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What I Learned Last Christmas

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Can you believe I actually wrote most of this last December and then forgot about it saved it for this exact moment to help you prepare for Christmas in your own shop? While I remember at least two crazy busy Christmas seasons, last year was a whole new level of madness and this year is already going crazy. Here’s my top ten tips on how I prepare.

1. START AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE

Okay, I should have remembered about this post sooner. I do a full stock check in September and decide what products to discontinue, which need to be re-ordered and what supplies/packaging I’m running low on. This gives me time to reorder everything I need. September and October are always the months where you feel like you’re just endlessly spending money and getting little back, but it has to be done. Make sure you’ve budgeted some extra cash for all this too.

2. HOWEVER, CUSTOMERS ARE UNPREDICTABLE

There were a few occasions last year where I started selling loads of a specific product and was tempted to order twice as much as usual. But I always held back. One of the rules I live by is never ordering more than you need – even it’s a better deal, having a load of unsold stock sitting around is a waste of your money. Ask me about the time I ordered 50 shopping list notepads and they accidentally sent me 250. By the time I was running out I was completely sick of the design and ended up throwing the last ones in the recycling when I moved. Also, you can guarantee that whatever product was selling like mad last week will be completely ignored as soon as you restock it in preference for whichever product you’re now running low on – how do they know?!

3. SO, KNOW YOUR SUPPLIERS

When you realise you’re running low on something, that’s not the time to be checking different print quotes or searching eBay for the cheapest supplies. Make a document with links to all your products, supplies, the prices you usually pay and their turnaround/delivery times.  That way you can order extra as required, or know that if you have to put something out of stock, you can give people a restock date.

4. CHECK YOUR PRICES, AND YOUR LISTINGS

Christmas is not the time to discover one of your best selling products has been accidentally marked out of stock or that your prices are out of date and you’re actually losing money! Spare some time to sit down with all your shops and check the prices, shipping costs and descriptions to make sure they’re all correct. Consider updating your listings to anticipate any customer questions or confusion – think about any questions or problems you remember from previous orders or craft fairs.

5. TRACK YOUR STOCK

There’s nothing worse than having to email a customer and tell them that actually you don’t have that thing you sold them. Inventory tracking is so difficult when you make things in small amounts and sell on a few different marketplaces, but find a way to do it. I try to keep note of what’s running low and then start a tally of sales on my phone as they happen so I know when I’m running out. If possible, add a way for customers to be notified when a product is out of stock. That means you don’t always lose a sale if you run out, and it can be a fallback to discover something is accidentally out of stock.

6. OFFER MORE PAYMENT OPTIONS

Last year I added Etsy’s direct checkout option to my store which allows buyers to pay by credit card and avoid PayPal. At least 50% of my Etsy buyers now use that payment method, especially for larger orders. This year I added credit card and bank transfer payment options to my DaWanda store and have noticed some larger orders than usual coming in. I’m now looking to add credit cards and Amazon Payments to my Shopify store too. The downside is that you don’t get your money immediately, as they pay out on a weekly or monthly basis. However, a lot of people are turning against PayPal, or just prefer to use a credit card, so you could be losing out on sales.

7. SET A SHIPPING SCHEDULE, BUT BE FLEXIBLE

One of my greatest business decisions was to limit shipping to two days a week – Mondays and Thursdays. In my early years I used to pack every order as soon as it arrived, but I soon realised this was a huge waste of my time. Now that I do my postage online and have a process for picking, packing and printing, it only takes marginally longer to ship ten orders than one. So far no-one has complained, and the most common feedback I receive is about my quick shipping. However, I do bend the rules if someone’s in a hurry or is buying for a birthday or other event. Come Christmas time, I will probably add in a few extra shipping days if it gets a bit mad, otherwise I can spend all day packing orders and getting nothing else done.

8. HAVE BACKUPS IN PLACE

Possibly because Christmas isn’t that big of a deal in my family, I never get stressed out about the IMPENDING DOOM of snow and strike action and whatever other disasters might befall the Christmas shopping period. Having said that, Christmas sales are a huge part of my annual income so I make sure I’m prepared for the worst. If you only use Royal Mail, do some research into alternative couriers so you can quickly add those options if required. Think about who might be able to help you out if you get an unexpected rush of orders and what you’ll do if your printer stops working or your main web shop goes down.

9. THINK GLOBALLY

I get orders from all over the world and try to make it as easy as possible for everyone to buy. International shipping is expensive so offer some incentive like cheaper rates for large orders or a free gift. Make sure your last order dates for Christmas are prominent, especially in the last few days. Consider doing a promotion for Black Friday even if you’re not in the US –  it’s a huge shopping day and usually very close to international last shipping dates.

10.  MAKE YOUR CUSTOMERS REMEMBER YOU

It’s all very well getting great Christmas sales, but will they come back and buy again? Think of something nice you can add to Christmas orders, like gift wrapping, a free gift or a Christmas-themed business card or postcard. Add a discount code that lasts well into the new year and you could find the buyer and the recipient come back for more. Don’t forget your social networking details too for some new fans.

AND…GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

Customers can be very demanding around Christmas and it can be easy to give in to every request. Don’t burn yourself out though. Set your last order dates by what works for your schedule, not what Royal Mail are doing. If express delivery options are a nightmare for you (they are for me – my new post office is staffed by idiots and you can be queuing for an hour on a quiet Thursday morning) then don’t offer them. If you’re terrible at gift wrapping then don’t feel you have to offer it as a free service.

Hope that helps someone! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

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