As we approach the end of summer, ecommerce merchants should start preparing for the fall selling season. It’s time to identify new products, inventory and supplier issues, and pricing competition. Importantly, start planning seasonal promotions: Labor Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.
Fall is when most merchants make the bulk of their profits. Make sure you have the following in order:
- Products that your customers will buy;
- Availability of inventory;
- Compelling product content;
- Good product visibility and marketing in multiple channels;
- Fulfillment capabilities;
- Seasonal promotions;
- Website performance optimized;
- Customer service ready.
Understand your customers’ buying cycles and plan lead times accordingly. Know when your buyers start shopping for holiday supplies and gifts and start marketing to them well in advance. Most school years don’t start for several weeks yet, but I’ve seen back-to-school merchandise promoted for more than a month. In many cases, the promotion does not read, “Back to School Sale.” Rather, it may just be jeans, fall fashion items, and backpacks.
Gifts, supplies, clothing, luxury goods: They all have a different selling cycles. In my previous ecommerce business, for example, I sold supplies to jewelry designers, who then sold finished goods from mid-November to Christmas. Their buying season started as soon as kids go back to school. They spent September and October making inventory. I needed to have my supplies ready for them by September 1. For the finished goods that we sold, our season did not start until after Thanksgiving. But the bulk of our sales were from September through November.
8 Holiday Preparation Tips
- Products. Research past seasonal best sellers. Look for up-sells and cross-sells. Determine what’s trendy — on your competitors’ sites and on Amazon. Look for new ideas. Read the trade press. Pick your products out now so you will have time to prepare content, stage products, build pay-per-click ads, and so forth.
- Inventory and supply chain. Estimate your sales. Consider a bulk order for proven items — shipping one large order will be cheaper instead of many smaller ones. Secure backup suppliers for hard-to-get items. Adjust the reordering levels on your products. Order more best selling items with more lead-time than you would during the rest of the year. Expect delays. The last thing you want in November is to run out of stock on your best sellers.
- Prepare your marketing campaigns. If you are selling in multiple channels, get the product content done now. Optimize it for specific product feeds. Prepare your promotional creatives now. Design your campaigns. Research your PPC bids, and build ads. Test them early.
- Website performance. Don’t implement new technology or user interface changes after September. Do it now. Get your website performance optimized now. Load test it. Have it ready in September and leave it that way.
- Get your fulfillment operations ready. Hire part time staff. Train them. Order supplies. Audit your shipping costs. Make sure you know which carriers can deliver the service you want at the lowest prices. If you drop ship, make sure the drop-shippers’ operations are in order.
- Pricing. Get your pricing right. Consumers have more tools to check prices than ever. So do your competitors and Amazon. Know what your margins are. Choose a pricing strategy. Be prepared to offer value beyond pricing, such as free shipping, better customer service, or some type of rewards program. This is because prices are being changed hundreds of times a day by merchants who are selling the same product you do. Dynamic pricing is here to stay. This is particularly crucial if you do any type of multi-channel selling.
- Plan ahead. At the very least, plan your marketing to include a promotional schedule so that all employees and vendors are aware. You can always modify it, if necessary. Talk to employees about vacations.
- Financing. Make sure you have the cash on hand to pay for your inventory buildup. Ask for terms with key suppliers. Get a line of credit from the bank. Many times it’s better to pay carrying costs on your inventory than to run out of key products.