The Holiday Shopping Season – Are You Prepared?

How was your holiday season? I’m not talking about how overcooked your turkey may have been or if you got a gift you might actually use this year. I’m talking business. Did you meet revenue and sales goals? Were you able to cash in on this year’s record-setting (for online sales) holiday shopping season? I sat down with some of the best and brightest here at CPC Strategy to find out how you can be sure this next holiday season is all the merrier.

The Online Retailer’s Holiday Plight

Your expectations for the timespan between late October and basically Christmas Day are high to say the least. When it comes to comparison shopping campaigns, this 2 month span is retail gold. It’s when shoppers feel the pressure to finally get their shopping out of the way. On top of it, now more than ever, it’s when they look outside, reconsider bundling up just to drive on icy roads to a ravaged store and instead, decide to stay inside to do their shopping straight from their laptop or tablet.

The marked increase in traffic and sales during the holidays will undoubtedly be a boon to your business IF you prepare your business for it. What many retailers don’t realize is that preparation starts now, in January and February, because missing out on retail gold would be like missing out on retail gold.

Nii Ahene, COO

What are some things you recommend retailers/clients to do to prepare for this holiday season?

You should definitely make sure your systems are ready for the increase in orders. I had an Amazon client that that was overloaded on Black Friday with the huge amount of orders they had, and it seriously put their account in jeopardy of stalling.

People want packages fast. This always holds true, but this is paramount during the holidays because people have hard deadlines to meet. Fulfillment is going to be a make-or-break point for your business during this time because the system you have in place right now will never be tested like it is during the holidays.

Retailers should go the extra mile. Offering gift wrapping is a great idea and a good way to differentiate your store from the thousands of others trying to cash in on sales. Give the projected ship by date on your website so people know exactly when they’ll get their package. This encourages timely orders and boosts a shopper’s confidence in a purchase.

Last but not least, enjoy it. The holiday season is the best time of year for retailers, so as long as you prepare for it enough, you’ll reap some nice benefits.

What are some concerns that your clients have voiced heading into the holiday season?

From what I hear from my clients, they’re most concerned about not taking advantage of THE opportunity of the year. They never feel prepared enough, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. A good gauge for your holiday season success is right after Cyber Monday. If you didn’t handle Cyber Monday very well, odds are that you won’t have enough time to pick yourself up in December.

What are some issues you’ve had in managing your clients during this season?

The main issue I have is inventory availability. There’s nothing I can really do about it but I see it time and time again. Retailers will underestimate the order volume during this time and they subsequently run out of stock for a lot of their products. Words of wisdom: increase your stock during the holidays. Don’t forget, when an item goes out of stock, you should pull it immediately so you don’t end up paying for clicks on a sale you could never make.

Biggest mistake a client could make?

Well, besides not having prepared for the holiday shopping season at all, I’d say not tracking conversions would be a huge mistake. Otherwise you’re basically blindly spending money without following/analyzing the data. Without this data, you would never know which products or product categories are real money makers or conversely, just sucking ad spend down the drain.

Closing Remarks

Don’t make the mistake of believing that the holiday shopping season is going to turn around your business. Having a good Q4 is about having a good Q1, Q2, and Q3. This means that you must have the systems in place, like customer service, ads, traffic sources, fulfillment, and conversion optimizations BEFORE entering Q4, and ideally during the rest of the quarters as well.

See what went right this last year and what your failure points were. The most fundamental way to prepare for the holiday season is to identify your pain points from last year and start addressing them NOW.

Jeff Coleman, Senior Account Manager

What 3 things do you recommend retailers/clients do to prepare for this holiday season?

Retailers need to raise budgets for this season. Particularly during the holidays, revenues go up with higher traffic. It’s like high stakes poker out there. You need to put more money out on the table if you hope to cash in big.

Another big point is to get your promotions out on time. There’s a ton of traffic so more than ever, your ads will see a lot of attention. Unfortunately, CSEs often have a pretty big delay in getting your promotions out there. You need to account for this and be on top of your promos if you’re preparing a big sale for Black Friday, for example. Pricegrabber and Shopzilla usually take about 2-3 days to refresh and display your promo. Nextag is usually pretty good about it though, and they only take about 2-3 hours to display a promo.

Another thing I’d like to stress is keeping your campaigns live. The absolute worst case scenario during the holiday season is for your campaigns to stall due to issues such as inventory shortages. Another issue that may cause this is data feed inaccuracy.

What are some things retailers can do to optimize their Google Shopping campaigns in preparation for the holiday season?

Identifying bestsellers is key so that you can up-bid them. Also, an overall analysis of peak transaction times is important so that you can optimize bids for particular times of the day or week. By turning off bids for certain hours, you can help prevent overspending at certain unprofitable times of the day (ex. really late at night).

Being more lenient on product suppression is also particularly important during the holidays. If you’re not zero bidding a product, typically you would employ the 30/30 rule. This means that you’d cut a non-converting product after 30 days or 30 clicks (without a sale). However, during the holidays, you can extend this threshold to 50 clicks and 30+ days before cutting a product.

Closing Remarks

It’s important to set the right expectations for the holiday season. Generally, we see that the end of October brings increases in revenue and consequentially, ad spend as well. However, don’t be surprised if you see sales numbers drop dramatically starting about the 23rd of December and then right after Christmas.

Tommy Slater, Account Manager

What’s something you’d recommend retailers/clients do to prepare for this holiday season?

Bidding up on holiday/seasonal items like coats, scarves, and presents is essential. You need to ensure that you’re getting a lot of good exposure for these high converting products.

What are some concerns that your clients have voiced heading into the holiday season?

Every client wants to maximize traffic and revenue. They know that the holiday season brings in more qualified traffic. They’ll increase bids or their budget to account for this. However, I’ve had a lot of my clients voice that they’re concerned about the increased holiday CPC rates being too high. Questions on how much to spend and how much one should increase his/her budget are very common. Unfortunately, it’s all relative so there’s no one right answer.

What are some issues you have had in managing your clients during the holidays?

Merchants who make pricing changes and updates for the holidays usually end up pretty upset with the CSEs. A merchant will update his/her product feed then go to the CSE only to see that it’s not what they just sent in the product feed. The reality is that all the CSEs are super busy during November and December and so their systems take a while. It usually takes about 2 days before a new price is listed.

What are 3 things you’ve done to optimize your clients’ Google Shopping campaigns in preparation for the holiday season?

I’ll typically encourage my clients to run extra promotions and coupons on Google Shopping during the holidays. Free shipping is obviously a huge deal for shoppers during this time so if you offer it, it’s a must to feature it.

Bidding up on seasonal categories, basically anything that could constitute as a gift, is also pretty important. Conversely, you need to be on top of your product reports so that you can make SKU cuts as quickly as possible when they’re needed.

Retailers should also boost their Google Shopping and Amazon Product Ads budgets, as these are the most traffic heavy CSEs.

Closing Remarks

The holiday shopping season sees boosts in conversions and the best COS rates of the year. New clients often ask me if these positives are due solely to the holiday season traffic or my management? I say that the holiday shopping season is the most important time for management because I do a lot of SKU suppressions, up-bidding, and log into merchant accounts every day. Without a doubt, active management is most essential during the holiday season.

Rick Backus, CEO

What are some things you recommend retailers/clients do to prepare for this holiday season?

First and foremost, when you get close to game time (late October), it’s no longer preparation. Now it’s execution of the preparations you’ve put in place all year. Retailers need to have the foundation built well in advance, and this entails having your bidding and product exposure strategy done already months ahead. More specifically, you should have your holiday execution strategy in place by July, but this can vary depending on the size of your operations.

From a management perspective, you need to be more aggressive. CSE bidding during the holiday season inherently rewards aggressiveness because higher budgets allow you to make higher bids. The season has a built in time frame that already promises higher conversion rates, so it would behoove you to take advantage of it. Also, it’d be a mistake to be too busy with operations like executing fulfillment. The systems you created and implemented all year should allow you to automate those aspects.

Additionally, you have to allocate your time to where you’re likely spending the most money: Google Shopping. Log into Shopping every day to stay on top of your products’ performance.

Closing Remarks

Google Shopping is a big deal. It’s very qualified but it’s also immature. Be aggressive because many retailers really don’t know what to do. I recommend giving most of your budget to Google Shopping and less to Adwords.

If you’re a seasonal business (your products are bought as presents), you’re going to kill it. Unfortunately, we often see “unseasonal” businesses miss out on the full sales potential of the holidays.

A GREAT way to start prepping your Q4 strategy is to check out our Q4 CSE Rankings.  Enjoy.

 

About the AuthorJon Gregoire is the Director of Demand Generation at CPC Strategy. Jon heads up the agency's inbound marketing program. A UC San Diego grad, Jon is a Chicago native and full-time San Diego tourist. He enjoys Bear Grylls-like backpacking trips, archery, weekend getaways in Southern California, watching his beloved Chicago Bears, and bidaily coffee consumption. See all posts by this author here.