We believe outstanding customer experiences can’t exist without flawless technology, and that flawless technology is pointless without beautiful, human-centered design. Our clients are an integral part of our team. Together, we remove the obstacles that are limiting growth and discover new opportunities. We don’t rest until our clients achieve their full potential. Our clients’ KPIs are our KPIs. We have 20 years of experience in commerce technology, but we also know that customer expectations are constantly evolving. For this reason, we’ve built future-proof solutions and refined an agile execution process that helps our clients achieve more with less. As a Publicis Sapient company, Corra joins a global network spanning 20,000 people with 53 offices around the world enabling us to accelerate our clients’ businesses through designing and building the experiences and services their customers demand.

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