With exactly two months to go until December 24th, for online merchants, it’s showtime!

And even if you’ve been meticulously planning for the holiday selling season, there are so many details involved, it’s easy to inadvertently make common mistakes that can derail your holiday sales.

Don’t let these 7 mistakes be the Grinch that steals your holiday sales and profits…

7 Mistakes That Can Derail Your Online Holiday Sales

Mistake #1. Discounting too deep, too early and for too long. While media reports of holiday shoppers clamoring for deep discounts and word of Wal-Mart’s new holiday price guarantee could rattle even the most stalwart independent online merchant; discounting too deep, too early and for too long will kill your profit margins.

Sure you may sell more, but you will make less at the end of the season.

Which means you have to compete for those holiday sales on something else…

  • Selection
  • Delivery
  • Customer Service
  • Quality
  • Integrity

Keep in mind that the #1 thing online shoppers want during the holiday season is selection and confidence that their product will arrive on time.

And they are willing to pay more for it.

Not all buyers shop on price. In fact in the wake of Wal-Mart’s recent announcement, there has been a huge backlash from customers citing all the reasons they won’t shop at Wal-Mart despite their low-price guarantee.

Higher income customers especially, will pay a premium to get a unique gift, the latest gadget and superior quality and service.  So don’t shortchange yourself or your business.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t run any promotions or offer free shipping promotions during the holidays.

Just know that trying to compete on price with a big-box retailer during the holidays is a recipe for dismal holiday profits.

Mistake #2. Running a 2 month long holiday ‘promotion’. A good retail promotion is a time limited discount on a particular product or group of products.

While you might think you’re doing your customers a favor and driving sales by offering 30%  off on your entire store until Christmas, it actually works against  you. There’s a whole psychology around retail pricing and promotions.

A short, time-limited promotion will drive more sales, than long promotions without a deadline. Promotions based around a current event like Cyber Monday also help customers focus and execute on their buying decisions.

Mistake #3. Not creating holiday gift lists. The holidays are overwhelming for your customers. With a list of gifts to buy and thousands of online options, they often don’t know where to start.

Short on ideas and short on time, they need your help to find the most gift-worthy items in your store.

By creating a holiday gift list of the best holiday items in your store, you not only provide a service to your customers, but you also have the opportunity to drive them to your higher quality, higher margin products.

Here are a few gift list examples:

  • 10 Hot New Cooking Gadgets for the Gourmet Chef On Your List
  • Our 15 Best Selling Gifts for Dads Who Don’t Wear Ties
  • 12 Gemstone Bracelets That Say “I Love You” in Color!
  • 8 Creative Toys for Kids Under 8

Place your gift list prominently on your website, blog and if possible, your marketplace store. Post your gift lists on Facebook, Tweet them out.

A good holiday gift list can easily go viral driving floods of new traffic to your store.

Mistake #4. Ignoring marketplace incentives. If you sell in a marketplace like eBay or Amazon, be sure to get up to date on the holiday sales incentives being offered to sellers. Amazon’s 3rd party sellers can get in front of Amazon’s best Prime customers by fulfilling their inventory through Amazon FBA.This is especially important if you want to sell in the lucrative toy category. On November 15th, restrictions in the toy category go into place, but you can work around them if you fulfill your products through Amazon FBA

eBay has come out with a variety of incentives this year that they say will boost sellers visibility in search.

Mistake #5. Skimping on customer service. There’s no faster way to lose a holiday sale than not responding quickly to a customer inquiry. Shoppers have one thing on their mind this time of year – to get that gift and get it now!

Website owners can use a tool like Olark for Live Chat to provide real-time interaction with their customers. Amazon sellers who sell through FBA will have Amazon customer support doing their holiday customer service for them. And eBay sellers can add common questions asked by buyers to the Auto Answers system, although if possible, having a dedicated person monitoring My eBay during the busy selling season will allow you to assist the customer in finding the perfect gift.

Mistake #6. Not speaking the language of the holidays. If Grandma Mae comes to your fly fishing store looking for the perfect rod and reel for Grandpa Joe, she wants to see some evidence that you are participating in the holidays.

Messaging about holiday deliver, special holiday items, gift-wrapping for Grandpa Joe’s new tackle box (maybe an upsell to the rod and reel) should all be prominently displayed on the home page of your website.

Holiday shoppers who come to an online store where it’s ‘business as usual’ are not as likely to stay engaged with your site as those with clear holiday messaging (and holiday gift lists). You can get great holiday graphics done for $5 at Fiverr (learn how to use Fiverr here.) or for a very reasonable price on ODesk or Guru.com

Mistake #7. Closing up shop too early. Last year only 12.4% of shoppers had completely finished their holiday shopping ten days before Christmas. You need to be prepared to sell and ship right up through December 23rd. 13% of holiday shoppers start their holiday shopping the week of Christmas. 

Offer express shipping and handling. And prominently post these options on the home page of your website or in  your eBay listings. A graphic with your delivery options works best.

And remember… the holiday sales don’t end on December 23rd.

One of the most popular up and coming activities on December 24th and 25th is… you guessed it! Shopping online!