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The Holidays Are Here. Is Your Online Business Ready?

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The holiday shopping season is often the most profitable time of year for retail businesses. If you run an e-commerce business, you won’t have to worry about hanging garland and twinkle lights, but you will have to prepare for the influx of holiday shoppers. Do what you can to lure them to your digital doorstep and make sure your site is ready to handle the increase in traffic.

Online shopping activity ticks up each holiday season, and according to Adobe Analytics, November and December of this year will set sales records once again. The company’s AI-powered model projects a 14.1% increase in total U.S. online sales over last year, along with a 4% increase in combined online and offline retail sales. Hopefully, you’re ready to capitalize on a portion of that uptick. If not, start preparing now by focusing on the following three areas:

1. Optimize your inventory and shipping setup in advance.

Stock up on product lines that you predict to be more in demand during the holidays. Hint: analyze product sales trends at your business, paying close attention to prior holiday seasons. When it comes to new products you’ve added since last year’s holiday rush, make an educated guess based on similar products you sell and industry trends or predictions. For example, The NPD Group predicts home items will sell big this year and is expecting to see apparel sales decline during this holiday season. Let these industry forecasts influence how you stock your online store.

Also keep in touch with your suppliers about delivery dates. Knowing the ETA of your larger-than-normal product deliveries will help you better staff your warehouse on those days to accommodate. Now that peak shipping season is upon us, you’ll want to make sure you’re well stocked with shipping supplies. Inevitably some customers will be sending products back to you. Offering a reasonable and seamless return policy to customers will help you generate brand loyalty. If this is your first holiday shopping season, nail down your return policy before the holidays are in full swing. Order prepaid shipping labels and make any necessary packaging modifications before you announce holiday shipping rates. Planning ahead is critical.

2. Prepare your IT team.

Your servers may be handling far more traffic than you’re used to during the last couple months of the year. A flood of online customers is a good problem to have, but you’ll have to deal with the issues that causes. After all, you don’t want to suffer J. Crew’s fate on Black Friday 2018: Tech issues lasted almost all day, and frustrated customers decided to shop elsewhere rather than wait. According to reports at the time, the outage lasted five hours and affected about 323,000 shoppers.

There’s no doubt that your IT security infrastructure is going to be tested this holiday season. “It’s not a matter of if you’ll have an outage, it’s when, and heaven forbid it’s during peak shopping season,” says Yoni Leitersdorf, founder and CEO of Indeni. “Security infrastructure automation solutions enable modern retailers to proactively identify issues that could reduce the performance or availability of their e-commerce storefront and address them before their revenue is impacted.” Automation can give your IT team more bandwidth, but when brick-and-mortar stores are decking their halls, make sure your IT team knows it’s still all hands on deck for them.

3. Make sure your marketing is firing on all cylinders.

Holiday shopping season is no time for your marketing machine to break down. Develop marketing content around your key differentiators and add a seasonal touch. You could run a festive campaign building up to a major shopping holiday like Cyber Monday, for instance, although you shouldn’t create a false sense of urgency to coerce customers into buying from you. Instead, create a unique opportunity for them and a real reason to buy. Maybe you only have a few discount sales per year, or perhaps you’re donating a portion of the proceeds from a promotion to a select charity. The more distinctive the promotion, the more compelling your marketing materials can be.

You might also consider allocating an increased amount of spending to certain channels. With an app like Instagram Shopping, you can make the product images in your ads searchable—whether they appear on your website, on Facebook or even in a magazine feature. Speaking of online marketing for your online business, Caleb Siegel, VP at Group8A, advises coordinating in advance with vendor reps and partners before shopping season is in full swing. “Make sure all relevant resource contacts are available and on call,” he says. “The last thing you need is a problem with Google Ads or Facebook ads with no rep to help out during the most crucial periods.”

The 2019 holiday season is already underway. If you’re feeling behind already, you’re probably not alone. The demands of the holidays sneak up fast, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when they get here. Don’t panic! Instead, make a plan for the next 30 to 60 days around how you’re going to handle inventory, cybersecurity and marketing over the holidays. Things won’t always run smoothly when your online traffic spikes, but then again, that’s not a terrible problem for an online retailer to have.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs