As I write this piece in the last days of August, the holiday season is just two months away. All over the world, ecommerce store owners are gearing up for the toughest (and the most profitable) quarter of the year.
Unfortunately, this is also the quarter where a number of stores go down. In almost all cases, the root cause could be traced to the adequate preparations for the crunch time of the holiday season. Whether it is the lack of server resources or inventory mismanagement, it all comes down to being caught unawares.
However, the official start of the holiday season is still two months away (give or take a few weeks), there is still time to prepare your store for the rigors of the coming quarter. The good news is that most of the action items on the following list also help in the year-long maintenance of the store.
Get Better Hosting
Your store is as good as the hosting solution you opt for. While this applies to all websites, this fact is mission-critical for online stores.
Many store owners, particularly first-timers, often make the mistake of choosing the cheapest hosting. While they do save money in the short run, the store loses money because of outages and crashes.
In order to make the most of the coming holiday season, I recommend switching over to cloud hosting. These hosting solutions ensure that the store has adequate resources at all times. Thus, when the crunch of the holiday season starts, the store is able to deal with the traffic spikes without crashing.
Cloud hosting also addresses another basic grievance of the store owners – support. In the case of managed WooCommerce hosting, the store owners usually do get support by expert cloud engineers who take care of server and application installation issues. In many cases, the support is available 24/7, even on holidays.
Migrate to a Better Platform
Holiday shoppers are an impatient lot who have too many options for holiday shopping. Thus, it is vital that your holiday store should be powered by a platform that is both robust and user-friendly. These requirements limit your store platform options to the top of the line ecommerce platforms – Magento and WooCommerce.
While many store owners do know about these platforms, they are often confused about their choice. An easy rule of thumb is the level of the technical expertise of the store owners. If they are comfortable with writing code and diving deep into the backend settings, Magento is an obvious choice. The platform is robust, but its power comes at the cost of being not very friendly towards less technical users.
On the other hand, operating a WooCommerce store is almost as easy as using WordPress. The store is easy to setup ad could be easily maintained by everyone who knows how to operate a WordPress website. Whichever of the two you opt for, remember that the best practice of setting up an ecommerce store is to hire a developer to set up the store the first time properly. Once the store is set up, you could take care of the updates and the maintenance.
Improve Store Speed
Now that you have selected the right platform for your store and had it set up by a professional developer, the next step is to focus on the page load speed.
Page load speed is often the only factor that determines whether the store would be profitable for the holiday season. Nobody likes to wait for a slow website to load. Shoppers have a lot of options these days. If a store isn’t ready for the transaction within three seconds, the potential customer will go to another store.
In the case of WooCommerce powered ecommerce stores, the page load speed could be improved by installing a cache plugin that optimizes various aspects of the underlying WordPress installation that support the WooCOmmerce store. I recommend Breeze WordPress Cache plugin that has shown great results in improving the speed of WooCOmmerce stores. The good thing is that it is completely free and thus does not add to the operational costs of the store.
For Magento powered stores, Full Page Cache (powered by Amasty) is a great cache option that greatly improves the performance of the Magento stores. The extension greatly optimizes the cache processes of the Magento store.
Plan for Social Sales
In the coming holiday season, a significant portion of the sales will come from social media channels. This is why it is essential that stores should start planning for using social media channels for generating sales.
The first step in the social media marketing action plan is to create marketing material in the form of posts, tweets, and appropriately sized images. A post publication calendar is a great way of managing the volume of social media content. This calendar also ensures that you do not miss out anything important.
The next step is the actual creation of the posts and tweets. Remember that during the crunch time of the holiday season, store management will not have time to be creative about social media content. Thus, it is essential that all the content should be ready for publication BEFORE the season begins.
Once the content is ready, the store manager could use any free or paid social media scheduling platforms to start creating the buzz. These platforms provide detailed statistics about the performance of individual posts.
Decorate the Store
Just like their offline counterparts, online stores should be decorated to match the moods and colors of the holiday season. However, in this case, the decorations should be done before the holiday season.
Decorations for the online stores comprises of a storewide theme and the graphics on the product listing pages. This is the best time for trying out a new theme for the store. If you haven’t tried it already, try a responsive theme for the store. A responsive theme ensures that the store looks equally beautiful on all screen sizes. The theme selection and deployments should be started at least a few months before the start of the holiday season because a new theme requires extensive customizations before it is ready for a load of the holiday season.
Another important aspect of decorating the store is the holiday themed graphics that include product images and banners for bargains. The good news in this context is that these graphics could be generated very easily by anyone with average image manipulation skills. In some cases, just a simple holiday themed border around the images is enough to set the proper festive mood.
Plan for the Email Campaign
The holiday season is also the time when the stores send out emails about all the offered bargains and deals. A well-planned email campaign often translates into high sales because of the targeted delivery of the emails to the customers who are looking for a great deal.
The first step in setting up an email campaign is to clean up the store’s email list. The store owners should start reviewing the email list and segment the addresses into discrete segments. Each of the segments represents a set of customers who could respond to a particular set of offers/bargains.
Once the segmentation is ready, the next step is the creation of the email lineup for all segments. This lineup includes the initial offer, sales, post sales follow up, and in some cases request for the review of the products purchases.
Prepare all these emails in advance and set up the store’s email sending component to send out the emails as per preset rules. Once the emails have been automated, the store owners will have one less thing to worry about!
The final item on the list is something that many store owners and administrators overlook!
It is important to understand that holiday season will be stressful with too many tasks and too little time. Employees might get sick, and vendors would have shipping backlogs and logistical bottlenecks. All of these issues are part of the pressure of the holiday season.
It is important that store owners plan ahead for these issues and come up with action plans and solutions that could provide relief in such situations. Taking stress during the crunch time only makes things worse and could directly affect the sales of the store.
So sit back, plan ahead and get ready to make some serious money in the coming holiday season!
Drop me a line if you have a solution for the issues discussed above.
Fayyaz is a Magento Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed Magento Hosting Platform. His objective is to learn & share about PHP & Magento Development in Community. Fayyaz is a food lover and enjoys driving. You can email him at email@example.com
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