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72. How to Plan for Q4 in Your eCommerce Business

72. How to Plan for Q4 in Your eCommerce Business

Yep, we’re talking about the eCommerce holiday season. Q4 is coming faster than you think so tune into this week’s episode to get a jumpstart on your planning. Start early so you don’t have to stress later! 

This week’s episode is a replay in that the main content is the same as last year’s episode but it is a fresh recording to reflect what we might expect for 2021 vs. 2020.

I know you’re trying to squeeze out those last days of summer, and I hate to break it to you, but it’s time to start planning for Holiday! Yep, I said it. And this year, 2021, is going to be an especially important year to get ahead and start planning. 

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Keep these things in mind when Holiday planning:

We don’t really know what Holiday in 2021 is going to look like. Sure we’re nowhere near the level of lockdown as we were this time last year, but with a new Delta variant, and us not quite hitting the vaccination rate we need for herd immunity, we just don’t know what will happen. 

  • Will Black Friday with packed stores be a thing this year? I don’t know. Do I expect higher sales online? Probably. 
  • One thing that we’ve seen pretty consistently across most businesses is that they’ve held onto a good amount of increased online revenue they saw last year and more and more people are still shopping online. 
  • Ultimately, I have no solid predictions, but I still think it’s smart to plan for a pretty epic online holiday season. 

If you’re ready to go all-in on your Holiday planning and have the most kick-ass season ever, then you’re going to want to get your hands on the eCommerce Badassery Holiday Planning Guide and the Holiday Content Bundle. I go much deeper into all the things we’re going to talk about in these episodes and then some. It’s available right now on my website and you grab both of them for a crazy deal. The investment is so low you could literally make it back with one email send, seriously. 

Step 1: Campaign recap or postmortem 

If you’re not already familiar with a campaign postmortem, listen to episode 11, where I walk you through it. At a high level, it’s just a document where you collect all the important information from a campaign, including your overall KPIs, any promotions you ran, and their results, along with what did and didn’t work well during that time. 

Having this campaign recap is so key because there’s no way you can remember all the things. Having a document that lays out everything you learned from your last holiday season or even your most recent campaign will make it easier to rinse and repeat what worked and avoid any big screw-ups. It’s simple, but powerful and I promise it will totally save your ass when you do them regularly. 

Step 2: Plot out important dates on a calendar 

Some dates to highlight: 

  • The Cyber Five—Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Saturday, Cyber Sunday, and Cyber Monday
  • Giving Tuesday
  • Free Shipping Day

We’ll talk more about what to do around these important dates in the last episode of the series, but start plotting them out now.

Don’t forget to consider your own Holiday plans and when you might not be able to be fully in the business. Whether you have a vacation planned, holiday parties to attend, or you just want to set aside time to step away and be fully engaged with your family. You may need to invest in some extra help, cut-off holiday shipping early, or just have some contingency plans in place. 

Typically, November 1st is the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season for most retailers. Now of course we know that Nordstrom never sets Holiday until after Thanksgiving and maybe that’s traditionally what you do too—and hey, you do you babe—but I bet people will start earlier than usual this year to get people in the spirit and capture as much revenue during this time as possible. 

Plus, being online your holiday season naturally ends earlier than a brick and mortar store because you have shipping time to consider.

Reverse engineer your schedule based on important dates 

Get those dates on the calendar and start reverse engineering when you need to get started on things and create some milestones along the way. 

For instance, if you’re going to have holiday-specific merchandise and you want it in stock and available on your website for November 1st, start mapping out the steps for making that happen. 

Consider how long it takes you to get the items listed on your site, getting photos taken, what is the lead time from the manufacturer or how long it will take you to create if you’re a handmade business. 

Don’t forget any promotional material you might want to create for email and social media. Are you going to run ads specifically for these products and have to set up new campaigns for them? Leave an extra buffer for shipping delays and all the other weird shit that can happen. Murphy’s Law is a bitch. 

Side note: Rinse and repeat the reverse engineering process for EVERYTHING. Not only just your holiday campaign, but your entire business. Having a goal in mind is the first step to success and creating deadlines and milestones helps to keep not only yourself but your entire team on track. 

Step 3: Inventory and merchandising 

This is one of the most important. If you get this wrong, you could end up missing your sales goals or being stuck with excess inventory you can’t move. 

Figure out how much inventory you have and what you already have on order—is that in line with your sales projections? For instance, if your projections say you’re going to do $30k in revenue during the season, but you only have 15k in inventory at retail, well, the math just doesn’t work.

Of course, you’ll want to be cautious here and not go overboard, but make sure you consider potential difficulties of replenishing your best sellers if you do run out and the lead time it takes for you to get inventory in hand. 

Projecting your Q4 numbers

There are a lot of variables at play here, so you really have to dig into your specific numbers. Aside from just considering the increase you saw last year during holiday, make sure you take into consideration what this year looks like. 

A lot can change in a year of your business. You’re much more established now, maybe you’ve seen a lot of success with ads, you have a better email marketing strategy and have a lot more tools under your belt in terms of HOW to actually execute a campaign and can do even better than you ever have before. 

Rumor has it that Amazon Prime Day is happening in October this year. And many eCommerce retailers see an overall lift around this event, even if you aren’t selling on Amazon. Or you might want to do your own version of Prime Day and will need to consider what current stock you might sell-through.

Where does your product fit in today’s eCommerce landscape? 

It’s possible your product will be more in demand this year than it was last year. It’s very possible customers will be focused more on experiences and sensory items than electronics. And there’s likely to be an even bigger push toward buying from small businesses than big-box retailers. 

Bringing in seasonal items? 

Aim to sell out seasonal items by your ground shipping cut-off. If the last day to ship ground and get the order to your customer by December 23rd is December 14th, then you’ll want to focus on selling through those items by that date. Forecasting for new items can be difficult because you don’t have any sales history, but past trends can help you make smart decisions. 

If you’ve had seasonal items in the past, look at that data first. 

  • How long did it take for your customers to latch on and start buying these products? 
  • Was there a spike in the very beginning and then it trailed off? 
  • Or did it take a while for people to get interested? 

Assuming all your promotional efforts are the same, past seasonal product performance will be a good indicator here. 

Have a plan to move through your inventory

If sales are slower than you anticipate, you don’t want to wait until after Christmas to mark down your items. There are a few different techniques you can try to help move through those items before you have to take a hard markdown. 

Product bundles are a great option here and if you have a particularly slow mover, try bundling it with your best-selling items. If you have a total dog that just isn’t moving at all, mark it down BEFORE your shipping cut off! Your customers will generally qualify your items quickly, so don’t get emotionally attached to anything. Your initial markdown will ALWAYS be the cheapest. I know it hurts to markdown things, but it’s worth more out the door than it is collecting dust on your shelves.

Site merchandising

Visual merchandising is just as important online as it is in a brick-and-mortar store. Make sure you have your holiday items front and center on your website and move them to the top of your collections. If you’re using regular Shopify merchandising, make sure you go into the collections and manually adjust the product assortment. If you have it defaulting to best sellers, your new and holiday items may not get enough visibility. 

Link to holiday-specific items in your navigation bar as well. And adding a gift guide is a great way to get the necessary items in front of your customers. We’ll talk more about creating gift guides in another episode, but I want you to think about what it’s like when you go shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. Usually, you see all the holiday items grouped together, either within their own department or right at the front of the store. 

How you set this up on your site is going to depend on your business and product assortment, but the goal is the same. 

The Holiday season is a small window of opportunity to make big bucks in your business. Don’t put this off. Start planning now. And snag the eCommerce Badassery Holiday Planning Guide. It’s in-depth enough that you can come back to it to implement new strategies as your business grows. Get yours and lock in product lifetime access. 

Next week we’ll go through the next step in your holiday planning—preparation—which includes making sure you have your operations, technology, shipping and customer service on lock. 

Listen to the Episode

Episodes Mentioned

Episode 11: What’s a Campaign Recap & Why You Need It

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Hey, I'm Jessica

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. 

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