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241. What I Would Do in Q4 if I Were an eCommerce CEO

241. What I Would Do in Q4 if I Were an eCommerce CEO

Early last year I did a podcast episode called What I Would Do if I Were an eCommerce CEO. I walked through how I would launch a new sunglasses business.

That episode got such great feedback I thought it would be fun to do another one centered around the holiday shopping season.

This turned into a narration of me thinking through and planning a Q4 marketing plan. Not gonna lie, feels a little silly – but there is a ton of value in here and I’m excited to share it. I did my best to talk through the thought process of these decisions including how I might do it differently if [insert condition here]

My goal is that you’ll see how this would translate to your store. Whether it’s a sunglasses business like the one I created in that previous episode, a gift store similar to uncommon goods, a one-product store, or somewhere in between.

Prefer to listen to the episode? Click here.

The 3-Step Marketing Campaign Planning Process

It all starts with my 3-step campaign creation process which I’ve outlined here on the podcast. Planning, preparation, and promotion. Episodes 72-74 . I’ve also got my Badass Holiday Planning Guide in hand for all the templates and video walkthroughs.

Review Past Results

My first order of business is to look back on my previous results and figure out what has or hasn’t worked in the past. I’ll look at last holiday and a more recent campaign to see if my customer’s behavior has changed.

After reviewing those numbers I remember that customers essentially bought my best sellers and while I did see an increase in revenue it didn’t quite make up for the blanket discount I gave. From a profit standpoint, it was kind of a wash. If I were newer in business I’d probably just focus on getting as many people as possible, but these days I have a pretty good customer base and want to protect my margin. I did however notice that I brought in a lot of new customers who ended up sticking around and becoming repeat customers, so the blanket discount isn’t off the table.

I also discovered that I sold out of my gifting items at the end of November, potentially missing out on sales those first two weeks of December leading up to my December 14th shipping cut-off. That’s something to consider.

The last observation I made was that I had a 15% unit increase in my best-selling items during this time compared to my typical months. So far this year I’m trending up from last year during the non-holiday period, so I’ll also want to up my typical unit purchases this time to ensure I have enough to carry me through. I’m expecting longer lead times from my vendors because of the holidays. It’s worth it to pad my inventory a bit since they’re evergreen best sellers and I can move through after the holidays as well.

Create Your Marketing Calendar

Once I’m ready to finalize my product assortment and promotions, I’ll dig into those numbers a bit more, but for now, I’m going to start mapping out my Q4 calendar. I’m going to follow the STAR Method and start with my important dates.

For Q4 we’re looking at our Cyber 5, Thanksgiving – Cyber Monday – Which includes small business Saturday.

Then we have Giving Tuesday, Green Monday, and Free Shipping Day.

As I’m laying these dates out I’m remembering how backed up we got shipping out orders for our Standard shipping cut-off, so I’m going to market our standard shipping cut-off day a little early. Instead of December 14th, I’ll let customers know their last chance to guarantee standard shipping is if they order by Monday, December 11th. I’ll be sure to mark on my calendar to focus on that message for the weekend of the 8th-10th

I also know that any extra effort I’ve put into days like Giving Tuesday, Green Monday, and even free shipping day doesn’t give me any bump to really justify the work that goes into it, so I think I’m just going to stick to general gift gifting messaging.

If I were a one-product store, I might be more likely to lean into those days because there are only so many ways I can say buy my stuff. But with a wide assortment of products, I can create a lot of different product curations, gift idea roundups, etc.

Plan Your Promo Calendar

I’ve got my dates on the calendar and now I want to start plugging in my promotions. In previous years I’ve always run my big sale during black Friday weekend, starting it on Thanksgiving night and running it all the way through Cyber Monday.

I’m curious to try running my sale early in an effort to stand out more, but I’m too afraid to put all my eggs in the early basket. I think I’ll come up with something special to run the week before Thanksgiving to see if I can actually get anyone’s attention.

I want to keep this really simple since I’m still going all in on BFCM weekend, but it has to be different enough to set the two things apart. Some of my best vendors have some holiday deals of their own, so there are some great products I can get my hands on at a discount. This will let me create a couple of fun product bundles while keeping my margin intact.

Alright, so I’m going to launch these bundles on Sunday, November 6th. I know my Sunday evening emails do really well, so I like launching new things at that time. I’m going to have a pretty limited qty of these so I’m going to follow my typical pre-launch process and build an interest list beforehand; those on the list will get first access to these bundles.

Because we’ve got our BFCM promo right around the corner, I’m going to keep this one simple and only promote it to my existing list. I still want them to make that micro-commitment of signing up to the early access list though.

To set these bundles up, I’ll have to use an app to manage my inventory since I’m using a mix of those items I got for a deal from my vendor and some of my existing evergreen items. I’ll base the max qty off of the limited items and then sync the bundle with the inventory of my evergreen items with Bundles by Gazebo. It’s a cool app since it just syncs the inventory in the background. It can also sync draft items so I don’t have to publish the bundle-only items on my site.

This is starting to sound like a lot of work and part of me wants to throw in the towel. I’m not giving up yet, but we’ll see how I feel by the time I finish my marketing plan. I’m just going to focus on my BFCM plan and I’ll come back to this.

Finalize Your Promo Offer

My BFCM promo is going to run Thursday night through the end of Cyber Monday. I’ll give early access to the VIP list on Wednesday. Thinking about that discount again, instead of doing a blanket discount where everyone just buys the same shit they’d pay full price for, I’m going to do a Buy More Save More. These promos have always done well in the past and it encourages them to buy more… I mean, it’s in the name.

I would likely do the same promo even if I were a one-product store. I’d change up the messaging a bit so it makes more sense… Something about stocking up or one for you one for them depending on the item.

At the end of the day, I just want to drive a lot of sales in Q4. Even if they don’t come back again for 6 months instead of their typical 3, I don’t care.

I lean into the ebbs of flows of my business and plan for them. I relish the Q1 slowdown. From those shipping cuts off in December through to the New Year I get to just enjoy my life. Then I spend Q1 working on those projects I never get around to doing and planning for the year ahead.

To set up this Buy More Save More on a non-plus Shopify store I’ll have to create a separate discount for each tier. I’m going to make them automatic discounts so the customer doesn’t have to figure out which is the right one.

They’ll be set to do not combine and I don’t have to worry about any overlap or any other discounts being stacked on top of them. The only downside of this is that it will auto-apply to anyone who matches the conditions I set. Every time I have a sale there are always some customers who don’t use the discount code and I save a little margin. That won’t be the case here, but I’m excited to see how this promo does.

How to Get Your Customer's Attention in Q4

So I’ve got my promo set, but I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to get people interested in what I have to offer. Again, I’m going to lean into the product and promo pre-launch process. Since this is a big selling time and consumers are going to be inundated with marketing messages I’ve got to go all out to build that pre-launch list. To simplify the process for the customer I’m going to use ManyChat to automate the list signups through my Instagram DMs. All they have to do is comment or reply to a story with a keyword and that will trigger an automation in the DMs where they can type their email in to get on the list without ever leaving Instagram.

I’m also going to have to build out my email calendar, especially for Black Friday weekend. It’s a bit more than I can do today, but I have a ton of resources to help me.

For a general overview and strategy, I’ve got the STAR Method from episode 44 and the product launch strategy from episode 235.

I also have a Black Friday weekend example email calendar on episode 157, and the holiday content bundle which includes content prompts and subject lines that I can plug and play into my marketing strategy.

So I’m settled on my promo, the timing of that promo, and my shipping cut-off. I have a pretty good idea of the products I’m bringing in, and I know I have to pad my inventory.

This includes my seasonal-specific items because last year I sold out about 2 weeks early. I’d love to have at least one more week of inventory available, that will line up perfectly with my standard shipping cut-off. They’re not super expensive, so worst case I can add them to orders over a certain threshold and write them off as a marketing expense or pack them up until next year.

Now I’ve got to plan out my website updates. I want this all up by November 1st, the unofficial kick-off to the Holidays. I’d love to be like Nordstrom and not dress up my store until after Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t really work in eCommerce. I’ve got to get people in the mood and start promoting that shit early.

Optimize Your Website for the Holiday Season

First I’ll refresh my gift guides & holiday landing page. I’m using the same ones I used last year because I want that SEO juice to build up over time. I have a handful of personality ones and 3 price point ones. I’m probably good to go with those but I’ll see if there is anything relevant pop culture-wise that I should lean into. Are we still going to be talking about Barbie?

I’ll update my home page banner to direct people to that landing page and I’ll stick the link in my top navigation too.

Speaking of my home page banner. I’m going to use the Design Packs app to set up timed banners. This will be especially important during Black Friday weekend because I certainly don’t want to be changing banners when I’m trying to enjoy my family and pumpkin pie. The app has a section that you can schedule in advance and it will only appear during the times you set.

It’s got some pretty good setting options and I can make it pretty small so I will probably just add it to all of my templates so it’s visible no matter where on my site they are…

But I could also use a Klaviyo slide-out pop-up to promote it. I can schedule those to turn on and off at specific times and I can remove the email field – so it can just be a promotional pop-up.

Before and after the sale I’ll have a generic holiday banner to promote the gift guides. I will likely change that banner out periodically during the season to keep it fresh since i know my customers come back pretty often to browse around. If they didn’t do that, I’d just leave the same banner up the whole time.

I’ll also feature those seasonal items on my home page and all over social media. Since I’m investing in more units, I have to make sure they’re front and center.

I’m actually going to spend some times making sure I’ve optimized the merchandising on my site. With Shopify’s recently updated Search & Discovery App I can push specific products up to the top of search results, add synonyms to help the search engine decipher what the customer is looking for, and even add complimentary products to my product listings.

That last part is a bit time-consuming for larger product assortments, I think I’ll stick to my classic cross-sell app for that but it would be a good option if I only had a handful of products. Speaking of cross-sells, I’m also going to make sure those are optimized. It’s probably been a while since I updated the offers even though my product assortment has been updated.

I love Selly for cross-sells. It’s super affordable, gives me a lot of flexibility, and the reporting is super granular, down to the offer that is converting. It’s not the prettiest option out there but it gets the job done.

While it can do post-purchase upsells, I’m going to use ReConvert for that instead. More than just a post-purchase upsell platform, it’s a funnel builder. This isn’t quite as helpful for me since I have such a wide product assortment, but I have a few products that make the perfect funnel candidates, so I’m just going to pretend I’m a one-product store and create funnels for each of them.

Ooh, I could even use that to sell gift wrapping. Gonna earmark that one to think about.

Create a Gift Recommendation Quiz

Something new I’m going to try this year is creating a gift finder with a product recommendations quiz. I already have a quiz on my site, I’m just going to duplicate it and rebrand it as a gift finder. I am going to ask one more question to help determine if they would shop at my store for themselves, or if only for gifts. It’s not the most important thing ever, but if they’re not going to be a year-round repeat customer, I’d probably segment them out of my regular emails moving forward. I don’t 100% sure how I’m going to word that yet.

How to Get Visible During the Holiday Season

Okay, so I’ve pretty much got all the big decisions down and the logistics on how I’m going to execute it. But now I’ve got figure out how to get in front of people.

Of course, I’ll do the basics like organic social media posting and tons of emails. But I already know that’s really just going to get me in front of my existing customers. I got a lot of new customers last year and a lot of them turned into repeat year-round customers, I definitely want more of that.

PR Placement in Digital Holiday Gift Guides

It’s way too late for print, but I probably still have time to get PR placement in some digital gift guides. Nora Wolf walked through her process on episode 211 of the show and she has a course that teaches you how to do it. I’m just going to focus on the best of the best here and likely stick to an evergreen best seller… whatever that thing I want to be known for is.

Collaborate With Other Small Businesses

I’m also going to partner up with some of my other eCommerce biz friends. I want to do a joint gift guide and swap some social, email, and order insert shoutouts. This is the perfect opportunity to get NEW eyeballs on my brand.

To make it a really easy yes for them… I’m going to do all the work.

First I’ll need to reach out to everyone and get them on board. I’ll collect all of their information, including their best-selling product image, description, links, and their brand assets. I’ll keep it all in a centralized location so it’s easy to share with the participants.

I’ll create the graphics and the inspirational swipe files so everyone can copy and paste right into their marketing plan. I’ll lay out the promo cadence so everyone knows when they should be adding the call out to their emails and social posts.

We’ll create one order insert that everyone can use with a discount code that we all make active on our store for a limited time. If we can make it work with the entire group, we’ll do a joint live shopping event that we can all promote to our audience.

Ooh… speaking of order inserts. Q4 is a really good time to include a bounce back for the new year in all the orders that go out. I think I’m going to skip that this year because I’m looking forward to a light Q1… but if sales don’t quite hit the levels I’m hoping for in Q4 I’ll have that one in my back pocket as a backup.

This is shaping up to be a pretty big campaign. Thinking back to those product bundles earlier in November, I think I’m going to scrap that idea for now. I really want to go all in on the rest of the season, and taking on this collaboration project is going to use up a good amount of my resources.

Ultimately, I think the collaboration with other small businesses is going to serve me better than a few product bundles. It’s such a good opportunity to get in front of new customers, I want to make sure I have the bandwidth to see that one all the way through and support the other participants if necessary.

Marketing Plan Recap

By November 1 my website is updated for the holidays, including my gift guide landing page, home page, and merchandising updates. I’d love to have the joint gift guide with the other small businesses up by then too.

Since we’re already a little tight on gift guide placements, I’ll put out a couple of feelers to see if there’s still an opportunity to get featured. I’m not going to stress about it or go to crazy, because I know I should have started this process earlier in the year, but it’s worth a shot. I still want to make sure I’m prioritizing the things I have more control over.

For the first few weeks of November, I’ll focus on getting people onto my VIP list for my BFCM sale.

BFCM Buy More Save More Promo runs Thursday – Monday with early access on Wednesday.

After Black Friday I’ll focus on moving through my season items and reminding people that our standard shipping cut-off is going to be a bit early so I don’t have to stress about getting those orders out.

Once that shipping cut-off hits, I’ll enjoy the rest of my year.

Final Thoughts

I know that hearing a marketing plan laid out like this sounds overwhelming at first glance. It did for me to when I was creating it. I honestly left out a bunch because I didn't want it to be a super long episode.

But as someone who has been doing this for YEARS and teaching it to others I can tell you that in practice it's not as bad as it sounds. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Remember, this was meant to be high-level and inclusive. You don't have to do ALL. THE. THINGS. Pick what feels good now, and layer more in the future.

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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