Top 8 Things Every Online Seller Should Do to Prepare for Q4 2018

Looking for the latest e-commerce advice on marketing, selling and fulfilling during the critical Q4 holiday season? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Over the course of five weeks, leading industry experts have been addressing these topics in detail for our popular Holiday E-Commerce Strategy Series.

Now that the series has wrapped up, it’s time to start putting those best practices into action. To help you stay on track, we’ve pulled together the top eight takeaway tips to prepare for the Q4 2018 holiday selling season.

1. Start With Your Data

More than ever, seasonal success will depend on how well you leverage your data to compete with analytics.

Focus on reexamining your historical sales data and last year’s performance to determine how much stock you’ll need to meet demand throughout the end-of-year holidays. The more you can learn from previous seasons, the better equipped you’ll be to avoid overselling or understocking.

Start by reviewing reports from your current inventory platform or, if this will be your first time selling online during the holiday rush, discuss the latest trends with partners and leaders in your space. Pay special attention to any SKUs that show enough potential to justify additional inventory, and consider factors that might warrant expanding your supply chain capabilities.

2. Get on Google’s Transactions Platform

If you’ve yet to look into Google Shopping Actions, now’s the time. Our e-commerce experts believe strongly that this new platform will be a big attraction for holiday shoppers in the coming months. It allows consumers to discover products across the expanding Google ecosystem and seamlessly add them to a universal cart for quick, convenient purchases.

With the holiday shopping frenzy fast approaching, many sellers are already racing to get their products live on Google Express — which is why the following advice was repeated throughout our holiday prep series:

Get started with Google Shopping Actions. Right now.

Take time today to get the process started and ensure you’ll have ample opportunity to test different types of product ads throughout Q4.

3. Strengthen Your Amazon Advertising

This is the time of year to give your Amazon Advertising a major review. Review current performance, look for new keywords and consider instituting a negative keyword strategy. The marketplace giant will continue to be the first stop for more than half of consumers, not to mention Amazon’s 100 million Prime members, throughout the season.

Analyze keywords, consider negative keyword strategies, optimize titles and be ready to adjust bidding as needed.

4. Plan Promotions ASAP

The earlier you can encourage holiday purchases, the better equipped you’ll be to deliver on expectations for fast, free shipping. Deals and offers designed to encourage pre-peak orders will allow you to take advantage of periods when transportation is more readily available and relatively affordable.

After becoming accustomed to seeing holiday-themed sales occurring earlier every year, you can bet on consumers responding positively. The earlier you’re ready to start rolling out promotions, the better prepared you’ll be to compete throughout the season.

5. Be Mobile-Ready

Remember when consumers used mobile devices to research a product before buying it in a store or on a laptop? Those days are long gone. In 2017, shoppers made more purchases from their smartphones than ever before — including the first-ever $2 billion mobile shopping day on Cyber Monday.

Take a good, hard look at your advertising campaigns to ensure they reflect the needs of smartphone users. Better yet, spend some time optimizing your product listings to get them mobile-ready.

6. Plan Ahead for Delivery Delays

Based on what happened last year, it’s very likely that many online orders will once again be delayed as we get deeper into the season. With the rapid pace of e-commerce expansion outpacing year-over-year growth in carrier capacity, there’s no easy way for even the most advanced delivery companies to keep pace with demand during the holiday rush.

No matter how you choose to fulfill orders, our advice is the same: Talk to your carriers and providers while there’s still ample time to plan ahead. Find out how they’ll address delivery delays, and what steps they’re currently taking to get ready for the upcoming holidays. Then build a contingency plan to handle potential setbacks or increases in costs.

7. Look at Returns as Opportunities

Returns have long been the nemesis of many brands and retailers. But if you want to ensure a successful holiday season, you’re going to have to get ready to embrace them.

During the last week of January alone, UPS processed 6 million return packages following the 2017 end-of-year holidays.

Ready or not, many of the very deliveries you put on the holiday fast track are going to boomerang back to you. And how you handle them will set the tone for the remainder of the year: Some 95% of consumers say they’ll continue to buy from a seller after having a positive return experience.

Many sellers outsource this process to an experienced third-party logistics provider so they can quickly process returns for resale, while others opt to expand internal teams with seasonal hires. Whichever route you choose, make sure your customer service team is adequately trained and fully equipped to exceed consumers’ expectations. Better yet, use those returns as opportunities to connect with consumers and grow sales.

8. Maintain Operational Excellence

Our final takeaway for Q4 2018 may be the most basic, but it’s also arguably the most important. In the midst of all your planning and preparations, don’t lose sight of the fundamentals that make for outstanding buyers’ journeys. Prepare the right amount of stock, take pains to prevent shipping snafus, keep pricing competitive and be ready to field inquiries from purchase-ready shoppers.

Eager for even more holiday preparation tips? Get all the deep-dive details in the full, five-part Holiday E-Commerce Strategy Series. You can download slides, view on-demand recordings and listen in on each Q&A with sellers who attended the live webinars. And if you’re not already receiving our monthly updates, subscribe to the ChannelAdvisor newsletter so we can keep you apprised of the latest trends throughout Q4 2018.

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