Ah, the holidays. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, family members rolling into town, tinsel and music and…you, swamped in orders and business logistics, scrambling to keep up. For ecommerce store owners, the holidays can take on a whole new meaning. Assuming you’ve already gained some market traction and people are interested in your products, the holidays can be the time when your traffic goes through the roof and your sales hit a peak, from Black Friday through the New Year. This can and should be an exhilarating time! Just keep a few tips in mind as you handle the holiday rush, so that you can focus less on logistical hurdles and more on the important stuff.

Start Preparing Early

You’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating until it’s second nature to start preparing for the holidays during the summer. Stock up on any inventory you can, make sure your website design is stellar, and optimize your site for SEO. Build up social media momentum with ads, and start putting more money toward your paid search campaign. Tackle any conversion issues now; if you’re noticing a lot of abandoned carts or a high bounce rate, for example, fix the problem before it creates a huge impact during the holidays. We recently partnered with Paypal to run a webinar in September tackling many of these exact considerations, and it’s a great place to start if you're wondering what to do with the holidays looming. You can watch the webinar here, or download our convenient holiday checklist here.

Review Last Year’s Data

Be sure to review your historical data, noting products sold the most, which ones ran out of stock, and which ones didn’t sell at all. All of this will help inform how much inventory you prepare for the new holiday season. Even if you aren’t still selling those exact products, you’ll be able to get an understanding of which features are most popular so you can stock up on similar items and be more prepared to handle the rush.

Hire Seasonal Staff

Depending on the scope and revenue of your ecommerce store, this could mean hiring 15 more warehouse workers or it could simply mean throwing your nephew some extra cash to help you manage orders and inventory. The bottom line is, if your sales increase to the point where you’re swamped, then you should have money in your budget to take on some extra help. It’s great to prepare as much as possible and hone your workflow to a T, but sometimes the most sanity-saving measure you can take is calling on some extra help when you need it.

Clearly Communicate Shipping Times and Costs

Shipping is extremely time-sensitive during the holidays, particularly for last-minute shoppers. While unforeseen circumstances like weather delays do happen, control what you can by being up-front about your expected shipping times. Don’t boast fast shipping if you’re the one personally packing items and taking them to the post office, as this will become hard to manage during the holidays. It’s completely fine if being a one-person shipping shop is what makes the most sense for your business for now! Just make sure to conservatively estimate shipping times so you have a little wiggle room if things get crazy. That way, your customers can be pleasantly surprised if their order gets finds them faster than expected. Similarly, communicate your shipping rates before your customers hit the checkout page, otherwise you may have some customers abandoning their shopping carts due to the unpleasant surprise of the cost of shipping. This is also a great time to consider offering promotions like free shipping over a certain dollar amount!

Develop a System for Managing Returns

Once the holidays are over, you’re almost done with the logistical surge, but not quite! You’ll still need a system in place for managing returns – if you offer them. If you don’t have a flexible return policy, then just like the shipping information, make sure it’s clearly stated on your website so you don’t face disappointed customers. Most ecommerce shops stay in step with the competition by offering, at the very least, a 30-day return policy. If yours is similar, then make things as easy as possible for your customers by quickly responding to any questions they might have, offering prepaid shipping labels, and helpfully addressing constructive feedback or offering to replace damaged items. Keep those staff members you hired for the holidays around for just a bit longer, so they can help with the back end of the return process. And make sure you update your inventory forecasts; many things that are returned can be resold!

Focus on one thing at a time, stay organized, and ask for help when you need it, and you’ll quickly be handling the holiday rush like a pro. Most importantly, remember to breathe and spend quality time with your family; those extra business considerations won’t erase the magic of the season!