The Essential Guide to Holiday Season Promotions for E-Commerce Stores

Oct 9, 2015 by Lina Vashurina, Ecwid Team
Posted Oct 9, 2015 by Lina Vashurina, Ecwid Team

602 billion dollars.

That’s how much money US consumers spent on the winter holidays last year.

For retailers, there’s no better season to be in business than the holiday season. As summer fades into fall, and fall into winter, shoppers splurge thousands of dollars on holiday gifts and goodies.

A good outing in the months of November and December can make or break a store.

How can your eCommerce store take advantage of this holiday season? How should you plan your promotions, emails and discounts to maximize sales? What are the best promo channels for your store?

This post will give you all the answers you need.

The Holiday Season at a Glance

Perhaps you’re still on the fence about doing a blitzkrieg of promotions for the holiday season.

In that case, take a look at this chart:

Holiday sales in percentage

That’s the total consumer spending on all holidays in the US in 2014. The winter holiday season alone accounted for $602.1B of this $750B pie. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimates that these two months make up nearly 30% of a retailer’s annual sales.

Don’t think that this shopping frenzy is limited to physical stores. In 2014, total desktop online sales in the US touched $53.3B, up 15% from the year before. If you include mobile, total eCommerce sales in 2014 topped $100B. On Cyber Monday, US shoppers purchased $2B worth of goods, up 17% from the year before.

Clearly, shoppers are spending a massive amount of money during the holiday season. For eCommerce store owners, this is a big opportunity to cash in and make big profits.

When Should You Plan Your Holiday Promotions?

The short answer to this question would be: “as early as possible”.

To be more exact, you should start planning your promotions from late September to early October.

Traditionally, the shopping season doesn’t begin in earnest until late November (Thanksgiving). However, more and more shoppers are starting their shopping early to beat the season rush and take advantage of Halloween promotions.

In fact, a Google survey revealed that more than 29% of shoppers started their shopping before Halloween. According to PopSugar, this number is as high as 42% for women shoppers.
Here’s a quick glance at the holidays coming up in the next few months:

holiday-season-calendar

With Halloween becoming increasingly popular, it is a good idea to start your promotions by early October. Your marketing machinery should be firing on all cylinders by the time the biggest sales day of the year — Black Friday — rolls around.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how you can plan your promotions.

Preparing Your Business for the Holidays

Before you can do a promotion blitzkrieg, it’s important to prep your business for the holiday rush.

Make sure that you have the following handy by October:

1. A promotion calendar

It helps to have a detailed overview of where and when you’ll do your promotions. For this, you’ll need the following:

  • A list of target holidays: Figure out when your business sells most of its goods, then make a list of target holidays. As a general rule, if you sell cheaper, “impulse buys”, your sales will come either in the first half of the season, or right before big holidays. If you sell expensive, decision-intensive products, most shoppers will wait until November to get steep discounts.
  • A list of promotion materials: Gather all your promotion materials — emails, graphics, banners, ads, etc. — and separate them by holidays. Thus, all your Halloween themed promos go in one folder, Black Friday themed promos in another. See if there are any graphics or ads you can repurpose for multiple holidays.

It’s important to remember that shoppers nowadays don’t limit themselves to 1-2 days of shopping. Rather, as Custora points out, they spread their purchases across several days:

Holiday Revenue Custora

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday should still be the fulcrum of your sales promotion, it’s a good idea to use promotions throughout the holiday period.

2. Website preparation

The last thing you’d want in the holiday season is for your host to give in or your website CMS to break. Before you start promoting, make sure that you’ve prepped your website for the avalanche of traffic ahead.

  • Upgrade to a faster webhost. Ask them how they handle their infrastructure for the holiday rush. Make sure that the host can tolerate a big spike in traffic.
  • Get a CDN. This will make your website much faster to load — crucial since nearly 50% of shoppers will abandon slow sites.
  • Make website mobile-friendly. 52% of online shoppers used their phones throughout the shopping process. In 2014, nearly 40% of Black Friday sales came from mobile devices. Making your website mobile-friendly will ensure that you can tap into this massive market, while also helping with SEO.

3. Social Media Profiles

As an eCommerce store owner, you already know that social media represents a massive opportunity. Facebook alone has over 1.7B users, while both Twitter and Instagram are well north of 300M users.

Social media plays an important role in holiday shopping as well. According to HubSpot, 64.8% of consumers turn to social media to find the right gift. Another 64% of shoppers said that they bought something after seeing it on Twitter.

To take full advantage of social media, make sure that you have the following:

  • Profiles on top 5 social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+. You can skip LinkedIn unless you’re specifically targeting business buyers.
  • All profiles link back to a holiday-themed landing page with promotions/contests/deals on your site.
  • Profiles have holiday-themed cover images and profile pictures. Think pumpkins and zombies for Halloween, snowmen and Santa for Christmas.
  • Offers “pinned” to the top of the feed on Facebook and Twitter.

4. Promotion infrastructure and tools

Do you have complete funnels with landing pages and emails for the holiday season?

If not, you need to prep your infrastructure for the holidays.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • An email marketing tool. This will send out all your promotion emails, newsletters and autoresponder sequences. Choose from MailChimp, Aweber, Constant Contact or InfusionSoft.
  • A landing page tool. You’ll need this to create holiday-themed promo pages and capture leads and sales. Pick from LeadPages, Instapage or Unbounce.
  • Analytics software. This will help you figure out where your traffic and sales are coming from, and how you should plan your marketing. Google Analytics is a good free choice, but you can also try KISSMetrics and Mixpanel.
  • A social media marketing tool. Social media is a big channel for retailers — In 2014, 64% of shoppers said that they discovered products on social media (vs. just 45% on TV and 26% on magazines. You’ll need something to schedule content on social media. Edgar, HootSuite and Buffer are all viable options.
  • A blogging tool. Nearly 74% of holiday shoppers search online for gift ideas. A blog will help you show up in search results for such queries. It’ll also help you connect to shoppers and build brand loyalty — crucial in an often fickle market. We recommend using WordPress for your blog.
  • pop-up tool. You’ll need this to capture leads and offer discounts/deals to shoppers. Some pop-up tools such as BounceExchange even use behavioural targeting to show offers to abandoning visitors. Other options include Picreel and LeadPages.

This should be enough for most businesses. If you need more tools (such as a CRM or split-testing), check out this list of marketing tools from TrackMaven.

Planning Your Holiday Marketing

Once you’ve done all the prep work, it’s time to start planning your holiday marketing blitzkrieg.

There are two components to this: targeting the right channels, and using the right promotions.

Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

1. Targeting the Right Marketing Channels

Facebook, Twitter, content marketing, AdWords — there are more marketing channels today than you can count. Which one should you focus on? Which should you ignore?

Here are some things you must know before choosing a marketing channel:

  • Budget: Not all marketing channels cost the same. PPC (AdWords), for example, demands a much larger budget than inbound marketing. If you have the cash, choose paid advertising. Else, choose “free” methods such as social media and content marketing where your only investment is time.
  • Existing expertise: It’s better to focus on a channel you already understand than to waste time mastering a completely new marketing medium. If you (or someone on your team) is a Facebook expert, focus on Facebook. If you do great content, focus on content marketing, and so on.
  • Audience demographics: Ask yourself: where are my target customers likely to hang out? If you sell hearing aids for older people, you aren’t going to see a lot of results from social media or search. Similarly, if you sell business gifts, you’ll do better on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Take a look at this page to understand social network demographics. Generally speaking, LinkedIn = Business, Pinterest = Women, and SnapChat/Instagram = millennials.
  • Product type: Pick a marketing channel that fits your product type. For example, lifestyle, food and fashion related products do well on platforms that promote discovery, such as Pinterest and Instagram. Tech related products perform better on channels that offer shoppers research and reviews, such as blogs.

This will help you choose the right platform(s) to target with selected promotions.

holiday-shopping-changing

Using the Right Promotions

The wrong promotions can kill even the most well-planned holiday marketing. Before you spend a single penny on any marketing channel, it’s important to get this part right.
Here are some pointers to help you figure out promotions:

1. Double down on email

Last year, email marketing drove 17.7% of all online orders in the holiday season — the third biggest channel after organic (21%) and paid search (17.5%). Double down on email marketing in this season and you’ll see great returns.

2. Free shipping is crucial

According to Shop.org, free shipping is the second biggest reason why consumers shop online. Research also shows that 70% of online shoppers will add items to their carts just so they can qualify for free shipping.

Lesson for store owners: offer free shipping during the holidays, at least for orders above a certain threshold (like $50). Also make sure that customers know about this — use a pop-up or a bold graphic to tell them that you offer free shipping.

3. Deals, deals, and more deals

According to Google, low price is an important factor for 91% of shoppers. 92% of shoppers also check prices online to get the best bargain before hitting “buy”.

Your customers expect great deals during the holiday season. If you want to capture and retain their attention, make sure that you deck the site with steep discounts.

4. Encourage loyalty

In a customer survey, 58% of shoppers said that loyalty rewards and bonuses would influence them to complete a purchase on social media. 52% of shoppers also said that exclusive access to new products and deals would encourage them to shop more.

Keep this in mind when planning your promotions. Find out who your most loyal customers are, then give them rewards/discounts that encourage their loyalty.

5. Don’t forget gift cards

In the holiday season frenzy, it’s easy to forget about this promotion work-horse. They might be old fashioned, but gift cards still represent big business. The National Retail Federation estimates that total spending on gift cards will reach $31.74 billion in 2015. Deloitte’s Annual Holiday Survey also says that 43% of consumers plan to give gift cards or certificates this year.

Keep this in mind when planning your promotions. Make sure that shoppers can easily buy gift cards from your website or physical store (if you have one).

6. Run better contests

Contests are old hat in the marketing world, but they still work. The hard part is standing out in a season where every business runs its own contests.

The key to running a successful holiday contest is to:

    • Select better prizes: Offer something that is relevant to your target customers, not just an iPad or Xbox. For example, if your customers love to travel, offer them a quality travel gear as prize.
    • Make it social: One way to spur shares is to connect the contest to social media. For example, you can give participants extra points for every referral they send, thereby encouraging shares.

If you’re new to online contests, here’s a handy guide to social media contests for beginners.

Conclusion

The holiday season is tough for store owners, but it is also wildly lucrative. You’ll have to push your team to the limit to prepare your store for holiday shoppers, but the returns are well worth it.

Just remember to start early, focus on social + content, and give plenty of deals to win customers.

About The Author
Lina is a content creator at Ecwid. She writes to inspire and educate readers on all things commerce. She loves to travel and runs marathons.

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