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The summer months are almost past us for 2016, and as it fades into the sunset, Q3 will be going along with it. Though another successful fiscal quarter might be behind, it’s not time to open a bottle of champagne in celebration. Preparation for Q4 is needed, and to end the year on a high-note (and hopefully with a high profit margin), action is required right away.

As the Application Specialist at Razoyo, an ecommerce web development company, I have observed the make-or-break moments during these upcoming months. Black Friday and Cyber Monday could push your website into the upper echelon of the retail world, but without proper preparation, these days could completely rob your site of that oh-so-sweet high-volume traffic.

So, as I wax on about the importance of preparation, you may be wondering if there is a point to all of this. Well, as it so happens (and as the title implies), this recurring theme is leading to the meat of our piece. In order to see success throughout the upcoming months, your planning should follow a specific path of logic. To achieve that ultimate “win” to cap of the year, follow these five ecommerce tips: 

1. Plan, Create and Test All Coupons and Promotional Material

This may come across as a “no brainer,” but this is absolutely essential for all Q4 strategies. Double-checking all promotional material is necessary for a successful holiday season. On the off-chance that the next question is “Why?”, let me explain. Your inventory will - hopefully - be in high demand as the year comes to a close. Sales for Q4 increase exponentially, as customers will be purchasing gifts for themselves or their friends/family. Customers will be looking for special deals on the products they want, and this is where your coupons, codes, and promo materials come into play.

Giving customers a discount when ordering in bulk or offering free shipping if an order exceeds X amount is a delightful and smart way to draw traffic and sales to your site. However, if one of those lovely coupons stops working, then say goodbye to the good-will you inherited when providing your deals. This is why testing is a must. Create your coupons, plan everything with care, plot out when certain codes are active/inactive, and test, test, test! Triple-check everything and push these coupons through every possible situation to ensure that you have a full-proof system in place. The rewards will speak for themselves. 

2. Contact Your Server/Hosting Company and Make Preparations for Increased Traffic

Do you know how much site activity your server can contain? How many active sessions do you think can take place on the checkout page without slowing down load times? These might not be the first questions to pop into your mind while contemplating the next steps for Q4, but they should be addressed as soon as possible. Not everyone has a host that can provide optimal service for the rapid increase in visitors. Contact your hosting provider and discuss the next possible steps for beefing up service. If no viable arrangement can be made, then it’s time to migrate to a new server/host that can withstand your needs.

3. Outline and Generate Any Special Banners: TEST!!!

Enticing a new wave of guests to venture further into your catalog might take more than a few coupons. A flashy banner that screams “Look at this!” is always a great call-to-action during the holiday season. Of course, in order to get the call-to-action to truly work, you will need something truly eye-catching. Get your graphic designer to mock up several banners that you want to see displayed throughout the site. Have multiple people see the mock-ups and get a consensus on which look the best.

After putting the banners up on the desired pages, it’s time to - you guessed it - test. Banners can be a bit tricky depending on which block they are placed on the site, as a few extra pixels can stretch a CMS block, move nearby text, etc. Check to make sure the proper sizes are applied to these additional banners. While you are at it, make sure these flashy masterpieces lead to the correct pages/products/promotions. Nothing will confuse the guest more than a call-to-action that takes them to the BBC website. 

4. Verify Inventory and Make Plans For Stock Running Out

Yes, yes, I know. “I have this covered. No need to worry.” I do applaud your confidence in your ability to count inventory. That being said, I want you to do a recount. Though you might think it’s covered, it does not hurt to be one-hundred percent sure. You do not want to be in the midst of selling out of a product, just to find out the stock is short by two. Verify your inventory, as it could save you later.

Oh, and ask yourself this: “What happens when I run out of a product?” Not every site runs the same, so I’m not going to assume that you have a limitless catalog. Most sites rely on an accurate count of inventory, and need to be able to see when products are running low, when to re-order, when to contact their warehouse, etc. Make sure there is a Plan B in place. Contact your distributors and discuss drop ship options.

5. Make Air-Tight Email and Social Media Blasts

Okay, so you have your coupons, codes, and banners ready to rock. What’s left? Well, you need to get the word out, somehow. Use every option available to you. Leave no stone unturned, as “they” say. It is time to form an email blast campaign and get your social media in order.

Email blasts can be difficult to build properly. Not everyone reads every single email that lands in their respective inboxes. Even worse, not every email will go straight to an inbox (yep, spam folder). How do you get around this? Well, there is no avoiding the spam folder for a decent chunk of your mailing list. You can, however, write genuinely interesting copy for the emails. Engage your audience with something unique, show them something fun/entertaining, and rope them in with a call-to-action they cannot pass up. (This is why we emphasize the planning at the beginning).

Social media is free. If you do not have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, make those immediately. Use Instagram or Pinterest if it suits your needs. Speak to your customer-base. Talk with your audience. Inform them of your services and give them a reason to visit your site. Be yourself and do not be pushy. Have fun with it. The rewards can be enormous.

Wrapping up…

Has it been five already? Wow, we just got to know each other, but alas, I must bring this to a conclusion. I have catalogs to manage, so I cannot spend my whole day with you (though I enjoyed it). Take these five tips into consideration, make them your own, but do not forget to thoroughly plan and test. The end of the year is always a big, stressful, wonderful, exciting time, so make sure you are ready. Want to “win” this year? Want to see your company succeed? Then take these five steps to heart and follow through accordingly. I know you can do it.

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About the Author

Ethan Harmon is the Magento Application Specialist for Razoyo. He builds catalogs for clients, creates categories for site navigation, configures shipping and payment methods for eCommerce sites, and works with product spreadsheets for bulk product imports. Outside of work, he’s a comic book writer and avid wrestling fan.