17 Tips for Your Store’s First ONLINE Holiday Season

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day and the entire holiday season can be a challenge, especially when you aren’t sure what to expect. Fourth quarter online transactions are expected to skyrocket this year, but how will it impact your sales specifically?

One thing is certain – virtually all online Canadians will look to eCommerce for gifts and holiday essentials in 2020. Forty-eight percent of Canadians plan to purchase most or everything online this year.

Help Your Canadian Small Business Ace its First Holiday Season Online

Savvy Canadian small businesses have been scrambling to establish a digital presence, and are now facing their first holiday season online. The following tips will help to ensure you don’t fall off the virtual sleigh.

1. First and foremost, make sure your website and eCommerce package can cope with a high volume of visitors and sales. Otherwise, potential customers may arrive to find an error message instead of your website. A good website host or eCommerce platform provider will guide you through this decision.

Checklist: How to Find the Best Website Host for your Canadian Business

Canadian Guide to the Best eCommerce Platform Software

Test your ordering process on both a desktop computer and mobile devices, as well as multiple browsers (such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome).

“To achieve success this holiday season, you need to test your ecommerce site and relevant systems (payments, customer portals, etc.) to make sure they’re ready for sustained periods of above-average traffic,” recommends Digital River. “A longer promotional period could mitigate some of the peaks, but with volumes expected to be higher than normal throughout the season, it’s better to play it safe and have scalable solutions that can exceed anything you’ve experienced before. Also, be sure to talk to your commerce vendors to make sure they are set up to handle a spike in traffic.”

2. Get your supply chains in place, including back-up suppliers. Not only do you need ample inventory, you should have it in place as early in the season as possible.

3. Find the least expensive shipping/return methods and make sure all can be tracked. If you’re offering omni-channel delivery options, such as curbside or in-store pickup, make the process as seamless and straight-forward as possible.

“Whether it’s online, offline or a combination of the two, shoppers want seamless experiences,” says a Canada Post report. “Leverage your full set of channels to provide shoppers with convenient options for receiving their purchases, including online, retail locations and marketplaces.”

The easiest way to connect all of those omni-channel dots, is through a robust eCommerce platform that moves seamlessly through all sales channels. Shopify, for example, allows you to sync inventory for both online and offline sales, as well as online marketplaces like Google, Amazon & Pinterest.

4. Check your content and sales copy and update as necessary. Add as much new, high-quality content as you can, focusing on guiding shoppers with how-to guides, product comparisons, gift guides, and other helpful information. Decide which keywords you’ll focus on and work them into your content where they’ll be a natural fit. If you want to dive deep into keywords, try a keyword research tool like SEMRush.

5. Add a list of FAQ’s to your website. Potential customers are more likely to move on if they have to wait for a reply to a simple question. Additionally, you’ll receive far less support emails from confused shoppers. Your customer support staff can also use the FAQ’s as a reference when responding to questions, ensuring accurate, consistent information is shared. The page serves as keyword-rich content to bring in more traffic as well.

6. Clearly state your policies and procedures, including shipping, returns, refunds and payments.

7. Make sure customer service will run like a well-oiled machine. A customer care section on your website can address many issues before they arise. Provide multiple contact options, such as live chat on your website, social media messages, or email. Prepare SOMs (Standard Outgoing Messages) for frequently asked questions so they can be answered quickly.

8. Report after report strongly indicates Canadian consumers want a smooth and efficient shopping and ordering experience. You know what has frustrated you when you shop on other sites, so you can make sure you do better.

9. Familiarize yourself with Canadian privacy and transactional data laws and ensure you’re in compliance. This can impact everything from how you store credit card information to where your website data is stored online. Learn more in Canadian Website Hosts and the Legal Reasons to Use Them.

10. Decide what deals you’ll offer and when & how you’ll roll them out. This could include long-running offers like free shipping, weekly product discounts, a site-wide sale or what have you.

11. Book your influencers and get your product into blog gift guides ASAP. The popularity of influencer marketing reflects its effectiveness and impressive return on investment (ROI).

12. If Canada is your target market, your website and online marketing should broadcast that you’re Canadian. Online shoppers in Canada have expressed a strong desire to ‘shop Canadian’, but quite often have a hard time finding what they’re looking for. Learn more in 15 Easy Ways to Show Search Engines You’re Canadian. Canadianize your holiday hashtags on social media, like #BlackFridayCanada.

13. If you do it right, the holiday season can result in repeat customers for years to come. You can further ensure that by encouraging visitors to sign up for your newsletter and follow you on social media.

14. Set up email gift cards for those who want a quick gift, last minute shoppers or as an alternative for products that have sold out.

15. Keep apprised of security threats, such as fraudulant transactions, ransomware and secure checkout.

eCommerce and Online Sales Fraud Prevention in Canada

How Small Businesses Can Prevent Ransomware Encryption

Simple Ways to Protect Your Home Business from Online Threats

16. Outsource or hire any help you’ll need, such as a virtual assistant, graphic designer or marketing agency. If you can afford it, a good support staff will allow you to focus on what truly requires your personal attention. You’ll be more profitable in the end. Contractors get very busy as the holiday season approaches, so book them as early as possible.

17. Plan for the worst case scenario. What will you do if this or that happens? How can you prevent it? If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the critical importance of a contingency plan.

Keep it Simple

Don’t over-complicate your first online holiday shopping season. Implement as many of these suggestions as you can confidently manage and afford. In fact, you should avoid making any major changes to your website that aren’t absolutely necessary to have in place for the fourth quarter.

“Now’s not the time to introduce big changes—instead, you want to spend this time testing your store, to be sure your customers won’t run into any trouble when shopping,” recommends a LimeSpot Shopify expert.

Don’t worry about using ‘nice to have’ tools, bells & whistles or becoming a master of marketing. You can learn that next year when you have some experience under your belt, and can take your time rolling things out. The important thing to remember right now, is that Canadian customers will be looking for you online and you have to serve them there.

Do you have questions about your first holiday season online? Join the Online Business Canada Facebook group for further guidance and discussion.

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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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