Practical Ecommerce

10 Holiday Ecommerce Pitfalls

Holiday sales are vitally important for most ecommerce businesses. And yet, in my years of helping hundreds of merchants, I’ve seen them frequently make the same mistakes that negatively impact a successful holiday sales season. Here’s my list, updated for 2010, of common pitfalls to avoid.

1. Starting too late.

Quite simply, if you are not already thinking about the holiday shopping season (in August), you are destined for doom. For many ecommerce sites, holiday sales–in mid-November through December–can account for 30 percent or more of annual sales. Now is the time to make sure you have your house in order for a successful holiday season.

2. Having no marketing plan.

Conversions take careful planning. If you have not set up a schedule of marketing emails, site promotions, and ad campaign rollouts, you will have a hard time keeping your communications flowing once the holiday season hits. Create a calendar and do as much early preparation of your marketing pieces as possible.

3. Neglecting the mobile experience.

Mobile devices will continue to become more popular. If you think you can ignore the mobile experience for your shoppers, thing again. At the very least, see how your site looks on a range of mobile devices. It might be a little late to invest in mobile development this year, but do the best you can to have a reasonable presentation.

4. Ignoring your established customers.

You have a database of past customers, don’t you? These patrons are a key to your success. Honor them; don’t ignore them. A creative, sequential email marketing campaign is an important tactic for keeping your customer base thinking about you. When the shopping mood hits them, you want them to be thinking about your products.

5. Being too conservative on ad spending.

Quite simply, don’t be a Scrooge. Assuming you have laid the groundwork and prepped your site to the nines, the pre-holiday period is a good time to flex your muscles with paid advertising. If you can compete on price with your products, consider comparison shopping engines. If you have no experience with paid advertising, don’t be foolish with your spending, but learn some of the basics and give it a try.

6. Failing to dress-up your site.

Shoppers can enter your site on any page. Slapping a holiday graphic on your home page is simply not enough. Make sure each page on your site includes holiday messaging and ornamentation.

7. Burying your shipping policy.

Shipping speed and reliability is a critical decision point for holiday shoppers. So why is your shipping information inaccessible? Have links visible throughout the site. Don’t force your shoppers to get well into the checkout process before they can figure out your shipping options. Offer expedited shipping as the holidays approach.

8. Being a Grinch.

The holiday shopping experience extends beyond your website itself. Be prepared to greet your customers with holiday cheer, rather than gruffness and stress. Whether you provide live chat, phone support, or do most of your follow-up via email, do your best to convey holiday cheer and provide great customer service.

9. Being unprepared for traffic.

Assuming all your other assiduous planning has paid off and you have proven successful in attracting energized holiday shoppers, the last think you want is for them to be unable to use your site. To the best of your ability, you want to understand the load capability of your ecommerce platform, as it will surely be stretched during the holidays. A shared environment could buckle under the load of increased holiday shoppers. Educate yourself about the limits of your system and assess what options you have if your site begins to have issues.

10. Forgetting last-minute shoppers.

Your messaging and notifications on your site should change as you get closer to key holiday dates. Many shoppers wait until the end to buy gifts. If you feel confident about fulfilling orders, greet these customers warmly. Make it clear that you are actively involved with your site and ready to respond quickly to orders and ship products.


You’ll bring prosperity to your holiday season if you avoid these common pitfalls, learn from your past successes and mistakes, and plan diligently.


Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

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  1. pacificu_alum August 5, 2010 Reply

    Nice reminders for us. Easy to wait on planning, but the consequences aren’t worth it. Thanks!

  2. Michael Stearns August 5, 2010 Reply

    I am glad you liked the article. Some people get paralyzed because they don’t think they can create (or afford) lively holiday graphics to spruce up their site. Even if you can just add text messaging, it is worth it. Putting forth a clear message is what it is all about.

  3. Arturas Kvederis August 6, 2010 Reply

    Some great tips there Michael, when talking about online e-commerce I would also mention the importance of testing everything on your website – functional and load testing can help you avoid any undesirable issues when the crowds come.

  4. Michael Stearns August 9, 2010 Reply

    You bring up a good point. Functionality/Usability testing is critical and, hopefully, is an ongoing process that a site owner is engaged in.

    Load testing is a little trickier – particularly in a shared environment, since there are a lot of factors that can affect your server and you don’t have control over all of them.

    [Apache Jmeter]( – is an open source tool that could help in this regard.

  5. chocri August 10, 2010 Reply

    Great article!

  6. Jagath Narayan August 10, 2010 Reply

    Good article. Here is one more point that is related to #9. Your back office operations should be prepared to deal with the increased traffic too.

    Whether you are a one-man operation filling orders from a garage, or running a large warehouse with 10+ employees, you need to be on top of your latest orders, stock levels, and your customer service. The last thing you want to happen is to make shipping mistakes on the barrage of incoming orders. If such mistakes happen during holiday season, you are going to be dealing with _angry_ customers. You should also have your phone lines ready to answer customer enquiries about their order.