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The Ultimate Holiday Checklist for E-Commerce Success

by Justin Palmer - November 5th, 2010

I’m making the list, be sure to check it twice to ensure success for your e-commerce website this holiday season.

Offer Bounce Back Discounts: Your site will be flooded with traffic this holiday season. How can you harness that traffic to create year long business? Consider offering a good discount incentive for customers to come back and shop in January. You can automatically email them a coupon after each order, or send one along with the package. Don’t forget to email and remind customers to come back and use their discounts.

Loosen Up & Emphasize Your Return Policy: While a 30 day return policy is commonplace for the rest of the year, it may scare off early shoppers during the holidays. Make it clear to your visitors that you will accept returns and exchanges on all Christmas gift purchases. Be sure to let visitors know early and often about your policy, such as on product pages and the shopping cart.

Review Past Failures & Successes: Try this as you plan your busy holiday season. Take a look at you and your competitor’s website’s through the lens of the Wayback machine. What worked and didn’t work last year? What can you improve upon?

Communicate with Fulfillment & Customer Service: Don’t surprise your customer service and fulfillment staff with a unplanned for 24 hour blowout sale. (I’m talking from experience :) ). Taking 10,000 orders in a day is great, but if your warehouse can only ship 1,000, you’re in trouble. Work with your operations team in order to smooth out the volume spikes. One company I work for emails promotional offers to their customers by region, over a 2 week time period. This ensures that not everyone gets the offer at once, resulting in too many orders to fulfill in too short of time.

Use a Website Monitoring Service: Odds are, your website will go down at least once during the busy holiday season. If you’re not big enough to have a 24 hour IT department monitoring your server, signup for a website monitoring service such as Alertsite, who will email or text message you if your site goes down.

Put All New Web Development on Hold: December is not the time to be re-coding your shopping cart. Send your developer on a much needed vacation. Well, not really, but do put a temporary hiatus on all major web development projects. The 4th quarter is the time to optimize, not innovate.

Post Shipping Cut-off Dates Prominently: This is quite possibly the most important information to communicate to customers during the holidays. Check with your shipping carriers to determine what the cutoff days are for the various methods of shipping. As you get closer to Christmas, consider offering discounted priority shipping services to extend your selling period.

Do a Security Once-Over: Hackers don’t take time off for the holidays, in fact they probably work even harder. For this reason, have a professional audit your website for security flaws. Services like McAfee’s Scan Alert do a good job at detecting most eCommerce vulnerabilities.

Monitor those 404 and 500 Errors: Talk with your webmaster and ask him to setup a script that notifies him every time a 404 (page not found) or 500 (internal server error) occurs on your site. You might be surprised how often errors occur. When we set this up for one of my clients, they received over 1,000 errors in one day. These errors can be costly, especially at Christmas time.

Allow Gift Receipts: Gift givers hate revealing how much they spent on a gift. Make sure you allow customers to click a Gift receipt option that will hide the prices on the packing list from the recipient.

Allow Gift Messages: Let your customers add a personal message to their gift. For simplicity, you can have the message appear on the packing list which will already be included in the box.

Holiday Graphical Themes: Show some holiday spirit and redesign some of the artwork on your site with a holiday theme. Hopefully, this will get visitors in a buying mood.

Get Creative with your Creative: Every email blast you send doesn’t have to offer a discount or promotion. Consider sending out a gift guide or a Top 10 gift lists.

Promote your Wish List Feature: Start promoting your wish list feature, encouraging customers to share these wish list’s with family and friends.

Increase Server Capacity: Talk with your web host about how you can increase your server performance during the holiday rush. You don’t want to end up like Walmart or Amazon on  cyber Monday. Here’s a sad, but funny example of Macy’s servers getting overloaded.

Checkup on your Domain, Web hosting, SSL and Merchant Accounts:Letting your domain name expire mid-December will create a Christmas you’ll never forget. It’s not a bad idea to double check that your web hosting, SSL certificates, domains, and merchant account to ensure everything is all in order.

Audit Your Product Catalog: Have a detail oriented person visit each of your product pages to ensure accuracy. Check for typos, broken images, and bad hyperlinks. Small problems turn into big problems in the chaos of a busy Christmas season.

Seasonal SEO and PPC Landing Pages: Don’t forget to optimize your SEO and PPC campaigns for seasonal keywords. Visitors searching habits change around the holidays, so your marketing strategy should as well. Also, don’t fall into the trap of bidding wars, or allowing your ads to fall too low on the page.

Offer Online Gift Certificates: If your site doesn’t offer online gift certificates, and your visitors don’t find that perfect gift, they will just leave. Gift certificates make great last minute gifts. In addition, they’re a great way to drive sales at the beginning of next year.

Suggest Gifts by Person: Product category based navigation does little to help a frustrated gift giver find an idea for that hard to shop for person on their list. To help generate gift ideas, organize gifts intended for different people groups such as kids, teens, parents, grandparents, etc.

Suggest Gifts by Price: In addition, organize gifts for budget conscience customers by price range. For example, highlight gifts under $10, 25, 50, 100 or whatever price points are appropriate for your business. Be sure to highlight low cost products that would make good stocking stuffers. These can be a great way to increase your average order value.

Bundle Products: Gift selection is much easier when related items are grouped together in some sort of gift basket or bundle. You can add value to your customer’s experience by simplifying the gift buying process through product bundling.


Offer Gift Wrapping: Many don’t like the idea of sending gifts to friends or family wrapped in nothing but bubble wrap or Styrofoam popcorn. If you can, offer gift wrapping services to your online customers. Be sure to charge enough to cover the labor and material costs for this additional service.

Emphasize Urgency: Let your customers know it’s not safe to wait until the last minute. To prevent shipping issues or product stock outs, encourage your customers to shop early.

Mystery Shop your Site: Ask a friend to mystery shop your site or hire a professional service. Mystery shopping should include ordering, contacting customer service, and returning the product back to you. You might be surprised to learn about a few problems.

Need an outside perspective on how you can maximize your site’s holiday sales? Here’s one final self promotional tip :) Checkout Palmer Web Marketing’s 3 Things or MySitePlan website review services.

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5 Responses to “The Ultimate Holiday Checklist for E-Commerce Success” by Justin Palmer

  1. Ann Michaels & Associates, Ltd. Says:

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing it. It couldn’t come at a better time when everything you read talks about increased customer shopping online this year more than ever before because of the economy.

    As President of a mystery shopping firm, I can tell you first hand how powerful this exercise is in getting a clear picture of your online operations. We offer recorded phone calls as well as picture uploads that are directly uploaded in the survey. It is amazing what we see! The fees involved for this are much lower than an onsite shop as well, so it is good all the way around.

    Excellent advice!~

  2. Bloggers Digest 11/14/08 | Get Elastic Says:

    [...] You can be successful this holiday despite the doom and gloom — Justin Palmer presents a checklist for holiday ecommerce success. [...]

  3. Kaila K Says:

    Justin – this is a great post! Really interesting and informative. Fascinating point that shoppers’ search habits change during the holidays. Do you have any examples?

    Going with your point about showing some holiday spirit and redesigning some of the artwork on your site with a holiday theme, I would suggest that websites tread carefully here should they have global customers. Not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same way across cultures (many not even at all).

    There are ways to customize e-marketing for each culture but it takes time. We’ve written some tips on how to do this if you’re interested:

  4. eCommerce Australia - Mitash Says:

    A great post! Must read for anyone running an ecommerce website. It certainly makes a huge difference if you can prepare your store for the christmas season.

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