Christmas has always appealed to retailers looking to capitalise on seasonal sales. Yet making the most of the opportunity in December requires months of careful preparation – and for smart businesses, that means Christmas is already in full swing by the height of summer.
In the past 12 months, events such as Brexit and the snap general election have weakened the pound, making it very attractive for British businesses to export their products globally. As a result, it makes sense to include international sales in this year’s Christmas preparations.
The following tips should get you started for a successful Christmas as an online seller.
Forecast for success
The retail industry is volatile and competitive, so it is essential to forecast how much existing, new and seasonal stock you will need well ahead of Christmas, to ensure you’re not left with excess – or without enough – product. Start by looking through historic data to assess sales performances in previous years, and remember to take current consumer trends and economic factors into account.
If you’re selling abroad, you should also be aware of international holidays and events, such as China’s Singles day (11th November), Thanksgiving (23rd November) and Black Friday (late November), building these dates into your forecast. You don’t want to be caught out by a surge in sales you hadn’t expected!
Plan for product lead times
Once armed with a strong forecast, you must then map it against your supply chain to ensure you’ve factored in product lead and delivery times. You can then work out how far in advance you need to order each product ahead of Christmas, to ensure you’re ready to meet customer demand.
Remember to account for longer lead times for overseas products and materials, as you don’t want to be caught short by delayed delivery when seasonal selling begins.
Prepare for international payments
When ordering stock from overseas, be sure to look carefully at the terms of payment. You may be asked to pay when ordering, but you may also find payment is only taken upon delivery – and if that’s the case, you could be exposed to currency movements that happen in between times.
To protect against currency fluctuations and protect your business from unnecessary risk, make sure to consult a currency expert, who will be able to lock in and protect your profit margins with a combination of FX tools. Look for a payments company that doesn’t just offer the basics of transparency and competitive exchange rates, but which also offers a tailored service for online sellers and can help them save money when selling on marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
Ensure your website is watertight
If you are making any changes to your website, even adding new product lines, you must ensure all updates are tried and tested well in advance of the Christmas period. Technical problems could have a serious impact on your bottom line, particularly if your site is unable to cope with increased seasonal traffic.
August is generally a quiet month for online sellers, so is a good time to make any upgrades and test them well ahead of Christmas.
Consider your SEO strategy
Strong SEO can play a major role in boosting your products’ online visibility at Christmas, and should be built into your listings a couple of months in advance. If you’re planning on selling overseas this year, think about adding keywords that will resonate locally. Don’t assume that because your target market is English-speaking, online searches will remain the same – in the US, Thanksgiving is a bigger occasion than Christmas, so you might want to include this in your keywords to capture the biggest possible audience.
Remember to add festive product descriptions, such as ‘Christmas gifts for Dad’ and ‘funny Christmas presents’. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and ask yourself what search terms they’d use when looking for a gift. Targeting the wrong keywords can lead to low traffic and a poor conversion rate, so this is important to get right from the beginning.
Choose the right delivery partner
Good quality delivery is critical to ensuring a smooth end-point to the buying process and continued customer satisfaction. That’s particularly true at Christmas, when customers are less likely to tolerate late or damaged deliveries.
Creating a consistent delivery experience can be difficult through a series of local suppliers, so if you’re planning to sell internationally this Christmas, it’s worth looking to a single global delivery provider like UPS, whose service is consistent across geographies, giving customers control and visibility over their shipments.
Jake Trask is FX research director at international payments company OFX, where he provides specialist currency support to businesses of all sizes.