Why now is the right time for small businesses to prepare for Christmas

Chloe Thomas reveals the measures small companies should take to make sure they maximise the most lucrative time of the year.

I know, it’s only August and I’m already talking about Christmas – but for e-commerce businesses Christmas is not that far away, and August is the perfect month for getting your plans in place.

August is a great time to get planning because we’ve still got two whole months before the real Christmas activity starts in November, plus the holiday carousel is under full steam so we’ve usually got a bit more time to get stuff done in August.

For e-commerce businesses Christmas always signals a sales uplift, and for many it’s the only part of the year you make any real money – so we can never be too prepared. When it comes to the website we want to make sure we’ve stopped changing things by early November; both to avoid risking anything going wrong on the site, and so we can spend our time focusing on driving sales.

Right now in August, what should we be focusing on? We need to look at what the business is going to need from the site over Christmas and then make sure we’ve met those needs as soon as possible. I find it useful to split that into three sections:

1. Under the bonnet – the key technical capabilities of the site

2. Functionality – what the customer can do on the site and how easy it is to do it

3. Marketing – what marketing do we have planned and is the website ready for it?

What do you need to change about the site before the 1 November to make sure it works over Christmas?

Is anything broken? Is there anything in the pipeline that you need to be ready for – software upgrades, a new courier to integrate with, shipping internationally? Do a thorough audit, including talking to the key suppliers. There might be nothing – but it’s good to know that! I’ve done this in the past and found that someone wanted to run an upgrade in mid-November, we had to get it postponed to January.

Is there anything you want live in time for Christmas? This year I think the key one is mobile ready sites and PayPal checkouts. And if you’ve not already got them in place – add social sharing buttons to every product!

How much traffic are you anticipating? That will affect lots of areas. You want to check your hosting is up to it, do you have enough server space and bandwidth. If you use a post-code look up facility – check that’s got enough credits in it to last you through to January (if that runs out that’ll stop your checkout working). Are there any limits on your merchant accounts? Make sure they are high enough not to cause you problems.

Also check your URL renewals – if anything’s due to renew over the next six months make sure you know when and how to renew it.


Functionality should be considered from two angles; your products, and then the user experience.

Are there any new / different types of products coming in next season? I mean any that require something different from the site. The usual suspects are:

– Personalised items

– Sizing and options, either your first ever sized product, or a totally new structure

– Restricted supply products – like alcohol and knives

– Delivery – items that have a different delivery method to the rest, they’re direct despatch and take longer OR they require an agreed delivery date, like furniture.

The other area is navigation and usability. Get a few people who’ve never used your site before to use it and see where they become stuck. Plus take a long hard look at your navigation structure – does it make it easy for the customer to get to the product they want? No? Then you need to get that fixed.


Again the marketing requirements are in two parts; campaign support and integrations.

On the campaign support side – is the site ready to support the campaigns you want to run? That could be as simple as wanting to be able to split the big banner on the homepage to link to two different things, or as complicated as needing to be able to generate unique voucher codes on demand.

With integrations it’s a bit more techy – what systems do you need the site to be talking to so that you can run the marketing activity you want? In order to track the performance of all the activity you need to make sure you have all the conversion tracking and analytics integrations sorted out!

On the marketing activity side you should seriously be considering remarketing tagging, and abandoned basket emails.

Once you’ve compiled your list of all the things your website needs to be able to do for Christmas, it’s time to prioritise them. It may well be the case that the list is too long to get done, in which case you need to decide now what’s going to have to wait until 2014 (and how much easier is it to make that decision now in August than it would be in the thick of it in November!). Now you know what you’re going to get done, schedule it – and make sure everyone involved knows what they have to do, and when.

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