What store owners should learn from the holidays

Written by Nicole Kohler on January 8, 2016 Blog, Data & analytics, Holiday ideas.

The holidays are coming to a close, and with them your online store’s discounts and deals. Things are quieting down and sales are slowing, which means it’s back to business as usual for you, yes?

Perhaps not. You might be surprised to learn that one of the very best things you can do at the end of the holiday season is, well, another deep dive into the holiday season. But we’re not talking about running another big sale. We’re talking about diving in and reviewing some data.

With more customer and order data flowing in than usual, now’s the perfect chance to learn what you’re doing right — or wrong — and how you can improve your store. If you study your sales, returns, feedback, and so on, you stand to learn quite a bit from the holiday experience.

Ready to find out what you should take away from the holidays? Let’s proceed.

How a post-holiday review can benefit you

If your store is a one person operation or limited on resources, you’re likely to end the busy holiday season by launching right into restocking, paying taxes and bills, and planning marketing strategies for the new year.

But nowhere in this rush to kick off the new year is there time set aside to examine the results of your hard work. Store owners, especially those who own small operations, are all typically so eager to move on that they forget to look back.

It's tempting to move on to the new year right away... but in fact, it's better to pause and look back before you throw away the pages.
It’s tempting to move on to the new year right away… but in fact, it’s better to pause and look back before you throw away the pages.

Why is looking back so beneficial? And why now? It’s because the holidays typically elevate your visitors, sales, and customer feedback to very high levels. And at these high levels, you’re most likely to find opportunities to improve.

This high period of activity gives you the most data to look through. And if you can spare even a little time to look through that data, you can learn about what’s selling, what customers are saying, what promotions are working well… and so on.

With that in mind, here’s what you should plan to review, and what you can learn from each item.

Start by taking a look at your sales

The first thing you’ll want to do is have a look at your sales during the holiday period. You don’t have to get too in-depth to start with, especially if this is your first year selling online, but you should at least try to get a general sense of how many orders were placed, how many items were shipped, and how much profit you made.

When you look at these figures, ask yourself: did these sales live up to my expectations? Did they exceed them? Or did they fall short? If they fell short, note where they fell short, and that will give you a better indication of where to dive deeper into your data, or what, specifically, needs to be improved.

Comparing holiday results to non-holiday results

If you didn’t have any defined expectations for your holiday sales (and don’t worry if so, that’s not unusual), one way that you can get a good grasp on how well your store performed is by comparing the seasonal results to the non-seasonal ones.

Have a look at the number of sales you averaged in a typical month, then compare that to a holiday month, like November or December. How large is the increase? Did your store appear to have a large jump in popularity for the holidays, or just a small one?

By examining the sales differences between typical and atypical periods, you can then match those sales up to any special marketing activities you might have done to learn which approaches are best for you, either overall or during the holidays.

For example, you might find that offering a 20% off coupon code in May increases your sales by 5%, but in December, it boosts your sales by 25%. In comparison, discounting products during those same times might not work at all. So you could eliminate product discounts from your overall marketing strategies based on those findings.

Year-over-year holiday results, and adjustments you might want to make

If this isn’t your first rodeo — that is, if you’ve been selling online for more than one holiday season — you can compare year-over-year results to see how well your sales and marketing strategies have evolved over time.

If you ran holiday promotions both this year and last, follow the instructions below to compare their successes side-by-side. Which year’s promotions netted you more orders? Did you use the same strategies each time, or did you try something new this year?

If your orders went up overall between this year and the last, you should have seen an equal increase in your holiday orders as well. If you didn’t, or if the results were underwhelming, consider how you could improve for next year. Could you apply some of your best promotional strategies to the holidays? Or perhaps you should reconsider the strategies you’re using altogether?

Run reports for each promotion, sale, or coupon

Chances are pretty good that you offered your customers some kind of special savings on their orders over the holiday season. It might have come in the form of a coupon, or perhaps you automatically discounted some or all of your products by a specific amount.

Take some time to review how well each of these promotions performed for you. Did they result in huge bursts of sales? Or did they not result in as much interest as you hoped?

Ideally, you should have reports generated by your eCommerce platform that you can save and review again easily at a later date — either next year, or while planning your round of next promotions.

Which sales did well, and on which products? Conversely, which promotions didn't do so well?
Which sales did well, and on which products? Conversely, which promotions didn’t do so well?

With these reports, you’ll at least want to take a deep dive into which types of promotions were the most effective for your store. We have a guide you can read on finding the most relevant promotions for your store, but your sales data can help with this process, too.

If you find, for example, that smart discounts resulted in more orders and higher order values during seasonal periods, you could safely assume that smart discounts would be a good tactic to try during the rest of the year, too. Again, with more traffic, you can learn more about what your customers prefer overall.

You might also want to take a look at which products were most strongly affected by your promotions. If you find that any slow-moving items suddenly spiked in popularity when a discount was offered, it might mean that the price on that product is regularly too high.

Review any returns or exchanges

As the holidays are winding down, you might start to see some returns from gift recipients who need something in a different size, color, or simply don’t like what they received. No big deal on these — it happens.

Having said that, if you see a spike in returns on a particular product, or receive a consistent stream of complaints related to your fit, color, or quality, you might have some learning to do.

Based on the returns you’re receiving, keep an eye out for anything that might merit improvement on your side. For example, if you sell clothing and receive multiple returns because your small shirts run too small, it might be worth creating a size chart and/or placing a notice on the product pages.

This could also merit improvement from the side of manufacturing, depending on how severe the issue is. Five customers out of a hundred saying “the small runs too small for me” might not indicate a huge issue, but fifty customers does. That means it’s time to reconsider how you (or the manufacturer) create that shirt.

It boils down to this: use returns or exchanges as an opportunity to make your customers happier. There will always be outliers, but look for patterns that might indicate a need to change your product pages, or alter the product entirely.

Read customer feedback closely

Along these same lines, you might receive general feedback from your customers over the course of the holidays. This could come in via email, social media comments, or other channels (for example, a blog).

You might not have a chance to consider this feedback during the holidays, but now is a great time to read it over again. Pay close attention to:

  • What customers liked — promotions, products, even your graphics
  • What customers didn’t like — even if it seems trivial at first, like “it took too long to check out!” … this can have pretty big implications!
  • Any trouble that came up during the purchasing process — was your checkout working properly? Did your payment methods function as they should?
  • Any confusion about products — were sizes, colors, or specifications clear? Were customers reaching out frequently for clarification?
  • Shipping time and method questions or complaints — were you able to fulfill orders quickly enough for holiday shoppers?
Read that feedback carefully -- it could be the key to improving your store.
Read that feedback carefully — it could be the key to improving your store.

This feedback can provide you a variety of opportunities to improve multiple aspects of your store, whether it’s offering faster shipping options or simply improving the copywriting on a few product pages.

If you get any feedback from customers that seems incomplete, or like it could lead to serious improvements for your store, don’t be afraid to reach out for more details. Shoppers are usually happy to provide their thoughts on your products or store, especially if you’re willing to reward them (like a discount or free product).

Have a look at how your store itself performed

Finally, don’t forget to consider how your store itself performed under the heavy holiday load. This includes how your host or server dealt with the traffic, as well as how your eCommerce platform worked with all your needs (ex. coupons, new product pages…).

If your server seemed sluggish or you even experienced downtime, consider working with your developer to select a more reliable host, or at least to add more resources to your existing hosting plan.

Along with that, consider how well your platform was able to handle the increased needs of the holiday season. Were you able to accomplish everything you wanted to without spending too much time or custom development work on each task? If not, it could be a sign that a platform switch is in your future.

Learning from your holiday experiences can improve your store dramatically

After the holidays end, it’s tempting to leap right back into your normal operations. But pausing for a moment to reflect on the success of your products, promotions, and marketing can help you improve your store in many ways — both overall and for the next holiday.

By using some of the advice in this post, you’ll be in a great position to make your store better for your customers. And the best part? All your changes will be based on data, so you’ll have a good feeling about their likelihood of success.

Have any ideas of your own to share about learning from the holidays? Share them for everyone to see in the comments below, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

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One Response

  1. Mike
    January 10, 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    An store owner must learn which product got highest sales and which products got refunded by customer. These small things can help make a good plan for next holiday sale.

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