‘Tis the season to get cosy on the sofa watching festive films, bake gingerbread and buy gifts for your family and friends. But as Christmas is one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year,

businesses must be prepared to manage the influx of orders. Competition is even fiercer nowadays, particularly as more people turn their side hustles into lucrative online small businesses. As a result, your store needs to be on top of its game to stand out from the crowd during the festive period.

A quarter of Brits start their Christmas shopping in August, but many leave it to the last minute, increasing demand and pressure on small businesses. This means that you need to be organised to manage orders and get them delivered in time. As the saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. But what exactly can you do to ensure you’re ready for the festive season?

Create a plan

Before you launch into any Christmas prep, you should create a plan leading up to the big day to ensure your online business is prepared for the busy season. Break down the months and identify what needs to be done and when, such as things like marketing campaigns, website changes, social media updates, and your packaging and stock orders.

Your plan should also feature your budget, including expenses for employee gifts, bonuses and Christmas parties. A good plan will cover week by week, detailing important dates such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and cut-off points for delivery. It may be beneficial to plan beyond Christmas too, to assess sales, tidy up and return to normal.

Refine your delivery service

The holiday season is a hectic time for delivery services and most have cut-off points. As such, it’s important your online business refines its options. 63% of shoppers say that the delivery speed is an important consideration when buying online. Consumers expect speed and convenience, especially at Christmas to ensure their gifts arrive on time.

Providing multiple options, including same-day or next-day delivery, can make your business more favourable to shoppers and boost sales. Couriers like CitySprint offer a trackable next-day delivery service that ensures your goods are delivered by a specific time, which will be particularly appealing for those ordering at the last minute.

In fact, 62% of shoppers buy gifts in the week before Christmas, proving how vital it is for your business to provide reliable and fast delivery. Every year, companies like the Royal Mail become overwhelmed with deliveries which causes longer waiting times. So, remember to consider shipping delays and how this might impact your operations.

Update your store

During the festive period you’ll want to attract as many customers to your website as possible and encourage them to buy. A great way to do this is by adding some joy and festive spirit to your site, just like how you’d decorate your physical store.  For example, if you have a range of exclusive Christmas products, implementing a separate page in your navigation bar for these is a good idea. You can design festive banners, interactive advent calendars or a Christmas themed logo too.

To boost conversions, optimise your content with relevant seasonal keywords and focus on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) for increased online visibility. Take a look at your website as a whole too. Is it easy to navigate? Can users quickly understand the buying process? While, considering 20% of people abandon their shopping carts if they can’t pay with their preferred method, having multiple ways to pay will attract more buyers

Analyse last year’s data and competitors

Take a look at your business data from last year’s Christmas sales and identify which items were popular and what marketing campaigns were most effective. Focus on what worked well previously and figure out whether the same strategy will perform again. Did promoting your business on Instagram lead to increased sales? Was email marketing useful? You can also use your customer-based data to inform your latest strategy, like sending segmented email campaigns and targeting specific demographics on social media.

Checking out what your competitors are doing is also a good option. Competition is fierce in the run-up to Christmas, and you might discover that even your most loyal customers will jump ship if another business offers something better. What strategies are they implementing, and do they work? These can influence your own efforts, or you might have a unique idea that sets you apart from the rest.

Hire temporary seasonal staff

While your regular team is capable of managing the day-to-day activities of your business, the festive season is much more demanding. Employees are likely to be under intense pressure to process and package orders, work longer hours or have to cover staff who are on annual leave. To minimise stress during the holiday season, hiring temporary seasonal workers can help improve productivity and sales.

Seasonal employees offer convenience and speed, allowing your business to keep up with demand. Although it costs to hire new staff, the benefits are greater. You can employ temporary workers faster than permanent ones as there are often many students looking for a job to fill their time in between studying. They are also much more flexible, which can help you with managing work loads. However, you’ll need to be on top of admin for things like payroll, insurance and contracts to ensure you can hire and onboard staff quickly.