When Should I Start Planning for the Holidays?

As we start wrapping up the summer, the holidays might be the last thing on your mind. But if you're a business owner or marketer, you'd better be thinking about more than your tan or that last trip to the pool.

Yes, now is the time to finalize your business's holiday plans. If you want to make the most out of the biggest sales season of the year, you can't put things off any longer.

Why You Need a Plan

Having an e-commerce website doesn't guarantee you'll be rolling in sales come November and December. The mere fact that your site exists and sells products doesn't mean people will buy from you. Online shoppers may throw their money around left and right, but they aren't going to throw any of that money at you unless you give them the right reasons.

You may think you can just skate by with a free shipping deal and some snowy animation on your homepage. But if that's all you have planned, you can say goodbye to any holiday boost in performance. While you're waiting for those sales to magically flow in, your competitors are sending out a dozen email blasts, increasing their ad budgets, and escalating their social media campaigns. Do you really think your holiday soundtrack and the festive Santa hat Photoshopped on your logo is going to drive more sales?

Plan Your Promos

The key to every holiday shopper's wallet is a well-timed promotion. Holiday shoppers are looking for the big deals. Storewide 10% off or free shipping on orders over $300 won't have anyone busting down the proverbial doors to your site. If you want to increase your sales during the holiday season, you need to have promotions that actually entice your customers to A. Visit your site, and B. Make a purchase.

Of course, you don't want to give away your profit margins either. What good are sales if you aren't making any money? This is a key reason why you have to plan everything. A spur-of-the-moment 40% off sale might sound like a great idea on Black Friday, but it might also leave you with low inventory and no money.

A successful promotion offers your customers a great value while still earning your business money. But holiday shoppers aren't just driven by a deal—they're also driven by urgency. A storewide 20% off that lasts for three weeks may result in fewer sales than a Black Friday 15% off special that lasts one day. You don't want to give your customers too much time to think about that purchase. Give them a reason to buy, and give them a reason to buy now.

Use a Calendar

The holiday shopping season isn't just about Black Friday. We've all heard the complaints about how the Christmas season starts earlier every year. Well, there's also more and more promotional days every year. Now we have Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, Free Shipping Day, Last Sleigh Day, and Super Saturday. Oh, and don't forget about those days immediately after the holidays when everyone has money, gift cards, exchanges, and the heartache caused by not getting what they wanted.

So what do all these dates mean? They mean you need to have a bunch of promos lined up. And they also mean you need to have a plan for promoting your promos. How many email blasts do you have planned for Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Many businesses will send 2-3 blasts on each day. While it sounds like a sure-fire recipe for getting a lot of unsubscribers, there are two things that make this seemingly excessive approach to email worth it:

  1. Your customers are seeing so many emails these days that many won't have time to unsubscribe.
  2. Even if a few people unsubscribe, you'll more than make up for it with your increased sales.

Don't be afraid of seeming overeager during the holidays. You may err on the side of caution when it comes to email blasts most of the year, but the holidays are the time when you really need to get in front of those customers. After all, they're looking to spend. If they don't get emails from you, they're going to spend their money somewhere else. Oh, and don't forget to optimize those emails for mobile devices. You want your customers to be able to see your deals no matter where they are.

Here are the magic holiday dates every e-commerce site needs to know in 2016:

  • Gray Thursday - Thursday, November 24 (Also known as Thanksgiving, because what else are people going to do after eating turkey and watching football all day?)
  • Black Friday - Friday, November 25 (Everyone's favorite annual event for the biggest deals of the century)
  • Small Business Saturday - Saturday, November 26 (After spending all our money at big stores on Black Friday, let's patronize some small businesses)
  • Cyber Monday - Monday, November 28 (This date is still relevant, but it's rapidly becoming more of a Cyber Week)
  • Green Monday - Monday, December 12 (Pretty much Cyber Monday Part 2)
  • Free Shipping Day - Sunday, December 18 (Free shipping guaranteed by Christmas, always on the 18th of December)
  • Last Sleigh Day - Date varies by retailer and shipping method (Last day for guaranteed shipping by Christmas)

Every Day Is a Day to Sell

Your holiday calendar shouldn't just be limited to those special days set aside for shopping deals. Every day is a day to sell. Take advantage of the entire holiday season by offering discounts and deals throughout. And don't be afraid to start early. Forget all those complaints about the holidays starting too early these days. When it comes to e-commerce, there's no such thing as too early.

Okay, quit reading blog posts and go make your holiday calendar. And don't forget to give us an extra good holiday deal for all this free advice.  


This post is part of Internet Marketing Mysteries, a weekly column addressing actual client questions related to SEO, analytics, website best practices, and any other topic connected to internet marketing. Have a question you'd like to see tackled in a future post? Let us know in the comments.

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