Preparing for Peak Season:
The Ultimate Guide
It’s never too early to start planning for peak season. In just a few short weeks in the last months of the year, online shoppers spend billions of dollars worldwide. To stand out in a sea of deals and bargains and claim some market share, retailers need to plan carefully. Here’s how.
What is peak season in ecommerce?
Peak season is the collective name of multiple online shopping dates that all fall in the last quarter every year.
In 2023 peak season shopping days include:
Prime ‘Big Deal Days’ October 2023 (date still TBD, but likely to be 10-11 October)
Amazon’s second Prime Day for 2023, offered to Prime members in 19 countries.
Singles’ Day 11/11/2023
Alibaba launched the first Singles’ Day shopping event in 2009. ‘Double 11’ has grown exponentially since then, and has outperformed Thanksgiving weekend in the US for over 5 years.
Black Friday 24/11/2023
Held on the first Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Black Friday deals are now commonly offered online, to help customers take advantage of bargains while avoiding in-store rush.
Cyber Monday 27/11/2023
Originally the online counterpoint to brick-and-mortar Black Friday, before Black Friday deals moved online. Sales on Cyber Monday have outperformed Black Friday’s for a few years now.
Green Monday 11/12/2023
eBay’s holiday shopping day held on the second Monday of December — Green Monday is the last major online shopping day before Christmas.
Christmas holiday shopping and ‘Super Saturday’ 23/12/2023
This period sees a surge in holiday shopping, culminating in ‘Panic Saturday’ (or the less judgmental ‘Super Saturday’) — last minute shopping with express shipping is the name of the game in this last stretch.
Boxing Day 26/12/2023
A public holiday in countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, and some European countries as well. Traditionally sales start on Boxing Day in brick-and-mortar stores, and now online as well, to offload excess holiday inventory.
Acadia and ChannelEngine have produced a peak season calendar containing all the details of peak season, including crucial deadlines! Check it out here.
How big is peak season?
Amazon alone accounts for 37.8% of ecommerce sales, so the success of Prime Days shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Shoppers spend big during peak season, year over year. To take advantage of this recurring seasonality, retailers should start preparing early.
When should brands start preparing for peak season?
As early as possible. Peak season isn’t simply about more orders and revenue coming in: it’s an intense trading period that puts pressure on all areas of businesses, including your ecommerce operations.
Reflecting on their previous peak season, what went well (and not so well) will already put retailers ahead by flagging where they need to improve the most.
Allocate 3 to 6 months to craft a holistic peak season strategy:
- Dive into past sales data, product trends, and website traffic to gather insights and create enticing offers.
- Plan advertising campaigns on channels where you’re already successful. Create memorable branded moments to stay top of mind of shoppers, instead of generic ads showing discounts pasted on product images.
- Decide on a launch schedule for your ads, and allocate your budget accordingly to ramp up traffic in the weeks before peak season starts.
- Review your advertising budgets and keywords: shoppers perform higher intent searches around peak season, so don’t waste budget on informational searches.
- Pay close attention to your newsletter subscribers: segment your contact list and send them relevant exclusive offers to make them feel valued.
- Create gift guides around your promotions that can be saved and shared easily. This will build excitement around the upcoming offers, and help you capture organic traffic for keywords that are searched more often during peak season.
Operational preparations for peak season
Now that your planning is done, make sure you can carry it out. Pay close attention to the following operational aspects:
- Website performance and optimisation (including mobile): can your website handle the increased traffic? Does it load fast enough? Can visitors easily create wishlists to buy later in just a few clicks? Can you improve your product pages with more information and better quality pictures, to help reduce return rates?
- Inventory: predicting demand is an artform — past sales figures, current trends, and best-sellers data all help. But so does having a back-up plan like opening an account with a drop-shipping supplier: you’ll make less profit on a drop-shipped sale, but you’ll be able to keep the order if you’ve already run out of stock.
❗Remember to liaise with your suppliers or allocate proper manufacturing capacity to make sure stock can be delivered on time.
- Logistics: increased sales means increased chances of returns. Is your fulfillment pipeline running smoothly? Small hiccups during quiet times can balloon into operational crises when things get (very) busy. Focus on fixing and improving your existing pipeline.
- If you sell on marketplaces and storage space is an issue, consider using the marketplace’s fulfillment solution just for your peak season sales. This may not be a viable solution for you during the rest of the year, but if the economics work during peak season, this will free your business of an increased burden.
- Customer service response time and resolution speed will be even more crucial at this time of year. Refine your processes, set expectations on response rate on all channels your customers contact you on.
Peak season 'don’ts'
- Don’t wait until November to start planning.
- Don’t offer discounts on large ticket items only: on Prime Day in October 2022, 58% of products purchased cost less than US $20.
- Don’t serve the same ads over and over again before and during peak season: create variations to combat ad fatigue and blindness.
- Don’t pilot ad campaigns or try out new channels at this time of year (you can always reinvest some peak season revenue into new experiments, when ROAS isn’t that critical).
- Don’t try new shipping carriers or change operational processes drastically.
How ecommerce integration software helps during peak season
Ecommerce marketplace integration software isn’t just a great tool for growth: it acts as a centralized order and inventory management system for all your sales channels.
A platform like ChannelEngine connects to your WMS, ERP, webshops, marketplaces, and other digital channels you’re selling on. It shows up-to-date stock information and location, enabling you to keep track of inventory and avoid selling out in busy shopping periods.
By pulling all your sales information together, you can also make more accurate stock forecasts and inventory purchases. You also gain the flexibility of selling with a hybrid model on marketplaces, switching between 1P and 3P to adapt dynamically to demand.
All of this and more will be covered in detail during our Peak Season webinar on September 13th!
Bonus tips: how to keep sales coming in after peak season
What goes up must come down, but it doesn’t have to slump dramatically.
After the flurry of activity of peak season, you can still find ways to entice customers to come back and shop again. You just need to be a little creative:
- Product bundles: our AI-powered bundle feature lets you create irresistible deals that focus on value rather than steep discounts.
- Loyalty programmes: a great way to nurture new customers you’ve converted during peak season. Offer double or triple loyalty points with each purchase in January, and stay in touch to remind shoppers how many points they have (and what they can do with them).
- Free gift above threshold: get rid of excess stock taking up warehouse space and encourage higher order value at the same time!
- New Year resolutions: promote products that help people become ‘better versions of themselves’. Typically resolutions center around health and productivity — if you don’t sell products in these categories, send a newsletter full of tips and examples of how your business supports its employees building healthier habits.
- Use remarketing with timely messages for shoppers who bought from you during peak season.
Peak season is a great time to gain new customers and cultivate loyalty from your existing ones. By planning well ahead, you’ll stand out and provide exceptional service during the busiest period of the year. This will build trust and encourage customers to come back again and again, well beyond peak season.