The last quarter of the year is the most exciting and terrifying time of the year as an e-retailer.

We operate two online monthly subscription box services: WineCollective and Canada Craft Club. We start planning for the holidays in August.

We completely change the way we do business in the last quarter of the year to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. We ramp up our digital media buys, make specific landing pages, A/B test, and most importantly design limited-time offers specifically catered to the gifting experience.

Q4 is the most important time of the year and we take it extremely seriously. Each year we learn from new experiments and carry forward those learnings into the next holiday season.

Here are few tips for being successful as an online retailer during the holiday season:

It’s All About Gifts

Shocker, I know. Simply make it as easy as possible to allow customers to buy a gift for someone else without having to email you or pick up the phone. You should be able to collect all the information required to send a gift, along with some personalized information catered to the gift receiver, such as a customized gift card with a message from the gift giver. Keep in mind that the gift receiver has likely never heard of your company. Make sure that the digital and analog (i.e. the actual package) experience is welcoming and educational as to why your service is so awesome.

Gift receivers can turn into some of your best long term customers. This is your opportunity to wow them. Keep in mind that on every sale you have the opportunity to market to two distinct customers—the gift buyer and receiver. More on this later…

Reach out to Your Current Customers

Your existing customers are your biggest fans. Almost everyone this time of year needs to buy a gift for someone in their life. If they are already a customer of yours, why not give them the opportunity to pay it forward? Think about doing an email campaign telling your customers about the holiday products/promotions you have on the go. Don’t wait for them to come to you; give your customers the opportunity to spend more money with you.

Personalize Your Communications

You have to know your customers, segment them, and provide a personalized touchpoint. This is incredibly important and is entirely dependant on you having the right data available to execute on. Segmenting your customers allows you to have pinpoint accuracy with your marketing initiatives.

Thinking about the previous point of marketing to your existing customers, you need to be careful to not upset anyone that has just purchased or might feel like they missed out on your new holiday promotions. Plan and target the right people with the right message/opportunities. Think about your segments and how you might be able to incentivize them to purchase more from you.

Target your top group of spenders with a personalized email or telephone call with an amazing offer—reward your biggest brand ambassadors. Target previous gift givers, gift receivers, etc.

Special Offers for the Holidays

Think about launching limited-time offers and exclusive offers for the holidays.

The holidays are the perfect opportunity to make gift packs. The thing you need to keep in mind is that most people shop for gifts with a certain budget in mind. Optimize packages based on price points that cater to different buying demographics. How much would you spend on your spouse, friend, family, or co-worker?

Online Advertising with Google, Facebook & Instagram

I could easily write an entire dissertation on how to market your goods on search engines and social media, but for the sake of this article I just wanted to touch on the basics.

Search engines (e.g. Google, aka organic search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search engine marketing (SEM)) are where people “search” for things, and thus these people are highly motivated to find what they are looking for (e.g. gifts). When they find something that fits their criteria, they have a high probability of actually purchasing. The main downside during the holidays is that the competition for keywords, such as “Gift” or “Holiday”, is high, so marketing to these people is expensive. Keep an eye on your customer acquisition cost (CAC), which is how much you have to spend to acquire one paying customer through advertising. Need a little more background on online marketing? Check out these resources from Google.

Social media (e.g. Facebook/Instagram) is more akin to traditional advertising in the fact that the user isn’t even thinking about a certain product or service, rather it just simply appears in their feed. Remember, people scroll these platforms to look, not to purchase. If you are simply looking to expand your brand awareness, then go ahead, but don’t expect huge conversion numbers from these channels during the holidays. Instead, target your advertising to your segments on social media during off-peak times when it’s less cost prohibitive to do so.

Stress Test Your Website & Customer Service

It is important to test that both your website and customer service department are ready for an influx of new holiday shoppers.

If you are spending any money driving site traffic, you’ll want to try and convert those visitors to sales. Make sure your site is performing well—check your analytics and other tools—and give users enough information to make a confident purchasing decision on their own. Firm up your copy, photography, and product descriptions to negate as much direct customer interaction as possible. If your website is slow or doesn’t provide the appropriate information for shoppers, expect to see far lower conversion percentages. Of course, don’t forget mobile shoppers, which is around 50% of all site traffic these days.

Additionally, I’d recommend using tools such as Zendesk or Intercom to help automate your customer service needs.

Marketing After the Holidays

It’s now January. The holidays are done and ecommerce is a dead zone. It’s now time to think about how you can market to the gift receivers and gift purchasers after the holidays. Start planning how you will re-engage with customers that came on-board with your brand during the holidays. At the very least start planning on how you will re-engage with them next holiday season.

I welcome you to take a look at what we do on and