We’ve finally arrived at the most wonderful time of the year.

But to some e-commerce professionals, the holiday season is a time of terror. They’re caught up in the frenetic work of filling orders, handling customer requests, putting out fires, trying to market their socks off, and somehow enjoy the celebratory mood.

If you dread the holiday season, you’re not alone. Happiness seems to do a southward slide right around Black Friday.

Bah, humbug.

What I’m proposing in this article isn’t necessarily going to improve your happiness. (Even though it might.) Instead, I want to coach you on how you can be a little bit — okay, maybe a lot — more successful.

Be warned. I’m going into this article with a chip on my shoulder. I did my research. Here’s the kind of advice that I saw. This little blurb came from an article called “5 Things E-Commerce Sites Can Do to Prepare for Holiday Season.”

office depot black friday shopping

Graphic alignment

Oh, wow. Seriously? Heck, man, I’m going to blow it sky high. It’s just what I needed this holiday season:  GRAPHIC ALIGNMENT! Yeah, baby! Now I know the secret. Dang, how could I have missed it last season?!

Sheesh. Graphic alignment?!

If that’s the kind of pablum that people are used to, then you’re in for some hard-hitting stuff below.

I’ve watched holiday shopping seasons come and go, and come and go again, and I’ve seen that marketers are missing things — big things.

Whether it’s sheer ignorance, too much spiked eggnog or just a Scrooge-like disposition, they’re not doing the very things that could make them happier and more prosperous during the holiday shopping seasons.

Hang on to your sleigh, because here are eight things that your website needs this holiday season.

1. Email capture.

Look beyond Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day.

Look beyond.

Customers don’t stop being customers on January 1. You can turn a one-time gift-buyer into a lifelong customer through a simple technique:  email capture.

Let’s talk about the psychology of email capture.

There’s something important to notice regarding the psychology of holiday shoppers. They are highly acquisitive. They possess a mindset of get, get, get. I’m not here to demonize them for that. After all, we as marketers depend on that outlook in order to make sales.

What we also need to keep in mind is that they are willing to do what it takes to get what they want. In other words, they’re willing to trade.

We still barter in the modern age. Our customers are willing to exchange dollars for products. And, to take it a level deeper, they are willing to trade information for deals. Their own information for your awesome deals.

What you want to get from them is their email address. This single bit of information can create an incredible connection with the customer long after they leave your site and fritter off into the holiday mental fog.

You’ve got them. Because you have their email address.

Tactical tips for getting email addresses.

How do you capture email addresses? Holiday shopping provides an easier way for this than any other time of the year:

  • Get free shipping. Free shipping is one of the most appealing forms of gaining more customers and reducing shopping cart abandonment. Give them free shipping as long as they give you their email address in return.
  • Get a coupon. Holiday shoppers are tuned in to coupons. You know they want it, and they are willing to give up their email address to get it.
  • Get timely deals delivered to your inbox. In addition to being intense and acquisitive, holiday shoppers are also capable of understanding the issue of timeliness. Black Friday only happens once a year. Tell site visitors that they will be the first to know, or the only group to find out about holiday deals, as long as they give up their ol’ email addy.

2. A/B Testing.

There’s no better time than the holidays to start testing your website. Traffic is up. Conversions are up. Intensity is high. The bar is raised. You’re ready to run a test or two.

Let me give you a few pointers.

The holiday season is the holiday season.

Keep in mind that from the end of November to the first of January, things are different on your site. Traffic is up. Conversions are up. Just take a look at this wild ride that characterizes e-commerce sites during November and December.

from the end of November to the first of January, things are different on your site

Things aren’t normal. You can’t test like normal.

You have to realize that whatever spikes and fluctuations are affecting your site are also going to influence and affect your A/B tests.

Separate holiday-only lessons from generic rest-of-the-year lessons.

Even though traffic is different, people aren’t. I mean, we all act a little bit differently during the holidays, but there are some tests that you can run that will give you insights into user behavior that affects conversion elements across the entire scope of the year.

By all means, test.

Whatever you do, test. This is a perfect time to gain information that will both affect your marketing efforts and conversion upticks for the rest of the year, and for next holiday season, too.

Here are some big things to test:

  • Shopping cart abandonment
  • Checkout processes
  • Holiday design touches (e.g., a string of Christmas lights on the nav menu.)
  • Shipping charges.

Only test one or two big things.

In all the excitement over testing, you may be tempted to pull out all the stops, and redesign your entire website. Don’t do that. Why, you ask, with eyebrows arched and voice strained.

Read on.

3. Don’t redesign your entire site. Just don’t.

Let me tell you a short story. It’s not a happy one. Go ahead, grab a box of Kleenex.

A touching holiday tale about a website redesign that is happening to an e-commerce site near you.

I have a client who insists on revamping their entire site for the month of December.

They’ve been working on this redesign all year. They’re going to change everything. Navigation, menu, format, messaging, branding, content, everything. Plus, they’re doing CSS tricks that the CMO thought were cool.

Truth be told, they’re behind on the project. The execs wanted it done several months ago, but there are all kinds of other things that kept pushing to the front of the priority list.

But now, the execs are getting antsy. So, they’re cracking the whip, emphasizing the deadline, and making their devs and designers work harder than ever before. They’re making the deadline more important than the actual product. (That’s a mistake, by the way.)

They plan to launch sometime in December. Not Merry Christmas to them. They could get hammered.

There is a serious problem with redesigning your entire site during the holiday season.

What’s the problem with redesigning your entire site during the holiday season?

This is what often happens when you redesign your site:

 

Some people don’t stop at shooting themselves in the foot. They shoot themselves in both feet. This is what happened when one company redesigned their website and went on to do a CMS migration.

Traffic after redesign

So, what’s the problem with redesigning your entire site during the holiday season? You lose traffic. You lose revenue. You lose your mind.

The holiday season is rough enough. Don’t make it worse by pulling off a site redesign.

Your website traffic will be the highest it’s ever been during the holiday season. You can’t afford to shut it down with a mindless redesign. This is your time to shine.

What’s that you say? Your website looks like crap? Okay, I understand. I might even agree with you. But that doesn’t change the facts.

The fact is, a redesign is a huge traffic risk. You would do just as well to postpone your redesign and sustain the traffic than to make a shiny new website that nobody visits.

Am I making sense?

Caveat time.

Now, just in case you’re still blowing into your Kleenex, let me give you a glimmer of hope.

I have assisted with successful redesigns — fresh new websites that didn’t lose traffic, but gained traffic. It can happen. Quite honestly, I’ve never seen that happen during holidays, but it could happen.

Could it happen for you? Yes, maybe. And if your traffic nadir is during the holiday season anyway, then this is the perfect time for a design launch.

I would still warn you that the traffic spikes and fluctuation right around the holiday season could throw a risky wrench into the mix. Just be careful.

4. Make holiday design tweaks.

The only design changes you should make are the really small ones — images and headlines and stuff.

Here’s the psychological backdrop to my recommendation:

Users are going shopping thinking holidays, Christmas, jingle bells, Christmas lights, stockings, snow, Christmas trees, menorah, eggnog … oh my, yes, eggnog!

The better your site appeals to and feeds these expectations and proclivities, the more likely the customer is to convert.

So, this is why Macy’s goes all holiday with their design. See what’s happening here? Red? Green? Girl with scarf? Holding presents? Jingle codes? Yeah, I’m feeling some Christmas cheer, too. Please pass the eggnog.

Macys holiday shopping season

Office Depot is pushing their customers into Cyber Monday mode.

And Christmas, too.

office depot holiday shopping season

Even Mickey wants you to come visit him this holiday season.

disney holiday shopping season

So, go ahead and sprinkle your site with some holiday cheer.

Your customers are in the spirit. If your website says, “We are, too,” all the better to dispel any Scrooge-like perceptions, and get your holiday mojo going.

5. Set goals.

When you cruise into the holiday season, do so with goals at the helm.

There are a lot of things that are outside your control this holiday season. What kind of goals, you ask?

Here are some options:

  • Generate more leads
  • Drive more traffic
  • Collect more email addresses
  • Extend brand reach
  • Make more sales
  • Grow Facebook following
  • Grow Instagram presence
  • Grow LinkedIn presence
  • Grow Twitter presence
  • Grow Google+ following
  • Don’t die.

According to the researchers of Offerpop.com, most marketers just want to drive sales and extend their brand reach.

most marketers just want to drive sales and extend their brand reach

Whatever you think your goal should be, make it bigger. Holiday revenue growth is expected to be 13.5% percent bigger than last year.

Holiday revenue growth is expected to be 13.5 percent bigger than last year

The past is the best predictor of the future, and as the climbing graph shows, revenue is set to climb. In 2013, September was a trough, whereas in 2014, it was a fat month. Now, as we’re headed into the final month of year, those records are set to spike way higher than in 2013.

Set those goals. Then scratch them out. Then set them higher.

6. Blast it on social media.

Where do people get recommendations, see ads, click to e-commerce sites, and find out about good deals?

Say “Happy Holidays” to social media.

This is the year to kill it on social media. Spend money on it. Spend time on it. Spend energy on it. Social media is your key to success this holiday season. Neglect it at your peril. Embrace it to your potential.

Here’s what’s happening with your e-commerce marketing brethren this holiday season. A lot of them are upping their spend on social media.

Social media is your key to success this holiday season

And Instagram is finally edging higher on the social media site to watch. Vine, the only followup that really matters, trails way behind.

Instagram for the holiday season marketing

So you want to keep it tried and true on social media? Okay, Facebook is your place to camp out. But watch out. You’re going to have a lot of competition.

Facebook for marketing during holiday shopping season

Don’t waltz into the social scene without knowing the dance steps. Retailers who advertise on social must also respond on social.

As Edison Research reports, “most who use social media for customer service expect a very quick response.”

most who use social media for customer service expect a very quick response

While JC Penney may be hiring holiday help to straighten shirts on the clothing display, you may need to hire a holiday intern to respond to the flood of Facebook inquiries. Social media is going to light up, and you need to deal with it, lest you let customer inquiries slip through the cracks.

Whatever the case, keep your finger on the “share” button. Social is going to be hot.

7. Just drop your prices.

If ever you offered a sale, the holiday season is the time to do it. The vast majority of your customers are shopping according to a price-driven mindset.

If you can communicate in your marketing and messaging that your prices are down, then your sales will go up. It’s just that simple.

shoppers are looking for lower prices

As BigCommerce reports, 84% of shoppers are looking for lower prices. This is up from the 74% of 2013. Looks like price matters more this year than before.

8. Make a list. Check it twice.

Research demonstrates that customers are shopping based on shopping lists. According to Blue Chip, 74% of customers are using a list to guide their holiday shopping spree.

using a list to guide their holiday shopping spree

How do you get on the list? Well, that’s the tricky part. But there’s a hack.

Some smart retailers are creating their own lists. Instead of asking users to put something into their virtual shopping cart, they’re asking users to put it on their list. If list-driven buying is on the user’s mind, then why not buy into that list with a, well … a list!

Amazon is an old player at the list idea, and it’s served them very well.

Amazon holiday shopping

And more big retailers are jumping in.

Nordstrom holiday shopping

Conclusion

Being successful in the holiday season can be complicated. You may not be able to take every recommendation on the list, but you can take one … or two … or more. And with every recommendation you take, you’re going to power up your holiday sales.

Get ready for a very happy holiday season.

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