Holiday Ecommerce Guide: what you need for a successful season

With an earlier start to the holiday season this year, we’ve put together this extensive guide to give you the resources you need to crush your holiday sales goals. 👊

In this post, we touch on:

    1. The importance of a back-up plan 
    2. How you can leverage the power of Launchpad and Scripts to sell in a flash
    3. Why you need to plan, design and build holiday-specific landing pages
    4. How implementing faster checkout options improves conversion rates
    5. The power of amending your shipping and return policies
    6. Offering gift cards for last-minute shoppers

1. The importance of a back-up plan

By now, you're likely in the midst of creating your 2020 promotional calendar, along with the website changes you're making, like:

  • Temporary changes to your navigation
  • Displaying holiday-specific categories (such as Gifts and Gift Cards)
  • Changes to your product recommendations strategy (such as shifting to seasonal add-on items)
  • Updates to content banners throughout your site

And while updating your content is necessary, it's also important to review your website performance to ensure it can keep up with the spike in traffic.

September is the time to check all of the third-party apps running on your site, removing any redundant apps or plugins that may be slowing your site down.

Then, be prepared to react in case of inventory issues or technical difficulties: 

  • Have a few “backup” promotions ready to go in case a hot item sells out, or your competitor undercuts you on price.

  • Prepare an apology email for customers in case any mishaps unexpectedly arise during this hectic period - apology emails can convert surprisingly well!

  • Keep an eye on third-party solutions and create an emergency contact list in case you run into any problems during the holidays. 

    Don’t forget to want to set up tracking and analytics tools with heatmaps and pixels for reliable data at the end of the season (Take a look at HotJar, Lucky Orange or Clicktale).

    2. How you can leverage the power of Launchpad and Scripts to sell in a flash

    Merchants using Shopify Plus have some unique tools at their disposal to fully maximize their efforts during this hectic season. 

    Shopify’s Scripts Editor app lets you get creative with your discount offers and engage customers to convert. While the Launchpad app means you no longer need to stay up until midnight to hit publish on a sale.

    The real value here comes in combining these two powerful apps, especially during the holidays. Using Launchpad in conjunction with Scripts can really get you ahead of the game. You can prepare pricing models ahead of time, and then watch it roll out seamlessly when the time comes around (giving you some much-needed zzz’s during the holidays!).

    So how do Launchpad and Scripts work together?

    Well, Scripts allows you to create different pricing models (think BOGO’s, free gift with a purchase), while Launchpad offers a suite of automation capabilities to schedule events (Note: an event consists of one or more actions: publishing product(s), applying discounts to particular products or collections, publishing an unpublished theme or enabling a script).

    So you can create an unpublished theme that promotes your sale, and schedule it to be live for any amount of time you like! Which means you can get creative with your campaigns and build multiple flash sales at the ease of your fingertips.

    Flash themes for flash sales

    So for example, you could create a campaign when Monday offers a buy one, get one free (BOGO) promotion, Tuesday offers a free gift, while Wednesday has a double up offer... you get the idea.

    Since Launchpad can schedule an event to publish an unpublished theme, you can create multiple themes that contain content (e.g. home page banner) to support each day of your holiday promotion (Velour Lashes rocks this with their 12 Days of Christmas campaign!). Then, you can enable a script that applies that offer (like a BOGO) at checkout.

    So your theme (and script!) will be live for one-day only.

    By using these two apps, you can seamlessly automate your campaign, without staying up until midnight to hit publish every day.

    The best part of all of this? You can create your scripts and themes this month and schedule them to roll out anytime - freeing up your time to focus on other aspects of your business during the craziest time of the year.

    Now, let's take a look at a couple of popular scripts you can fully leverage just in time for the holiday season. 

    Buy one, get one free (BOGO’s)

    As one of the more popular scripts we’ve come across with merchants, you’ve got a couple of options for “buy one, get one free” discounts. First, you can offer a “buy one, get one free” promotion on a specified item.

    Or, you can encourage customers to purchase additional items by offering a “buy one, get one 50% off” promotion.

    Free gift card with item purchase

    You can offer a gift card (any amount you like) when an item is purchased within your store. When the customer selects an item and applies the discount code to the checkout, the gift card will appear.

    You can be picky here and choose to offer the gift card with a specific purchase. Just be careful with this one though: customers may try to trick you and remove the promo item from the cart at checkout, still hoping to receive the gift. So the script has to be setup to detect this behavior.

    3. Why you need to plan, design and build holiday-specific landing pages 

    Make no mistake, if you’re investing in paid marketing or seasonal campaigns, a landing page will likely benefit you. 

    Rather than updating an entire homepage, you could create a dedicated landing page that displays all of your holiday-specific content. This saves you plenty of time from unnecessary homepage updates, and also gives you some hefty SEO benefits thanks to reusing the same URL each year. 

    Landing Page BFCM


    Be sure to match the copy from your ads to each landing page to create a seamless experience for shoppers. Otherwise you’re asking customers to connect the dots, which is never an ideal scenario.

    Get in on the Gift Guides

    This is the gifting time of year, so give your customers a gift: your gifting guides!🎁

    We're all very busy (especially the closer we get to the holidays), and it's hard to think of good present ideas for mom, dad, partner, spouse, siblings, various kids… 

    One of the best ways to make the holiday shopping experience as easy as possible for your customers is to create a gift guide landing page, which gives your customers ideas for presents. 

    You can also add gift guides to your holiday email strategy, which is another way to make shopping easier for your subscribers.

    Here are a few ideas to make your gift guides stand out:

    • Separate your products by budget-type
    • Suggest fun or unique present options
    • Make guides for different customer categories (eg. For Him or For Her).
    • Remind readers they deserve their own present too 😉

    All of this is highly useful to shoppers, and also relevant to anybody who is likely to buy from you. Here's an example from Corganic, providing some holiday gift ideas for photographers:

    Corganic Gift Guide

    4. How implementing faster checkout options improves conversion rates

    It’s important to remove as many conversion barriers as possible to win a sale, and digital wallets are a great way to do that.

    In 2017, 21% of users surveyed said they had abandoned their shopping cart due to the checkout process being too long (up from 19% in 2016!). On top of that, studies have found that digital payment checkouts convert better than checkouts without them. A recent study in May 2018 found that “PayPal checkout converts at 88.7 percent – 82 percent higher than a checkout without PayPal.”

    82 percent higher!

    So if you don’t have quick payment options implemented already at checkout, you’ll want to add them for the holidays.

    Offering expedited payment options such as Amazon Pay or PayPal allows customers to quickly move through the checkout process - they can complete their purchase with one or two clicks rather than re-entering information they've already stored elsewhere.  

    While Apple Pay continues to be the leader in the digital wallet space, other options are quickly catching up. 

    Digital Wallets

    Make sure they’re implemented in a way that will reduce, not increase, friction at checkout. The design elements will vary by site, but the general best practices for implementing digital wallets at checkout include:

    • Offer wallet options that are in line with devices your customers are using.  If 75% of your mobile traffic comes from iOS, you’re probably better off offering Apple Pay than Android Pay.

    • When in doubt, err on the side of the most popular options - PayPal and Amazon Pay are the two most popular digital payment options at the moment.

    • Don’t deter from your main call-to-action. The digital wallet option call-to-action should be secondary to your main Checkout button.

    5. The power of amending your shipping and return policies

    If you want to create a great customer experience for shoppers during the holidays, be sure to modify your store’s shipping and return policies to account for gifts.

    More than a third of consumers who first shop online during the holidays will make a repeat purchase within the same season, so converting those visitors is important. A temporary holiday return policy adjustment will help reduce frustration and give some assurance to shoppers who need a little extra push to buy.

    January is peak season for returns, but your holiday return strategy needs to start as soon as your holiday shopping promotions begin, likely to start earlier this year, in October.

    Here are a few ways to prepare your policy for the holidays:

    1. Extend your return deadline, so customers have enough time after Christmas to return gifts. Consider setting a standard date, like January 31st (at the earliest), so customers have time after Christmas to return items.

    2. Make your policy specific to purchases made within a given timeframe, such as Nov. 1 to Dec. 25.

    3. Consider offering instant refunds, store credit or automated real-time exchanges to retain that customer’s business.

    Be sure to inform your customer service lead of any policy changes, so that they’re prepared to answer customers’ questions and are also ready to monitor it for abuse. 

    Don’t forget to monitor metrics

    Finally, make sure that you monitor your data to gauge how the updated return policy is impacting your business.

    Below are a few key metrics to look at:

    • Conversion Rate
    • Return Rate
    • Average Cart Size
    • Customer Service contacts
    • Qualitative customer feedback

    It’ll take some testing to see what works, and what doesn’t. But keep an eye on the numbers, and it’ll help inform future policy adjustments.

    6. Offering gift cards for last-minute shoppers

    Ever wondered what the number one requested holiday gift in America is? It’s the no-brainer of gift-giving, and the saving grace of last-minute, panicked shoppers.

    It’s gift cards!

    Not only do gift cards allow shoppers to take the guesswork out of gift-giving, but they allow the recipient to buy anything their heart desires.

    What does this mean for merchants?

    US shoppers were projected to spend $160 billion on gift cards by the end of 2018. And the majority of those sales happen in the 4th quarter.

    Gift card sales in the US have grown steadily since 2010, and that trend is expected to continue as online shopping and digital gift cards become more popular. Since 2015, nearly 93% of American consumers have either given or sent a gift card. With numbers like those, it’s important that your business offers some type of gift card program.

    Gift Card spending 2018

    On top of that, a 2017 annual holiday spending survey found that gift cards are the most sought-after gift during the holidays, with 61% of customers marking them as #1 on their wish list!

    Reasons for Gift Cards on Consumers

    Gift cards aren’t just an easy escape for shoppers looking for a perfect gift, they’re also a powerful marketing tool for merchants.

    They are extremely valuable for new customer acquisition and retention:

    In other words, gift cards introduce you to new customers, increase your revenue, drive traffic to your site and encourage customer loyalty!

    Graph on gift card reasons to buy

    There are two types of gift cards to offer: physical cards or digital gift cards, which are typically sent via email.

    For ecommerce merchants, digital gift cards are especially important as you get closer to the holiday itself - they are nearly instant (shoppers can purchase them even on Christmas morning!) and are easy to send via email.

     These are very easy to set up and Shopify offers options for both digital and physical gift cards.  

    Be sure to get creative, and offer designs that are relevant to the season.

    Kylie Cosmetics Gift Card

    When offering digital gift cards, be sure to detail exactly how it works on the product page, so shoppers are aware of what the recipient will receive. Velour Lashes’ product page clearly outlines what happens next once the shopper purchases a gift card:

     Velour Lashes Gift Card

    How to promote gift cards for the holidays

    Right now, you’re probably using email marketing to build up some hype around your Black Friday, Cyber Monday sales coming up (and if you’re not, you should be!). Add an email to the sequence to call out gift cards this holiday season.

    In the email, be sure to highlight the benefits of a gift card, as well as any extra incentives you may be holding. For example, It’s All Wild offered a special 50% discount for gift card holders in 2017, which was announced later in the month.

    Its All Wild Gift Card

    Also, be sure to send another email closer to the holiday itself - it’ll keep gift cards on the radar of last-minute, panicked shoppers.

    Here are some additional tactics you can use to drive holiday gift card sales:

    • Stocking Stuffer promotion: Gift cards make great “Stocking Stuffers” and are an easy item to upsell in cart, email or other promotions during the holiday season!

    • Make sure gift cards are easily findable on your site: many sites add Gift Cards to their navigation or their site wide header during the holidays.

    Amazon gift cards

    • Upsell gift cards on your cart page: Gift cards are a great impulse buy during the holidays, and adding them to your cart may be the reminder a customer needs to purchase one for someone else on their shopping list.

    • Tie them into a promotion: e.g. Spend $100, get a $20 gift card. Gift cards are also a great way to push items that you might not want to provide a dollar or percent discount on due to MAP or other pricing constraints.

      Target Gift Cards
    • Remind your customers there’s still time to buy a gift: Once your shipping cutoff date passes, focus your promotional messaging on gift cards as the perfect last-minute gift.

    • Track the balance: Allow users to check the value and remaining balance of their gift card on your site.

    Gift Cards Whole Foods

    What happens when the holidays are over?

    Gift cards are a valuable way to continue sales momentum once the holiday season has wrapped up. On average, customers spend nearly 40% more than the value of their gift card while shopping.

    Not to mention 90% of gift cards are redeemed within 60 days of receiving them - making up for a slow January. 


    We know there is quite a bit to go over throughout the holidays, but with a strong plan and strategy in place, you'll set yourself up for a successful holiday season. 

    P.s. If you're feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed about it all, we created a handy Holiday Planning Checklist to help you along. Get your copy today!

    Laura Kluz

    Laura Kluz

    Laura Kluz is a digital marketer at Fuel Made who specializes in the world of ecommerce. She's a Canadian who loves making maple syrup, trail running in the mountains and baking cookies at least once a week.