holiday season checklist for retailers

The Ultimate Retailer’s Checklist For Holiday Season 201811 min read

As the shopping bug begins to bite people across the world, retailers need to step up their game in time for the holiday rush. What you do not want to do is miss out on something important in the crazy schedule. A consolidated holiday checklist of all the important things you need to tick off on your calendar can help you be better prepared. By the time you’re done ticking off every item on this list, you’ll be holiday ready!

holiday checklist for retailers

Data Data Data

Trust me when I say data is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. It can help you in multiple ways, especially when it comes to the holiday season prep. You can use data from the past few years, taking into account the changes you have made and why (floral prints and bell sleeves might come into fashion again!), and create a complete strategy.

Consider Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte that is available only during a certain time of the year. The idea is to make consumers associate that particular product with the season and crave it (they nailed it, considering how it is their most popular seasonal drink!). The coffee mogul initially got the idea from competitor Dunkin Donuts and their Pumpkin Donuts which was available only in the fall!

starbucks pumpkin spice latte

Ask yourself the following questions.

What were your bestsellers? (those are your special snowflakes)

Was there any major flop? If yes, why? (put yourself in a customer’s shoes)

Did you run out of some unexpected hot sell? (didn’t see that one coming?)

Did a specific promotional campaign do particularly well? (using it again is not a crime against creativity)

Did customers consistently return any product? (might want to look into that one)

Answering these questions will be all the more easier if you’ve got extensive data on your hands. Your entire holiday season inventory can be double checked, orders to vendors can be placed in advance, and product defects if any can be fixed in time! Besides, you can focus on the best target group for your business, and employ your best marketing strategies to reach out to them well in advance.

If you’re looking for efficient tools to manage or sort out your inventory, we’ve got a list of the best ones you can use right here.

Build you own Holiday castle

Stores that have specific themes for the holidays build their entire strategy around it. Everything from the marketing emails they send to the kind of packaging they use, reflects this chosen theme. It works really well, as it definitely increases brand recall among newly targeted customers and gives existing customers something new to look forward to.

Check out this ad by Nike for last year’s holiday Black Friday sale. Simple, minimalist, and succinct, it targets Nike’s huge loyal fan base. There simply is no need to announce the percentage of discounts offered, or the special promo codes to use. The ad spells out the brand’s confidence in its product and reach.

nike black friday ad

With a majority of shoppers shifting to the convenience of online shopping from the comfort of their homes, it’s a big deal to create the wow factor the minute they enter your online store. Minimalist, theme centred, and easily accessible sites perform extremely well as compared to ones with slower loading times thanks to heavy imagery or content.

Check out the Adidas ad for the same. It certainly is more verbose for one.

adidas black friday ad

Another important thing to remember is to make the mobile version of your site run smoothly as over 64% of shoppers use their mobile phones or tablets to shop. If your store has a separate app, that’s great too!

Make sure your IT team is on call all through the holiday rush to immediately deal with any tech issues that may arise. You definitely do not want your customers moving on to check out another site because yours had glitches in it.

Your holiday theme can be consistent across all platforms, and you can personalize your emails to understand customer behavior better. Tracking all marketing assets can show you the problem areas customers face, or specific areas on site that lead to drop offs, and you can concentrate on fixing them before the rush hits. Introduce a loyalty program if you don’t already have one, as you can never go wrong with exclusive member only deals.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Remember that cringe worthy moment when your competitor put up something huge and extravagant that completely put your efforts to shame? Well, let me tell you there’s no harm in learning new things. The task before you now is to figure out how your competitor achieved their goal, and what made it so different from yours.

Did they have a bigger product marketing team working full time?

Did they throw in freebies like free shipping that you couldn’t afford?

Or was there some new technology they risked experimenting with?

The thing here is, watching and learning from peers will help you go a long way in choosing the areas you want to compete in. There is absolutely nothing wrong in borrowing ideas from a peer’s last year theme or promotions if they were exceptional.

Check out what Walmart has done for their Halloween promo!

walmart ad screenshot

People are going to be comparing prices left, right and centre once they start shopping. Run through the pricing offered by competitors. Try to offer Free Shipping as much as you can. Atleast at some minimum cart value.

When it’s holiday season, the tough certainly do get going. Surviving in the brutal retail landscape is no piece of cake. Earn your place by paying close attention to prices, shipping, customer experience, site design and ease of access.

The art of communication

When was the last time you successfully nailed a negotiation with your shipping partner and felt on top of the world?

Your shipping carrier will be one who delivers on your promise of an efficient last mile. No matter how great all your products and overall strategy may be, you need the guarantee of an exceptional last mile delivery to achieve the targeted level of customer experience.

In order to negotiate the best deals with your carrier, you need to know your stuff. We’re talking shipping terms, previous contractual clauses, the discounts offered to peers, and the like. If you need more information regarding negotiating shipping contracts, you can read this post.

Records of excellent profits in your previous quarters will make shipping carriers vie for your account. So all you have to do is arm yourself with the right data and kill that negotiation!

What’s the shipping plan?

free shipping ad

First things first. Don’t ever surprise the customer at checkout with your shipping prices. Ever!

That’s just asking for cart abandonment, and that’s not what we’re aiming at.

It is definitely possible for you to offer free shipping and still make profits. You simply might not have a choice at times, especially if all your competitors are offering free shipping in their stores. Try assimilating the shipping cost into the product cost as much as possible. Or else, go for a minimum order value that would qualify the customer for free shipping.

If you’d like to know more on how to offer free shipping without going broke, you can read here.

The magic of wrapping paper

This might seem like a tiny thing, but it has proven results. The unwrapping experience is an important tactile pleasure a customer enjoys before witnessing the product that was hitherto seen only through a computer/ mobile screen.

Your packaging needs to suit whatever grand holiday plan you’ve come up with. It’s got to be strong enough to withstand the transit to a customer’s doorstep, while being aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Not asking for much eh?

nordstrom ad

If you’re packing fragile items or oversized ones, you’ll need special packaging materials. Stock up on plenty of those way before the rush hits. Buying in bulk will always be cheaper than rushing to a store after you run out of materials mid holiday rush.

Don’t crimp on the small things that let you customize/ personalize your packaging!

If you’re packaging odd shaped items, and need some help, this can help you.

Your staff could be your best brand ambassadors

How good is your rapport with all the staff on your payroll?

Feeling comfortable and happy in the workplace will help the members of your staff advocate your brand even outside. Offering special staff discounts and vouchers doesn’t hurt either.

The holiday season is when your customer support team and marketing teams are fully swamped, and you need to bring in more staff just to handle the rush. So if you can turn all your existing staff into brand ambassadors who will be well versed in handling customer queries or issues, then you can save on more than half the cost of hiring new holiday recruits.

You’re gonna be fielding calls from customers right up till day their package is supposed to arrive. Prepping all your staff on how to answer these calls or just be helpful to irate customers will be a huge plus when the pressure starts getting to you. Make sure you strategize staff training into your holiday schedule.

It all boils down to ensuring your staff have a great working atmosphere that will put them in the holiday season cheer with minimal or no effort.

staff as brand ambassadors

Rate your shipping carrier

Alright. Time to be honest.

How would you rate your shipping partner on a scale of 1 to 10?

Wait, what criteria would you rate them for in the first place?

Yep, you’re going to need extensive data on carrier performance to handle that.

This is where services like come in. You can get all the data you need to gauge carrier performance and hold them accountable. But hey, that’s not even the best part. The best part is all this data is readily available and free for any shipper who needs it!

You need to ensure that the shipping partner you choose for the holiday season is highly capable of handling the rush and working well under pressure. They form a key link between you and your customers, and providing a fulfilling customer experience depends on them.

What you can do is to divide your shipments between different carriers (either regional or domestic) depending on your varying shipping needs. Keep in mind that speed and efficiency are the things to look for, and not just economical options.

lateshipment ad

Automation is efficiency

If most of your ecommerce store’s processes are already automated, good!

If not, it’s high time you got into the automation gravy boat.

Let me give you a few instances of where automation can come in handy.

  • Consider how much easier order fulfilment would become with the right set of inventory management and fulfilment tools! (for more about best automation tools/ services you can read here)
  • Managing that big warehouse space becomes less of a mission impossible conundrum and becomes actually manageable when you use a warehouse management tool.
  • Holiday season packaging can be more time and labor consuming than any other time of the year. Automating this process can save plenty of time and let you allocate the man power to other areas like sales where it will be much needed.

customized email

Automation, data science and machine learning can help you offer your customers the best. Say for instance, there’s a customer who tried to order a particular item from your store more than once. You could offer to help them with the checkout process. The following email also offers free shipping over $50! The customer often ends up buying more than they planned, and all that remains is to get it to ‘their doorstep on time.

Stick to timelines

As you well know, there’s plenty of holiday prep to do.

Remember that not everybody shops last minute, and a vast percentage of the population begin creating their wish lists months in advance.

All your promotional campaigns, time oriented offers and shipping vouchers should coincide with this. Analyze customer behavior from previous years, figure out when they start browsing for holiday supplies or presents, and give it to them at the right time. They’ll love you for it, and your store will gain a definite competitive advantage!

Fix the holiday timeline in advance and ensure that everybody sticks to it. Create set timings for inventory stocking, content updates, offer releases and campaigns. Everything.

This will help with minimizing cart abandonment and ensure better customer retention.

Hope this holiday checklist helps you get ready for this season way better than any other. Wishing you the best of holiday magic!

Joelah James

Writer. Wanderer. Impulsive artist. Always on the lookout for great coffee, books, and more coffee.