When the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to fall, potential customers gear up for the ultimate spending spree as they turn to ecommerce businesses to fulfill their every holiday wish and whim. Trying to make the season merry and bright, ecommerce business owners are decking their virtual halls with the hottest deals and must-have products.
Are you ready to unlock your business’s potential during the holiday season? This fall, Saltbox hit the road and took a tour across America to explore the stories of modern merchants and small business owners who are making an impact in their communities. We hosted a founder panel discussion that dove into the world of ecommerce, shared valuable insights and brought together a vibrant community of ecommerce trailblazers.
Our panel discussion in Denver, Colorado focused on all the how-to’s of the holiday season, from prepping for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to planning for the last minute shoppers desperate to get their gifts before the big day. We asked and they answered some of the biggest questions you’ve got this holiday season. Ready for a recap? Let the ecommerce festivities begin!
Peak Season Preparation
It’s often said that business owners are meant to spend nearly six months prior to November preparing for the holiday season. And our panel agrees! According to Orion Brown, Founder and CEO of Black Travel Box, the key to preparing for the season is simply refreshing her annual planning calendar.
“A couple of years ago, I attended a Klaviyo Black Friday and Cyber Monday training and it was phenomenal,” she explains. “One of the best tools I got out of that was a planning calendar that counts down week by week leading into [the season] and through the year end. It gives you a clear roadmap to plug in your promotions by product and by audience, [helping to] align your messaging.”
Brown called it a “gem for businesses,” especially those without the benefit of a large team or agency support, offering a starting point for planning a brand’s vision in a coherent way. Even better? It’s easily adaptable to any project planning software business owners often use.
But beyond the holiday planning on an easy-to-use calendar, our business owners are looking for a far more intuitive way to prepare inventory for the holiday season. No business can account for exactly the amount of inventory they require going into the season, but there are certain accommodations that can be made.
Take it from Jaclyn Tracy, CEO and Founder of SISTAIN, who explains her experience with inventory management. “[It] used to be a guessing game,” she says. “For a sustainable home decor ecommerce [business] like ours, inventory management is both an art and a science. Curation is the art. The ordering volume, historical analysis and predictive analytics is the science.”
Speaking about her own customer segmentation, Tracy says: “We went from guessing what products customers may want to analyzing what products different customer segments were actively purchasing to inform our curation. We now have a model that reports what we need to restock, when, and how many of that SKU we need to order based on the past six months of buying behaviors.”
Sharing her experience, Brown says she’s preparing inventory by “tapping into a co-man to take some base product off my hands that I would normally make in house. This frees me up to work on new products, limited editions, and bundle offers. I also would suggest utilizing bundles as an inventory management tool to ensure products that have historically moved faster can help nudge the slower movers.”
When it comes to keying in on customer behavior to drive inventory needs, Brown recommends creating bundles that align with customer behavior, intended use of the products or a relevant theme. As Brown explains, these bundles, when constructed properly, can generate surprise and delight among customers who might not have tried the product otherwise.
Marketing Campaigns and Promotions
During the holiday season, every business is fighting for their place at the top of the Christmas tree when it comes to unique and stand out campaigns that reach customers and offer high conversions. After years in the business, our entrepreneurs share some insights on their best (and worst) campaigns to date.
“[My business has] traditionally called Black Friday ‘Purple Friday’”,” explains Colin McIntosh, Founder and CEO of Sheets & Giggles. “So two years ago, we sent out a piece of direct mail to all our existing customers that did quite well. On the front, we wanted to make sure it stood out in the mail pile, so in big, bold letters we asked: ‘What’s big, purple, and comes just once a year?’ It was flashy, catchy, and risky… and we got some complaints. But also some great ROI!”
Simple and straight to the point seems to be the advice from many of our entrepreneurs, with Brown piggy backing off of McIntosh with her own marketing plan. She explains that the idea of going simple offers an opportunity to reach the customers through a “warm and fuzzy” approach. Using ‘From the Founder’ type offers allows customers to take a moment to connect personally with your brand, and your brand to them.
She adds, “Show pictures of your team working in the warehouse, or link to video [of] wrapping your products as gifts. They have enough ‘commercial’ emails in their inbox. Get people in the place of feeling the humanity behind the brand.”
But with all the remarkable marketing campaigns come the potential bad and even the ugly of the season. Our entrepreneurs explain that overextending their brand was a fatal flaw when it came to marketing their product and stocking inventory.
Tracy says, “You have to define your niche. Prior to focusing our product lines solely within the home space, we tested sustainable clean beauty out, too. We were too many things to our customers and therefore nothing at all. We focused on what was resonating most with our community and that was sustainable home goods.”
At the end of the day, it’s also important to cut yourself some slack if you make a bad bet. McIntosh laughs as he shares his story of betting on the latest trend, and falling short of epic sales.
He says: “Apparently, flannel is passe. Who knew? Our Eucalyptus Flannel is a lovely product that we launched in holiday 2021, but we’re still sitting on units from our initial production run from 2 years ago despite rave reviews. Sometimes, you make a bad bet - always be sure you have the cash to cover it!”
Advice and Actionable Insights
When it comes to optimization, our Saltbox entrepreneurs had plenty of epic insights to share. From site improvements to hiring how-tos, our entrepreneurs share some of their best advice when it comes to prepping for the season.
McIntosh provides his best advice on optimizing your Amazon or Shopify site for the heavy influx of customers this shopping season. “Have your Shopify site’s upsells locked in, including cross-purchase complimentary items (so after someone adds to cart or ‘frequently bought with’ suggestions). You can also upsell after purchase with an app called AfterSell - if someone just gave you a hundred dollars, that means they’ve already gone through the mental calculus of deciding whether or not to order from your brand, so why not offer them another $50 item for 20% off at that immediate post-purchase point? [This almost guarantees a] huge conversion rate that increases AOV dramatically.”
Even better, there’s ways to make bundling work in your favor if the customer has already decided your brand is worth supporting. McIntosh calls under-$100 “the new gifting price point [and] has been for a minute.” To capitalize on this trend, he recommends capturing the potential customer coming to your site to buy one gift for a family member or friend, and incentivizing them to knock out all their holiday shopping with a multi-item discount. “Beyond that, if you add something to the cart on your site, you can see that we give shoppers an extra % off any second item with a code found only in the cart.”
Tracy shares her thoughts on building a team for peak season, explaining her process of hiring a head of growth prior to the holidays, developing out and defining the role in the months leading up to the season.
“We brought our Head of Growth on board over 6 months ago so that we could plan our personalized, social shopping platform that will launch next year,” she shares. “[We also wanted to] start analyzing the data we have to make informed decisions about UX optimization strategies, paid media mix, influencer, brand collaborations and other marketing executions.”
Looking for that pivotal new position on your team? Try hiring a Head of Growth to develop out a strong holiday marketing plan, prior to peak season.
Your Holiday Business Strategy
The stage is set for the best holiday season yet, all you have to do is take some of these invaluable insights and put them into practice quickly and effectively. Among all the expertise shared, one standout piece of knowledge resounds above the rest…
And remember: The holiday season is not a sprint but a marathon, and businesses must synchronize their steps with the evolving rhythms of consumer behavior. As the curtain rises on the holiday season and all the ecommerce festivities, the lessons shared by these Saltbox members and successful entrepreneurs serve as a strong guide for all businesses ready to unlock their full potential this year. Are you ready to take on the challenge?
Black Friday is November 24, 2023 with Cyber Monday following on November 27, 2023.
Interested in moving your ecommerce business to Saltbox before peak season hits?
At Saltbox, we want to grow your small business with you. Whether your business is just getting started or growth is picking up, Saltbox solves the toughest parts with comprehensive logistics support in a community-focused workspace. Saltbox benefits your growing business by focusing on those personal business needs that other ecommerce logistics services overlook. Get started with Saltbox and let’s grow your business together.