10-Step Holiday Sale Launch Checklist for Online Stores

The holiday season is coming! For eCommerce businesses, it’s not so much the most wonderful time of the year as it is the most important.

For the next couple of months, people will be in spending mode as they collect gifts for loved ones and prepare for various holiday celebrations.

For retail businesses, holiday sales account for 20-30% of all sales for the entire year. A lot of your online store’s success for the year could depend on these next few weeks — you don’t want to do anything wrong.

And yet, even big sites like Target and Paypal have taken a hit in the past on the biggest shopping days of the year for not being adequately prepared. If your website isn’t doing its job right during the holiday season, you’ll lose sales.

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Your Holiday Sale Launch Checklist

Do everything in your power in the weeks leading up to the holidays to make sure your online store won’t have any issues when it counts most.

To make that easier for you, here’s a handy checklist of steps to take.


1. Review last year’s analytics so you know what to expect.

You can learn a lot about what to expect this year by looking to last year. Pull up your Google Analytics data from last year’s holiday months to see:

  •      How your traffic volume changed during the holiday season
  •      Which pages got the most traffic
  •      Which products were the most popular
  •      What keywords brought the most people to your website (and are they different during the holiday season than the rest of the year?)
  •      Which channels drove the most traffic (search, social, email, links from other sites, etc.)
  •      The demographic break down of your visitors during the holiday season (and whether it’s different than the rest of the year)
  •      What devices your visitors are coming from

All of this information will be useful in forming a more effective strategy for your holiday marketing,

If your primary audience is usually 15-year old boys, but during the holiday season you notice their moms are usually the ones visiting your site, then you’ll know it pays to shift your marketing strategy to the audience making the purchases. If your past data shows that paid search ads work especially well the week of Black Friday, then you know to increase your PPC ad spend during that time.

Turning to your site analytics during the holidays can provide a wealth of insights that enable you to truly make the most of the season this year.


2. Create a plan for discounts and specials and how you’ll promote them.

People are ready to spend money, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want to save anywhere they can. Your competitors will definitely be offering deals and promotions during the holidays so if you want a chance at winning business, you need to promote attractive offers as well.

Decide on the discounts you can offer on popular products this season to get people to buy. Consider other specials that may push potential customers to buy, such as free gift wrapping or shipping.

And create a plan for promoting your offers to your target audience(s) on all your main marketing channels (especially those that your analytics showed worked best last year).


3. Make sure your website’s organized for holiday shoppers.

For some online stores, the way your website is organized the rest of the year may work just fine for the holiday season.

For others, you can benefit from trying to see your store and products with fresh eyes: what pages and categories would someone looking for holiday gifts or items find useful?

If you have a lot of small, affordable items, creating a category for Stocking Stuffers or White Elephant Gifts might help your visitors find something specific they need this time of year, and help you optimize for some holiday keywords.

best buy stocking stuffers page for holiday season

Make sure any changes you make to your store’s organization are intuitive — keep your target audience top of mind in this step.


4. Confirm all new holiday pages are optimized for SEO.

Every new page you add to your website for the holidays should follow the same SEO best practices you use for the rest of your website. Namely:

  •      Do keyword research to determine the best primary and secondary keywords to target on the page.
  •      Customize the page URL so that it’s both intuitive and includes your primary keyword.
  •      Update the page’s title tag to include the primary keyword.
  •      Update all the heading tags on the page to include keywords, where relevant.
  •     Optimize all your images by including keywords in the file name and alt tags.
  •      Add a meta description with a strong CTA to encourage click-throughs from Google. 

But as always, make sure all the elements of your page combine to provide a positive experience for your visitors first, and search engines second. Don’t sacrifice clarity to get your keyword in there a few more times.


5. Review (and possibly update) your return policy.

There are a lot of wonderful things about gift giving (and receiving), but the one big catch is that you usually don’t know for sure what the other person wants. During this time of year more than any other, having a good return policy is important for ensuring your customers choose to buy from you and have a good experience when they do.

If your customer excitedly hands your product over to their loved one only to learn it’s the wrong size or something they already own — how will they feel if returning it is a difficult process, or worse, you don’t allow returns at all?

If your return policy is at all strict throughout the rest of the year, consider updating it at least through the holiday season. A generous return policy will make people more likely to do their holiday shopping with you and return to your brand for future purchases.


6. Test out the checkout process on your website.

If there’s anything about the checkout process on your website that’s difficult or inconvenient, you want to know about it before you lose customers over it. Use a company credit card to make a few test purchases on the site.

Don’t just do this once on your usual computer and browser. Try it out on various computers, in different browsers, and on as many mobile devices as you can access. If possible, ask a friend to make some test purchases too so you can get an outsider’s perspective on the process.

If you notice anything that slows the checkout process down or makes it even slightly more difficult, change it before the holiday season is in full swing.


7. Test out all important links and forms.

If any of your links point to the wrong place, your visitors won’t be able to find what they’re looking for and are more likely to leave the site. And if your forms don’t work properly, you could miss out on important contact attempts and lose sales because of it.

Have an employee spend a day going through the website to try out all the links and confirm that they take the user where they should. Test out all the forms on the site, too. As you did with the checkout process, make sure to do so on various devices and in different browsers to be comprehensive.


8. Calculate shipping speeds so you can advertise “delivery by” dates.

While people care about how long they have to wait on an order year-round, it becomes especially important once you get into late November and December. Anyone browsing your website close to the main gift-giving dates will want to know they’ll get their items in time.

You can increase conversions during that time by providing clear information on when your customers can expect to receive an order based on the shipping option they choose.

Here’s an example from Nordstrom:

nordstrom holiday shipping speeds

Keep in mind that the winter months bring weather patterns to many areas that can slow packages down, so be prepared with a plan to make amends if a customer doesn’t get a package when they expect to because of a storm or icy roads. Even if the delay isn’t your fault, it’s your job to turn a disappointing experience into a good one.


9. Check that your hosting can handle higher traffic.

It’s every online store’s nightmare: your website crashing on one of the biggest shopping days of the year. It even happened to Amazon on Prime Day this year, proving that it can happen to anyone. But you can reduce the risk of it happening to you by upgrading your hosting if you’re expecting a big increase in traffic.

If you’re not sure if your website hosting plan can cover the amount of traffic you expect this year, get in touch with them and ask. If they can’t give you the answer you want, consider switching to a new web hosting provider or a more advanced plan.


10. Make sure you have plenty of stock.

This one requires moving off your website to check that what’s on the website is accurate.

Check your inventory to make sure that every product listed, and especially those you plan to promote heavily, are in stock. Use last year’s analytics to determine if you should buy more of a particular item so you don’t risk leaving money on the table if it runs out too early.

Just as importantly, make sure you have all the packaging materials you need to handle the orders that will come in. You don’t want orders held up because you ran out of boxes or tape.


Be Prepared With Our Holiday Sale Launch Checklist

Your website has a big job to do, but you have to make sure you’re ready to fulfill everything the website promises to your visitors.

Go through our Holiday Sale Launch Checklist to make sure you’re ready for the season this year. A profitable holiday season will put your online store on strong footing as you move into the New Year.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.