Our favorite Thanksgiving traditions: reconnecting with loved ones we don’t often see, falling asleep watching TV with a full stomach, forgetting an essential part of the preparations and rushing at the last minute to get it done in time. 

The Thanksgiving weekend can get hectic and stressful for everyone — for online retailers, it can be even worse. Most years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are enough to keep ecommerce brands busy. But, this year, there’s expected to be much more traffic: according to eMarketer, 71% of Americans plan to do more than half of their holiday shopping online this year because of the pandemic. 

With more and more brick-and-mortar stores closing their doors this Thanksgiving, online retailers need to get ready for the increase in traffic. Unfortunately, that means even more preparations to make at a time when “plates” are already full. 

To help you stay organized and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks, we compiled this practical checklist to help you prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. When handled responsibly, sales from Thanksgiving weekend can make up a considerable chunk of your annual earnings, so staying on track now can earn you a big payoff later. 

Want to stay on the ball for the entire holiday season? Check out our Ultimate Ecommerce Holiday Guide, with a month-by-month checklist of what you should be doing and when it should be finished. 

Did you order enough stock?

Before we get into the more specific tasks to prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, let’s start with the basics: do you have enough products to sell? 

Nothing kills a shopper’s excitement faster than an Out of Stock message. If you run out of stock, not only do you miss the sale, you also risk losing that customer for good. That’s why the first thing you want to do is make sure you have enough inventory for the big sale. 

The question is, how much is enough? Although sales fluctuate from year to year, you can get an estimate by checking previous analytics. The data from last Thanksgiving weekend can give you a good starting point to help you determine how much to order. 

It’s also helpful to plan ahead. Ideally, you’ll want to order enough stock to last until mid-January, when the holiday sales rush finally slows down. 

Did you finalize promotions and sales incentives?

The promotions you offer during Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost as important as the products themselves. Make no mistake about it: the holiday shopping season is a feeding frenzy and all your retail rivals are already circling the waters. To stay competitive, you have to entice customers with a little extra. 

So what, specifically, do customers look for? Here’s a short-list of what you can offer shoppers during Thanksgiving weekend to lock them in: 

  • Free shipping. According to 9 out of 10 shoppers, free shipping is the single most important sales incentive to win them over. 
  • Gift wrapping. Great for building customer loyalty. By offering gift wrapping you help shoppers check it off their to-do lists and open up options to have a gift sent directly to the recipient — wrapped and ready to go under the tree.
  • Easy returns. Like free shipping, your return policy can be a powerful sales tool — especially during the holidays (with the inherent risk of buyer’s remorse). Offering a convenient and customer-leaning return policy can ease some fears enough to land a sale. 
  • Gift cards. The unsung hero of holiday shopping, gift cards are the most listed gift that people enjoy receiving. Not only do they make great gifts, but they’re also perfect for that person who’s hard to shop for. 
  • Holiday-themed branding. Adding holiday-themed decorations to your product packaging, delivery packaging, receipts, emails, etc. shows your customers that you, too, are “in the spirit.” 
  • Exclusive deals. If you want to reward your loyal customers, email subscribers, or social media followers, give them exclusive deals. At the very least, you can give them sneak peeks at the sales you’re planning, so they feel like they get special treatment. 

If you want to offer any of these sales incentives, you have to finalize the details as soon as possible. Some, like gift-wrapping or custom packaging, take extra time to develop and execute, so start on them early to make sure they’re ready in time. The sooner you finalize your promotions, the sooner you can publicize them and build hype — which brings us to our next section…

Did you prepare content, emails, and social media posts?

Your promotions and sales incentives will only work if customers know they exist. That’s where publicity comes in: you want to publicize promotions and products through your blog, social media, and email campaigns

But rather than scrambling to get these done hours before the deadline, it helps to prepare them beforehand so you don’t have to worry about them. Start planning your holiday marketing strategy now — pinpoint precisely when you’ll post certain content to ensure your announcements go live at the optimal times. That includes the posts you want to run during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also the ones to build hype in the weeks leading up to it. 

With scheduling apps, you can create all your content ahead of time and never worry about it again. Writing all your blog posts, composing all your tweets, designing the 7 most important holiday emails — create them now while you still have some free time. 

That goes for graphic assets as well. Especially on social media where visual posts perform best, you can make a stronger impact if you publicize your sales with an eye-catching visual as opposed to text alone. However, designing these images, or making a video, takes time, so it’s best to get started on them sooner rather than later. 

Did you optimize your site? 

During Thanksgiving weekend, and the entire holiday shopping season as a whole, you’ll be getting a lot of new visitors to your site. This is your chance to make a good first impression. 

For starters, you want to fix all the bugs and fast-track any updates you have planned on the horizon. The holiday shopping season is not the time for technical surprises, so ensure everything is in working order well before the holiday shoppers arrive. 

This is especially pertinent for mobile devices. Mobile ecommerce grows more popular every day, and considering the increase in online shoppers this year, in particular, having an effective mobile version of your store is no longer optional — it’s essential. 

Test your mobile site on different devices and make sure everything works and looks as it should. If not, check your user data to see which devices are most popular among your customers and prioritize designing for them first. 

You may want to consider introducing new payment methods as well. Digital wallets are increasingly common, especially among younger consumers, so crunch the numbers to see if it’s worth it for you to offer them. 

If you’re confident in your site’s performance, both on desktop and on mobile, you can use this time to make it even better. Go through your site and audit it for obsolete information, dead links, and oversized media. “Trimming the fat” of your website not only streamlines the user experience, but it can also improve loading times. Review our 7 Habits of Highly Successful Ecommerce Businesses to see where your site has room for improvement. 

Second helping

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Thanksgiving day itself, Thanksgiving weekend is the highest sales period of the entire year — but you can’t live off leftovers for the rest of the year! The first two weeks of December are also among the busiest, as is Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas) and the period after Christmas when people return and exchange items. 

This means you may not have a moment to catch your breath until after the new year, which is why it’s so crucial to stay organized now, during the calm before the storm.  Using the checklist above will help you to make sure that your online retail business is ready for what could be its busiest season yet.