Christmas, and peak trading time in general, is more important than ever before for online retail strategy. That applies no matter what size of business you run. With December shipping volumes nearly twice as high as those in June, it’s no wonder that over half of business owners plan to begin preparing for peak before September. Why should online retailers prepare so early? The simple reason is that the potential prize is huge – and that alone causes challenges. For multichannel retailers (and increasingly, direct-to-consumer brands), managing the sheer volume of orders is a welcome problem to have but one that demands a solution nonetheless. Last year, Black Friday weekend was nearly 20% bigger than 2015 – in the UK, Cyber Monday jumped an extra 50% year-over-year. A big part of the increasing importance of peak shopping periods is the marketing and hype that marketplaces like Amazon are capable of generating, then translating into traffic and ultimately into sales. Of course, at the same time as worrying about how to serve the massive increase in demand around winter time, retailers and brands selling online need to consider how they can attract customers to their specific offering. As the ecommerce industry matures, it inevitably fosters competition. What makes your product the best – and if it isn’t your product, what do you offer that makes you the right place to buy it? Does all that mean you really need to start now? Well, yes. According to MarTech Advisor a third of businesses who started preparing before September described theirs as a “very successful” peak season. Businesses who started later? Well, just 20% of them enjoyed a “very successful” holiday period. So just what are these successful businesses working on in August? As we’ve touched on, there are a bunch of essentials to plan. From customer acquisition to conversion optimisation on the front end of the business, right through to warehousing efficiency and back office synergy – what challenges have you faced during peak season before, and how are you going to address them? Think about the whole picture. If you didn’t get as much of the holiday pie as you’d like, you need to be thinking about how you acquire customers. Which channels suit your business – social, search, affiliate marketing? Remember that in a hyper-competitive age, you need to stand out to maximise the sales increase that holiday trading brings. It helps to have a unique product, but don’t worry if you don’t. You can still compete effectively on price and service alone, which are still massive factors in any shopper’s mind. To compete on price you have to be as efficient as possible – that means sorting out your backend processes. How can you assist your warehouse staff to be more effective in their jobs in the intensity of a peak weekend? Are your high velocity product lines nearer the packing bench than slower-selling units? Next week, we’ll tackle in detail the key business areas to target when preparing for peak periods.