Planning your eCommerce holiday promotions

Even though you probably won’t start offering deals for the holiday season just yet, now is the time to start planning what kind of marketing and eCommerce holiday promotions you’ll put in place: will you offer coupons? Run sales? Offer free shipping promotions or discount promotions?

These are marketing strategies you can think about and plan now so that you can take steps to implement these strategies later this month and throughout October so you’re prepared for holiday shoppers.

1. Determine which promotions to run

First you’ll need to decide what deals or strategies you want to use. Hopefully you’ve read our series on increasing average order value and started to implement some of these strategies. If not, this is an excellent place to start planning for your holiday promotions.

Via: Ivan Walsh, CC BY 2.0 license

You can create free shipping or discount thresholds to increase order value while rewarding your shoppers, or create tiered discounts to encourage a “spend more, save more” mentality for holiday shoppers.

We’ve also written about improving holiday conversions previously with ideas on promotions or site changes you can put in place, such as displaying stock levels, awarding loyalty points, and saving abandoned carts.

In short, you’ll want to plan what kinds of promotions make sense for your store: shipping promotions, discounts, tiered discounts, putting products on sale, or other ways to encourage holiday spending.

2. Sell gift certificates or cards

More than half of consumers bought at least one gift card for the holidays (PDF). There’s a good chance your holiday shoppers will look to purchase gift cards for your site to give as gifts.

Gift cards also have a higher perceived value than gifts, which is why many gift-givers choose them over the holidays:

When asked whether they would prefer a gift with a value ranging from $20 to $45 vs. a $25 gift card, the vast majority preferred the gift card — even compared to a gift at a higher price point.

First Data

If you don’t already sell gift certificates or cards, you should look into offering these for holiday shoppers that want to give friends and loved ones the flexibility to choose their own gift.

Gift cards could also be part of a promotion. For example, you can give a $10 gift card for every $50 spend, increasing your average order value and encouraging customers to return after the holidays, pass the card onto the gift recipient, or pick something up for themselves in a separate order.

While offering sales or shipping promotions is a great way to increase order value and encourage purchasing, you can also promote your other products in the process to either help with gift giving, or entice shoppers to buy something for themselves while visiting your store.

Amazon Product Bundle

Building a holiday gift guide can be a fantastic way to recommend products to customers to make their gift searching easier and to avoid the paradox of choice.

You can also update your shop’s upsells and cross-sells to ensure they’re accurate for the holiday season.

4. Plan your promotion schedule

WooThemes has some great tips on holiday sale timing that I’d recommend checking out, including a free download for a holiday calendar complete with helpful dates, marketing tips, and room to plan your promotions.

Advent calendar
Via: Tina D, CC BY 2.0 license

September is great for planning and starting to make site tweaks for holiday promotions, then October gives you time to implement any plugins, tools, or site changes needed to implement these strategies and test them out from a customer perspective. That way, you’re ready for promotions once November rolls around.

Here are some benchmarks that you can go by:

  • September 30: Promotions, sales, and deals should be planned out
  • October 15: Implement holiday strategies and begin to test them; prepare marketing for promotions (work with partners, plan advertisements, etc); stock up on shipping supplies if needed
  • October 31: Strategies should be polished and ready to go for November and December sales
  • November 1-15: Maybe launch an “early bird” promotion for the holidays (this is also a good time to raise regular prices, but put products on sale); you should also be pushing your Cyber Monday and holiday marketing
  • November 15-30: Ensure Cyber Monday deals are in place, tested, and do any final marketing in your own channels (email, social)
  • November 26: If you’re in the US, don’t forget to enjoy your Thanksgiving 🙂
  • November 30: Cyber Monday! Survive the sprint.
  • December 1-20: Determine how long you’ll run your Black Friday / Cyber Monday promotions, or start any alternative sales for December
  • December 20-23: If you offer expedited shipping, now is the time to run any last minute sales

5. Don’t forget to increase resources

Is this your first holiday season, or have you done one before? If you’ve run a Cyber Monday or holiday sale before, you’ll have a rough idea of the increased number of orders your store has processed. If so, you’ll be able to determine how much you’ll need for additional resources, such as shipping and packing materials.

Shipping supplies
Via: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0 license

Make sure your operation is ready to scale up to meet this demand. Have extra boxes, packing tape, and other packaging supplies ready. It also helps if you can do some special packaging for the holidays — include a card from your store, use custom boxes or holiday packing material, or include a free gift.

If you’ll be drastically increasing the number of orders shipped, you may want to schedule extra pickups with your shipping provider throughout the holiday season to ensure orders are leaving your shop on time.

One of the most important things you can do for holiday shoppers is ensure that their orders get to them when expected or before, and preparing your shipping workflow to do so is important.

6. Promoting your holiday offers

Now that you have some ideas on what you might offer, you want to think about how you’ll let people know about these offers. Who do you want to reach? New customers, existing customers, email list subscribers? You’ll need a plan of attack to get in touch with each of these audiences.

For each kind of promotion you’re doing, you’ll want to ensure it gets in front of your ideal audience, so you should consider all of your marketing channels:

  • Affiliate Networks: We love AffiliateWP for affiliate marketing networks, so it’s a great tool to expand your marketing team by using affiliates. We’ve got some tips for better affiliate marketing to implement an effective program.

    To promote your sales, make sure that you give affiliates details on what promotions are being offered, dates they’re offered, creative materials like banner ads or product images, and products that would be great to promote.

  • Social Media Channels: There are a lot of ways to use social media for eCommerce, and you should ensure that social media shares are optimized before your sales start. You’ll also want to let followers know about sales, or run promotions / giveaways solely for your followers (i.e., share a coupon code on Pinterest or Twitter).
  • Email Lists: Your email lists are incredibly valuable, so you’ll want to have some campaigns ready to go to promote sales, certain products, and perhaps discounts for your email list. If you have the time / ability to segment this list and better personalize your email content, this is a great way to increase email effectiveness and transaction rates.
  • Advertisements: You can look into running Google AdWords campaigns for keywords related to your products and Facebook advertisements. If you’ve not done much with Facebook, Shopify and Kissmetrics have solid introductions to Facebook ads.

  • Partnerships: Let’s say you sell fishing rods on your site. Your customers probably shop at other sites for outdoor activities, such as sporting goods / apparel sites. Partnering with these sites can be a great way to acquire new customers for the holidays. You can each offer coupons for the other’s site on your confirmation pages and emails. For example, when you sell a fishing pole, you can offer a discount for your partner’s site in your receipt email. When someone orders a fishing-related item on their site, they’ll link to your site and offer a coupon, helping you each target new customers while they’re looking for related gifts.

  • Content Marketing (your site): Your blog and site will be a great way to showcase new products for the holidays, or to give customers ideas for holiday gifts. You can write about groups of products that are frequently purchased together, reviews of similar products to help gift givers choose which to purchase if they’re not familiar with your shop / brand, or post announcements of promotions and partnerships.

  • Content Marketing (industry sites): You should also be in touch with sites that write about your industry to promote your deals, some of which will share information for free and some will require a fee. Going back to our fishing rods example: any website targeted to your ideal customer, such as site for sportsman, forums, or YouTube channels, is ripe for a partnership opportunity. You may be able to pay a fee to promote your products, or offer a coupon they can share with readers and perhaps invite them to your affiliate program to reward them for promoting your holiday sales.

Preparing eCommerce holiday promotions

Now that September is half over, you should be preparing for the holiday season in order to maximize revenue from gift purchases. Increasing your average order value via promotions, selling gift cards, promoting sales, and preparing for higher order volumes are all part of successful eCommerce holiday promotions.