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Preparing Your Holiday Sales Strategy

Get ready for Christmas shoppers, even before Halloween.

Even though you’ve just begun to enjoy the crisp and clean air of the fall season, it’s time to jump headlong into your holiday sales planning.

Most businesses gain upward of 30 percent (or more) of their planned annual revenue from September through December. By coincidence, roughly 40 percent of surveyed shoppers indicate they begin their holiday purchases well before Halloween. Don’t let those sales slip through your hands. Establish your holiday sales strategy early, capture it in a plan and put it to work now.

Here’s how you can take a bite of the year-end sugar plum for a more magical holiday season.

Deck those halls before Halloween

Yes, many consumers lament the appearance of tinsel and trimmings before the jack-o-lanterns have warded off the goblins. The truth of the matter, however, is that more consumers are using more of the year-end months to make their holiday purchases.

By beginning their shopping as early as September, cash-conscious buyers have been able to ease the spending pressure on November and December. In times of a stubbornly sluggish economy, buyers are putting time on their side to avoid putting all purchases on credit cards.

This is the signal to sellers to set up the yuletide offerings early. Here are a few ideas to roll out the holiday items without being too gaudy, too soon:

  • Start hinting at holiday offerings in early September, either by information on your store site, in a blog or in consumer-direct email messaging. Speak about the benefits of shoppers starting their purchases early to get the best selection and ensure timely receipt of gifts and goodies.

  • These days, by the time Halloween is upon us, many consumers are already planning their November and December celebrations
  • Create a section of your store that begins to feature holiday items or specials alongside your current-season goods. You needn’t forsake the current goods for the upcoming holidays. Rather, begin a feathered transition that will encourage shoppers to start thinking ahead. These days, by the time Halloween is upon us, many consumers are already planning their November and December celebrations.

  • Consider “early bird” specials, sales and promotions that reward early shoppers. Provide special pricing, limited-time goods and even free-shipping benefits to buyers. This is also a way to help customers think of you as the season progresses, hopefully returning to you as additional gift needs arise.

You needn’t wage a full-on trump of the current seasons to provide an early start for holiday shoppers. Keep the December-themed decor discreet, at least up until mid-November to avoid turning off shoppers who’d like to enjoy each season as it occurs. Even so, make room early to begin showcasing your December goods as soon as possible.

As the holidays near, focus your offerings

While it makes perfect sense to provide a broad range of product offerings throughout the year, it makes as much sense to focus shoppers on what they want at the time they want it. If you’ve developed your holiday inventory strategy, determining what goods you’ll be most intent on selling, be sure to winnow down your year-round goods to help your customers find the holiday-themed items quickly and easily.

This becomes the inverse of your early pre-holiday promotions: Reduce emphasis on your general-appeal goods as the holidays approach, letting the December goods get the full spotlight. You can still keep your year-round items available, but consider shifting focus away from them to make the most of the consumers’ real-time focus: the holidays.

Make adjustments through the holiday season

Just because you’ve made a holiday sales and marketing plan doesn’t mean it’s impervious to needing tweaking as the holiday occurs. To get the most of the holiday season and to be most responsive to actual consumer sentiment, be prepared for the following:

Keep in constant contact with suppliers of your best-selling goods to ensure any reorders can be fulfilled quickly and completely
  • If early pre-holiday sales indicate particularly popular items, be in a position to tap the supply line (manufacturers and distributors) quickly to keep hot items in stock. Keep in constant contact with suppliers of your best-selling goods to ensure any reorders of yours can be fulfilled quickly and completely.

  • Watch for slow-selling inventory and take steps to move these items out. When goods are languishing on the shelves, you’ll need to consider special bundle pricing or even markdowns early in the holiday season. Consumers are looking for a deal, and sometimes a 30-percent price discount is enough to convince them to buy. The bottom line is to take necessary steps to sell off the inventory, lest you be stuck with it after the holidays have passed.

  • If you find yourself with customers who just can’t quite decide which of your items they’d most like to give as gifts, make it easy on them: offer gift cards. Often, gift givers feel most comfortable to give a gift card, allowing the recipient to choose exactly what he or she wants. Make gift cards or gift certificates increasingly visible in your store as the holiday gets closer, helping those who can’t decide what to give, and who don’t want their gifts to wind up in the return pile.

During the holiday, start planning for next year

Each holiday season is a bit different, largely driven by economic factors, but every holiday brings opportunity to grow and bond to your customers. When you can provide for their gift-giving needs during the bustling holiday season, you can position your business as a place for them to continue shopping throughout the year.

Reward repeat customers, and think about hinting to them about the next holiday season around summer and fall of the next year. Keep in contact with your holiday shoppers year round, and you’ll improve your chances to sell more before, during and after each holiday season.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Eric Blair

    An article that might have been useful if published in June or July. If you aren’t already executing your holiday season sales plan by now, you’re about sunk for the year.

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