Monday, June 8, 2009

Holiday Prep Guide 2009

This is a revised version of my 2008 Holiday Prep Guide.

Right now you probably think I'm insane because it's June. Well, I tend to procrastinate and this "slow" summer period is the perfect time to start prepping your shops for the holiday season. This is basically a summary of everything I learned in my 2 holiday seasons on Etsy. Most of it is just common sense but if you need a good reminder or a checklist then read on!

Always remember "No expectations, no disappointments" just because it's the holidays doesn't mean that your sales will pick up. If your shop is getting regular sales now then you are likely to see an increase but don't be too surprised if you don't. There are just as many "where are all the sales?" and "it's sooooo slow" threads during the holidays as there are now.

So in no particular order here goes!

1. BUILDING INVENTORY & SHOP APPEARANCE.
It doesn't happen overnight! Start now, set goals and stick to them! Plan so that you can make a few items a week! It's really important to constantly have new stock in addition to re-listing (listing things that have sold) things you have multiples of because it attracts attention from potential AND more importantly repeat customers. You've got to keep the shop fresh and fun for your repeat customers! They've bought from you before and are most likely back to see what else you have to offer. People will be buying lots of different things during the holiday season for gifts and for themselves. All different types of people with different budgets. If you can offer them something they like within one of their price points it's a win-win situation.

Make your avatar memorable and don't change it all the time so people who heart you will recognize you. Keep your shop announcements short and sweet, make sure your shipping policies are informative and jazz up that profile. You never know who is reading! I in previous years there was a buyer/seller said that they were going to print the profiles of all the sellers they bought from and include it with their gifts.

Tips for descriptions and titles:
- Take the time to describe your items accurately and make it fun!
- Include measurements in metric and imperial especially if you ship internationally.
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Don't try to jam a million words into the title field! (Etsy is not Ebay and that is what tags are for!)
- Make it easy on the eyes to read meaning don't type like this THiS ItEm Is Gr8! or use ALL CAPS.

Use your sections!
Busy shoppers don't have time to weed through all 15 pages of your of inventory. Make their shopping experience simple by separating your goods into sections. For example jewelry makers: earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, etc... For print makers: sort by size and maybe by collections. There are lots of ways to sort your shop but what you should think about is how your target market shops and set it up so that it appeals to them.

2. ORDERING CRAFTING SUPPLIES.
PRIORITIZE! There have been times where I have run out of earring hooks or earring posts or glue and it Drives me insane. Write out a list of your absolute necessities and then rank them by how long it takes to get these items. For example, if i run out of shrink plastic I can get it at Michaels which is 10 mins away, I can order ear hooks and ear posts from Rio Grande and have them at my door the next day, if I run out of labels I can pick some up at Staples but if I order some poly baggies from an Etsy seller it will take about a month to get to me via first class. So knowing that I order the poly baggies ahead of time and in bulk to ensure I have enough and to save on shipping. By prioritizing what I need and staying organized I shouldn't have to deal with this issue.

It's also not a bad idea to do an inventory count every couple weeks. I do mine monthly. Okay I don't really count all the little pieces of supplies I have on stock that would take days but I have all of it set up in a way where I can look at it and know what I need more of very quickly. It's a pain sometimes but it's definitely better to order what I know I need rather than dump all my money into supplies that could sit for a long time.

3. SHIPPING
This is a big one. Shipping can get really crazy especially in November & December! Remember to establish a shipping deadline/cut off date (these dates should be posted on your postal office website in October or so). You should have this date posted in your shop announcements along with any other details. It's also a good idea to list your location so that shoppers know where you are shipping from and what to expect with shipping times.

Ship INTERNATIONALLY. Really, there is no good excuse not to. Around October you'll see all these threads popping up about how shoppers can't buy the items they want because sellers don't ship to their countries. If you haven't figured it out already, no one wants to convo you for a rate! They will just move on and find the next best thing. You're really missing out on a lot of potential sales by not shipping internationally I mean how hard is it to package something and take it to the post office to get some shipping quotes? Do it now while the post office isn't busy and has time to answer your questions. Do it because you want to grab a hold of every sale you can get your hands on. Even if you lose a few dollars in the beginning you gained experience and that is worth way more. Let me tell you something... I live in Canada and over 95% of my sales are international orders. If that doesn't motivate you what will?

Buying shipping supplies. It will be different for everyone and you'll have to figure it out for yourself but the way I estimate how much supplies to buy is I take my average monthly supply usage and multiply by 3 and then multiply by 2 for Nov & Dec. That way I've got enough supplies to last whether I see an increase in sales or not. Right now I have enough shipping supplies to last at least 2 months. I don't like to have tons of shipping supplies sitting around but at the same time I don't mind because I know it will get used up eventually. Someone also mentioned to me last year that you should be prepared in case the Post Office runs out of flat rate envelopes, priority boxes, customs labels, etc... I know that my PO always runs out of the customs labels I use so all year round I keep a huge stack of them at home. It's better to be prepared because nothing is worse than running out of envelopes or bubble wrap when you have 10 orders waiting to go out and it's snowing outside or worse.

If you offer gift wrapping or special packaging or offer dropshipping for your customers you will want to sit down and calculate how much supplies you need to keep on hand. Also, be sure to take the time to figure out how you can streamline your packaging/shipping so that you don't spend 20 mins wrapping an order when you have 10 more waiting to be wrapped! Keep it as simple as possible.

Things you should think about are:
- What can I get done now so I don't have to be bothered with it later? Ex: I use a bristol board tent card to ship my stickers so they don't get bent during transport so I have to pre-cut those instead of cutting one each time I sell a pack of stickers. It saves a lot of time.
- If you print invoices and shipping labels do you have enough paper and ink?
- Do you have enough business cards (and freebies or promo items if you offer that).
- Do I have enough gift boxes, wrapping paper, tape, gift tags, thank you cards?
- How will I keep track of what is inside each package?
- How can I package my gift wrapped items so that the buyer will know what is in each box if they buy multiple items? (post-it notes are great!)

If you work out a plan for this now it will save a lot of headaches!

Extra shipping tips:
- ALWAYS package one order at a time to avoid confusion. I can't tell you how many times I tried to package multiple orders at the same time only to have it take twice as long because I had to go back and double check everything was in the right envelope!
- If the order is awaiting an address confirmation or pending payment I will write AC (address confirmation) - username or PP (pending payment) - username under the flap of the envelope with their order packaged and ready to go when I get the notification to ship. When you seal the flap you can't see the writing. Also, I only seal the packages that are ready to go out. So I never get anything mixed up.
- COMMUNICATE with your customers. This should be done without being said but in case you don't know this you should be acknowledging your orders and informing customers of when you are shipping or if your item has shipped. It's good customer service and no buyer wants to sit there wondering if you even realize they ordered from you.
- If you know this it might be a good idea to give an estimated shipping time too.
- Be respectful. Some people don't want feedback left till after the holiday season because of sneaky friends and relatives so you might want to hold off on leaving feedback until after the holiday season or find a notebook and take note of which customers want this.


4. MARKETING
There are a lot of ways to promote during the holidays. I have a lot of accounts on social networking sites that I am active on. Sites such as Flickr, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc... Some of it will work for you and some won't. It's all trial and error. After all, nothing is guaranteed to bring you sales right? Personally, I think that the best form of advertising is through word of mouth. Get your family to help you pass out business cards, leave them at local restaurants with your bill, give them to your bank teller, etc... but the best word of mouth is from happy customers that tell their friends how much they love your stuff. I always include business cards in every order.


5. ADVERTISING & BRANDING
If you're planning on doing some advertising this holiday season you better start setting a budget! Ad spots on the big blogs for the holidays sell out really fast. (You'll want to have your spots booked before the end of September). If you are on a tighter budget do an as swap with some of your blogger friends or see if some of the higher traffic blogs will run a giveaway for you. It's a great way to get exposure without breaking the bank! (Advertise on my other blog Sweet Figments that features handmade and vintage shops starting at just $10).

Things you should consider when purchasing ad space:
- Who is your target market?
- Is the ad space I want to purchase targeted towards my target market?
- What times of the day are people in my target market most likely to be on the computer?
- Is it worth it to spend X amount of dollars if I see a potential increase of X amount of dollars?
- You might also want to factor in how high your holiday Etsy bill will be or how many dollars you plan to spend renewing/relisting items.

BUT, before you go throwing all your money into advertising you have to ask yourself this "Do I have the time to deal with a sudden increase in sales?" This question is for all of you SAHM's, those who work full time off Etsy, those who are still in school or have other priorities.

The holidays are a great time to start branding your store. A brand is a lot more than just a logo. It's about how you want your business to be viewed and represented. Take the time to appreciate your customers and show them by way you package, the things you include such as buttons, stickers, a simple thank you note or something unique with your logo and website on it. Do something that will make them remember you.

Start a mailing list! I started doing a mailing list last June and one year later I have hundreds of subscribers. Mailing lists are a great way to remind your customers that you exist, keep your brand fresh in their minds, they are a great way to pass out sale info, shop updates, announcements for new releases. Having a mailing list has been a really great experience. Remember to only add them to your list if they wish to opt-in otherwise it's considered spam.

Forums. I think it's a good idea to post in the forums to maintain visibility. Sellers are buyers too and sometimes they've known about your shop all year long and don't remember that you've actually got that really cool bag or pair of earrings. So if you pop up in front of them they might remember again. Plus, who doesn't want to support their Etsy friends? :)

6. TAGGING
I cannot stress how important this is. I don't have actual percentages I'm too lazy to open all my convos and count but the majority of the customers who respond to my survey tell me they found me using the search (I'm guessing around 85%). Now, I know that lately there's been all this fuss about Etsy's "relevancy" search and how it doesn't make sense but seriously, how many customers do you think actually even know that it exists? Personally, if I wasn't in the forums everyday I wouldn't know about it either. I always shop using the default which is "most recently listed". Don't worry about that and make sure you are using the correct tags. This is REALLY important to know because when the holiday craziness starts I don't know why but everyone feels the need to renew, renew AND renew and then list, list AND list some more! So your stuff gets buried so fast it will make your head spin but if the buyer can type in keywords that describe your item they can find you a lot easier. So make it easier on your buyers and help them find what they are looking for by tagging accurately!

Things to think about when tagging:
- Make sure they are acurate and descriptive
- Think about how people internationally search for things. Do they have different words they use for describing your item? Ex: Blanket, Duvet, Quilt, etc...
- If you have an extra tag use it to tag your shop name. This might be helpful to those of you who have a different shop name and username.
- Ask your family or friends to look at your items and tell you what words come to mind.

**A REMINDER** http://www.etsy.com/help_guide_listing.php
You are NOT allowed to tag for "potential uses" meaning you are not allowed to tag your items as "christmas gift", "gift" or the big one "stocking stuffers".

Why not? If you type "gift wrapping paper" and "stocking" into the search to look for HANDMADE gift wrap or stockings the search will pull up all the listings with the word "stockings" and "gift" in it including all stocking stuffers and gift wrapping options that people have listed as well as items that come with gift wrapping. Imagine being a buyer and having to flip through 200+ pages of items to find what you are looking for. Major turn off! And since you can't tag for potential uses you can't tag your items as "stuffer" either. Think that this is unfair? Try typing in "gift wrapping" and see for yourself how bad it is.

The solution? Include this info in your item description. If shoppers use the advance search they have the option of searching the item descriptions as well. So, if you include the words stocking stuffer in your item descriptions your stuff will come up.


7. PHOTOGRAPHY
Oh we must not forget about our photos! The first impression matters! So take the time to re-do all of those half assed photos! I'm serious! If your photos are blurry, dark, fuzzy it will turn a buyer away. I had pretty crappy photos when I first started and once I spent a little more time on them my sales increased. So, invest in a lightbox, hire someone, buy a new camera and do whatever it takes! If you don't like re-doing photos then don't list anything until you get it right! Shopping online is a very different experiencce than shopping at a B&M store. Those photos are the only thing that a buyer can use to determine if your item is worth purchasing. Try to use all five photo slots and if you have extra space photograph your packaging. Sometimes the packaging is that little push that will get you a sale. I know it's time consuming to re-do photos but do it for the sake of your shop! I promise it will be worth it. Besides, it might get you into a few more treasuries and possible front page exposure!


8. OFFER A SALE OR DISCOUNT.
Okay, I have to say that I haven't tried this out yet. I've always been told that the holidays are the one time of the year that people are always willing to go over their budget for but I'm thinking that with the economy the way it is, it might be a good idea to have a sale. I'm thinking about offering discounts on multiple purchases or just running a sale Ex: buy 3 pairs of earrings for $25 or spend $50 or more and get 15% off. Or maybe I will just run my customer appreciation sale early this year and offer savings of up to 50% off selected items. Try it out and mix it up. It might be worth it.

17 comments:

JBeanz said...

Now I really need to get started for the holidays! Great tips!

Lauren said...

I have not been thinking about the holidays yet and I realize this could be a mistake on my part. I have been pretty busy even during the slow season, mayhaps I should brace myself? ^.^

Meekiyu said...

good ideas! I haven't given the holidays a real thought though I do have some winter and holiday themed ideas ready to go... great point of increase of sales and whether or not you can really handle it. =D

Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

This is a fantastic and detailed post!! It's never too early to prep for the busy season!

Amy's Stocking Stuffers said...

I'm not an Etsy seller, but I am an Etsy buyer, and I feature a lot of Etsy items on my blog. This was a terrific post, full of a great mix of common sense and practical application. Thanks!

Tina Holden said...

Hi Connie, Awesome tips and reminders! Much appreciated. Christmas is only 6 months away...

Isette said...

Wow, what a great write up, and reminder of things to come! :)

ku-ki shop said...

Great tips, i try to follow them every year, as i get a sales increase by the holidays, but sometimes it's ahrd to make/ship all the orders since i'm in college. I think i must start now my holiday stock! *runs to the desk*

ShySiren said...

Oooo, I'm starting to get excited for the holiday season already!! I'll enjoy the slower summer months by prepping my packaging & creating "kits" of my jewelry items. Thanks so much for the terrific blog post!

gawieber said...

I admire your patience and thoroughness. Thanks for the guidance and direction. :)

ThePaperAddict said...

It is so true that you have to start preparing early! I thought about this a couple weeks ago and I'm glad TinyFig wrote up this information for us! Thanks!
Holly from ThePaperAddict.Etsy.com

lesliemehlart said...

thank you so much for the insightful and generous info!! leslie/stymiepie

limegreenmodern said...

Such a great post...a good reminder that I need to start now! Thanks!

maoiliosa said...

whew, i'm glad i'm not the only person thinking about all this in june! heehee :). i love reading your tips whenever you post them, because even though you might consider a lot of this "common sense" to a seasoned etsy seller, it's also easy to forget some of this stuff! your posts are a great reminder, like a checklist of what needs to be done before the holiday season hits :). thanks a bunch - now to get started on redoing all my photos soon ;).

rkdsign88 said...

Very appreciate with the tips!Thank you so much for sharing with us, love your blog & shop.

LoveMeKnot Creations said...

thanks for the 2009 update :)
great tips, I NEED to get my butt in gear, thanks for lighting my fire :)

gilstrapdesigns said...

Thanks for all of the great info. I'll surely use this info. year around.