It might seem like the kids have only just gone back to school after the summer vacation and Thanksgiving is still weeks away, but in the world of email marketing, we are already getting excited about the holidays.

There are a couple of very good reasons for this.

Firstly, according to a report on Search Engine Watch, online sales on Black Friday, the day traditionally associated with kicking off the holiday sales rush, reached $1 billion in 2012 with some 57 million shoppers in the US making a Black Friday purchase online.

And secondly, and this is equally important and perhaps the main reason why we marketing folk start worrying about the holidays a little earlier each year, making the most of your busy holidays sales period takes a hell of a lot of planning.

Optimizing your stock levels, campaign strategies, marketing budget, staffing resources, etc., etc. (the list is undoubtedly longer than you might think) is quite a project, especially if you want to be rewarded with a significant profit at the end of all your hard work.

But a busy Q4 isn’t just about generating large holiday profits this year. If you get the holidays right this year, it will set you up for everything else you do next year and help make the 2014 holidays even more profitable. Yes – we’re not just thinking about the holidays this year, we’re thinking about next year as well.

Most marketers, quite rightly, will be planning on increasing their marketing spend in the run-up to and throughout the holidays. But as many retailers will be painfully aware, the cost of generating that additional visibility will also be on the rise as competition floods marketplaces and pushes up prices on the paid search and comparison shopping sites.

There is nothing wrong with increasing your advertising budget at a busy time, but before you do, I recommend you focus on some other key areas of your business. These areas are conversion, customer data and logistics.


Is your website actually costing you money?

There is no point in paying to send traffic to a less-than-optimized website or product listing. Before spending another penny, take a good, long look at your website/listings and ask yourself the following question: Would I buy from a site like this?

Be honest with yourself. Do your product pages look dated? Is your design amateurish? Do your photos look like they were taken with a Kodak Box Brownie? Does your content lack the polish it needs to actively sell your products? Are any additional costs (such as delivery) hidden from view? Is your checkout clunky and difficult to understand? If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll probably be turning more trade away than you are actually winning, and this can be expensive. Take this as an opportunity to fix your site now before it eats away any more of your margins.

When optimizing your site, you should also plan for non-sales related conversions. These could be generating email registrations, recruiting social media followers or soliciting question via email, chat or phone.

The bottom line is, make it as easy as possible for your potential customers to do business with you and your marketing spend will suddenly become more efficient (perhaps even returning a positive ROI).

Customer Data

How well do you know each other?

Acquisition marketing (such as PPC, Comparison Shopping and even good old eBay) can be expensive and have a significant impact on your profitability (particularly if your conversion strategy isn’t great). Retention marketing (such as email marketing) is much cheaper and, if executed properly, will generate some of the highest ROI figures of any marketing strategy.

If email marketing has been sitting on your ecommerce wish list for some time, remember this: If you are paying acquisition marketing fees to sell to your existing customers, you are throwing money down the drain.

Get your email marketing strategy in place NOW. iContact recently produced a free 30-Day Starter Kit ( that gives you all the tools you need to set up an account, upload and segment your customer data, and start sending targeted and engaging campaigns in time for the Q4 rush.


Scaling up, scaling down and getting stuff out the door

The term “logistics” incorporates a whole multitude of tasks that are vital to the success of your ecommerce operation. Sadly, things like warehousing, packaging, couriers, etc. are not deemed very sexy and probably don’t get enough attention in the ecommerce press or blogosphere.

If you don’t have the capabilities to scale up at Christmas – and this could mean finding additional warehouse space, picking and packing staff, customer service agents – then Christmas can be a stressful and even reputation-busting time.

Services like Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) can help you take some (or even all) of the logistic pressures off your business, allowing you to concentrate on marketing and customer services.

But what about all those unforeseen issues, such as weather or industrial action?

Ask any UK ecommerce operation about the winter of 2010, when heavy snows virtually closed the country down for weeks and snarled up deliveries prior to the big day, and they’ll tell you it’s always good to have a backup plan.

The holidays are a huge opportunity for online retailers, and if you get it right they can be extremely lucrative. Get it wrong and all your hard work might as well go out with the Christmas tree come the New Year. How are you gearing up for the Q4 rush?

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.

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