Every year, business owners have the same fears following the holiday season. They see their revenues dropping after a soaring fourth quarter, the returns flooding in, and they start to feel as deflated as that blow-up Santa still flapping around on the neighbour’s roof.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Unless you’re selling ugly Christmas sweaters or gingerbread house kits, there’s no reason you can’t be as competitive in January as you were in December. Remember—the final months of the year are only as big as they are because retailers and marketers made them that way.
So, how can you help your store avoid the post-holiday sales blues? By putting these 10 practices into play, you should be able to extend your holiday sales high and get a great start on a record-setting first quarter.
Announce another sale.
Just when you thought the sales, promotions and discounts were over—it’s time to do it all again! Many stores experience a post-holiday lull not because consumers are any less interested in buying (heck, their wallets are thick with gift certificates and cash!) but because retailers return to full-price mode the minute the holiday rush is over.
Everyone expects to find things like tree ornaments and advent calendars on sale in January, but you can differentiate yourself by offering deals on non-seasonal items as well. Scour your inventory for products that didn’t sell particularly well over the holidays, and discount them. If you have a number of sale items, consider adding a clearance category to your site—this can increase revenue and drive customers looking for post-holidays bargain to your store.
Plan for returns and exchanges.
As ecommerce goes, so do returns. This is especially true after the holidays, when gift-getters inundate online stores with refund and exchange requests on unwanted, ill-fitting, damaged and defective merchandise.
Resolving these requests isn’t cheap. According to a recent study by Shorr Packaging, ecommerce returns are projected to hit $19.4 billion this holiday season. That’s equal to nearly a third of all holiday ecommerce purchases (by comparison, the return rate for brick-and-mortar retailers averaged less than 9 percent in 2014).
How do you handle returns without bottoming out? If you haven’t already, January is a great month to implement live chat on your site. You can use it to answer questions about returns, as well as guide customers to alternate products rather than full refunds. You can even incentivize exchanges or store credit by including a special offer like free shipping or a discount code.
To reduce future returns, make sure your site accurately portrays your products. Optimize product pages with professional photography, image zoom, reviews, and original, faithful product descriptions. Pay close attention to which items are being regularly returned, and take a critical look at those product pages. A few tweaks to the product description could mean a lot fewer returns—and a lot more satisfied customers.
Make the most of the New Year’s mindset.
The consumer mindset is a fickle thing. All through December, people are eating, drinking, and spending money with wild abandon. But come New Year’s Day, a switch flips. Suddenly everyone is on their best behaviour, resolutely determined to work harder, exercise more, and be a better person.
This is a golden opportunity for savvy online sellers to win new customers by catering to their self-betterment instincts. Think about how your products relate to people’s mindsets. You probably aren’t going to sell a lot of junk food, liquor, or expensive shoes in January, but if you offer and promote products that tap into customers’ New Year’s resolutions—exercise equipment, juice cleanses, closet organizers—you’re more likely to have a strong first quarter.
Retarget seasonal customers.
By the end of the holidays, you should have more data than ever at your fingertips: email addresses, order histories, abandoned carts, and—if you’ve taken our advice and enabled them—wish lists. Now, go do something with it!
Retargeting is as simple as it sounds—engaging with customers you’ve already engaged with. These might be people who visited your store over the holidays, saved an item, and forgot about it. They might be people who signed up for your newsletter to receive a coupon and never redeemed it. Or, they might be people who actually made a purchase.
Regardless of who they are or their interaction with your store, retargeting has shown to be a powerful tool for boosting conversions. According to a study by Wishpond, retargeting brings 26 percent of lost consumers back to complete a purchase, compared to just 8 percent who would naturally return on their own. If you’ve been collecting an advertising audience, consider retargeting all the people who visited your site in December and serving them a Facebook ad—it could pay big dividends.
Our advice: don’t wait to retarget holiday customers. Online shoppers are easily distracted and quick to forget their wishlisted and even purchased items. Rather than letting your products fade into hazy holiday memories, compel customers back to your store with relevant and personalized advertising, social media and email content.
Prepare to launch something new.
January is a perfect time to release a new product. While most retailers and marketers are still recovering from the holidays, analyzing sales data, and restocking inventory, you can take a different approach by grabbing the spotlight and unveiling something new.
Launching a product early in the year has several advantages. Most importantly, it entices people to visit your store without you having to slash prices. And, by capitalizing on the New Year’s mentality—new year, new you, new everything—your product will gain more traction than it might at another time of year. Finally, new products released in January can create a powerful revenue base on which to build your success throughout the rest of the year.
Keep the content coming.
After the deluge of marketing emails and social media updates that run from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, things tend to go quiet in January. Retailers are worn out, and many of them make the mistake of assuming their customers are worn out, too.
While it may be true that more isn’t always better when it comes to email marketing, it’s also true that you make more money communicating with your prospects and customers more often. If you can keep the content coming while everyone else has gone silent, yours will be the voice people hear—and your store will be the one people look to first in 2016.
Debrief on successes and failures from the holiday season.
The holidays are a chaotic time for retailers. It would be great if you could find time to reflect and recalibrate every day, but with orders and emails constantly streaming in, odds are you haven’t had a moment to think about your business strategy since October.
Now is the time to make a cup of tea and pore over your analytics and sales reports from the last couple of months. Analyze everything. Think about what went well and what could have gone better, whether that has to do with merchandising, marketing or staffing. Identify pain points in your creative process, problems with your fulfillment strategy, and any other challenges you faced during the busiest months of the year.
Smooth out the kinks and you’ll be on track to take on whatever 2016 has in store.
Make a plan for the coming year.
The new year is all about making plans—to eat better, exercise more, spend less money, etc. However, if you’re an online seller, January is an equally good time to wipe the slate clean and think about how you can improve your store in 2016.
Make resolutions for your business—Shopify just posted some great tips for sticking to them—and create a list of the changes and improvements you’d like to make to your store. January is also the time to create your marketing calendar for the year ahead, highlighting important shopping dates and campaigns you plan to run around them.
(Check back next week for some tips on creating your 2016 marketing calendar.)
Carve out some time for learning and professional development.
Ecommerce is evolving at breakneck speed. While it might be difficult for you to find the time to take a step back, examining and understanding the industry is an important part of your growth as an online seller. Take some time early in the new year to get up to speed with the latest trends and developments, and consider how you can use them to improve your business.
If you’re baffled by mobile site design or how to set up a Facebook “Shop” section for your store, now is the time to learn. Consider signing up for a class, attending a conference, connecting with other sellers, or just reading more widely. Developing your skills and expanding your knowledge now will give you a competitive edge and lay the foundation for success in 2016.
Take a vacation.
Small business owners seem to struggle with the concept of “vacation.” In a study by OnDeck, just over half of small business owners polled plan to take a vacation this year, and of those who do, the majority will take only five days.
It can be hard to tear yourself away when you’re so invested in your business, but the benefits are undeniable, and the post-holiday season is a great time to get away for some well-deserved fun in the sun. Even if you can’t swing a 10-day resort holiday right now, take a few days to completely disconnect, then plan to do it again every few months throughout the year.
What have you been doing to overcome the post-holiday slump? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below!