Christmas has always been an important season for retailers looking to capitalise on holiday spending. But nailing seasonal sales requires months of preparation, which means that for most retailers, Christmas is already in full swing by July.
This year, a weaker pound means British products are particularly attractive to overseas customers looking to get more for their money. Because of this, it makes sense for UK sellers to look beyond their domestic market this Christmas and start selling internationally.
The following expert tips should give you a solid foundation for a successful Christmas – particularly if you’re adjusting your sales strategy to sell outside the UK for the first time.
Forecast for success
Retail is a seasonal business, vulnerable to sudden changes in customer demand, competitive price-cutting and major swings in the global economy. All this uncertainty makes forecasting an absolute essential – and the holiday season should be no exception. To really make the most of Christmas, you should begin with a thorough forecast.
If you’re launching new product lines this Christmas, ask your wholesaler for sales trends data or compare against a similar product you’ve previously sold. Look through historic data to see how and when sales spiked in previous years, and consider wider economic developments, consumer trends and notable occasions (such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday), that could affect sales patterns this festive season. Use this to estimate how much of your existing, new and seasonal lines will sell, and use this to inform the rest of your festive planning.
Manage your stock
Once you have forecast your product lines, you will need to build a timeline based on your product lead times, from the initial order, through to product production and delivery lead times. This will confirm how far ahead of the Christmas period you need to order each product line, to ensure stock levels are ready in good time.
This is particularly important when ordering products from overseas, as lead times may be very different, depending on shipping methods. Be sure to check when payments are due – upon delivery or when confirming your order, for instance – so you can plan for them within your cash-flow projections.
Protect against currency exposure
If you are required to pay upon the delivery of goods, you could be exposing your profits to unnecessary risk with regard to currency fluctuations. To mitigate this, plan ahead by speaking to a currency expert, who will be able to help protect your profit margins, lock in the best exchange rate and get the most for your money.
Consult a payments company that offers competitive exchange rates and complete transparency on fees, and that also shows an understanding of your business needs. Some providers offer bespoke services for online sellers, tailored to help you save money on both fees and exchange rates when selling via eBay, Amazon and other international marketplaces.
Plan for reliable delivery
It is crucial to carefully choose logistics providers in good time, so you’re more than ready to dispatch orders efficiently during the holiday period. Figure out your last order date for Christmas delivery and discuss it with your provider, ensuring you have factored in international shipping. Remember to check whether they can provide express services and work with you on your return logistics for any returns during or after the Christmas season. Hassle-free and efficient deliveries often lead to repeat custom and increased brand loyalty, while poor logistics can be a major pain point.
Sourcing local delivery companies can be costly and inconsistent, so it is often safer to use a trusted global company like UPS, which can offer expert support that’s both cost-effective and easy to manage across multiple markets.
Test your website
When it comes to Christmas, the last thing you want is for your website to crash under the strain of increased traffic. Use the summer to ensure your site is up-to-date, with reliable support in place to ensure it’s capable of withstanding increased traffic during the festive season and January sales.
August is a good time to make any upgrades to your website, as in general, this is a quieter month for online sales – and if you’re ambitious, you might think about upgrading your site to ensure a smooth, attractive digital experience for your customers. You will need everything completed ahead of Christmas, so if that timeline isn’t realistic, it may be better to hold off until next year.
Be smart about SEO
Christmas is the busiest time of year for online shopping, and that means a significant opportunity to convert visitors into customers. But how do you get them to your site in the first place? To ensure your products stand out, review your SEO to ensure you’ve included festive terms that will help you reach your customers (for example, ‘Christmas gifts for her’ or ‘funny stocking fillers’).
If you’re selling abroad for the first time this Christmas, remember to target keywords used in other countries. These can vary even in English-speaking countries (for instance with the US focus on ‘holidays’), so it pays to be thorough with your research.
Prepare your staff
You may not yet need any additional staff to help you, but make sure you have back-up to call on should you need it closer to Christmas day. A company like PeoplePerHour can help you to source expert freelancers at short notice, which is helpful if you don’t yet want to commit to a specific level of staffing.
Remember to look ahead to the January sales – you’ll likely need additional support once Christmas itself is over, so it’s sensible to think about this now. Planning ahead will stop you from feeling exposed when demand starts to increase, and will help you to focus on making more sales and enjoying a successful festive period.
Jake Trask is FX research director at OFX