How startups can cope with the festive rush

Whatever your business, it's unlikely that demand remains exactly the same or the entire year. There are always peaks and troughs - and for many businesses the busiest time of year is the festive period, especially if you're selling a product. Being busy and selling more can be just the thing your startup needs to end the year on a bang - but if you're not prepared for the increased demand, you could end up with disgruntled customers and a bad reputation. We spoke to Virgin StartUp-funded business Solace Jewellery, sellers of stylish hypoallergenic jewellery, about how they prepare for busier times in the year.

When did you notice things getting busier?

We noticed a significant increase in our unique visitors from the beginning of November, and increasing our conversion rate to capitalise on this was the focus. Google Analytics has been consistently showing an increase in users on our mobiles and tablets, with over 60% of our visitors using these devices the past two month. Although our site has always been responsive, we needed to make sure all the images and buttons on the website were optimised to ensure the ease of purchase for the customer. Whether it was the focus on this area, or the festive spirit, our conversion rate has increased significantly.

 

Where do most of your customers come from?

Most of our customers come from our Google Adwords campaign. I arranged a call with our account manager at Google, and she went through a number of functions I had no idea existed, such as adding callout and sitelink extensions. I would recommend anyone who advertises with Google to find out who their automatically assigned account manager is and schedule a call. They talk you through their service step by step and work hard to improve your advertisement. This has cut our spend on negative keywords, and also increased the click-through rate on relevant searches.

Do you put on more offers, or put more emphasis on marketing around this time?

We wanted to do something different and fun, so we ran a 12 days of Christmas offer with different discounts each day. To advertise the offer we sent out emails every three days, revealing the upcoming offers for the next three days in a calendar format.

12 days of xmas

Also, at the checkout page, we are offering Christmas wrapping for an additional £1. The photos we had done for this offer also came in useful for banners on the homepage and promotion emails. If you have good-looking content and marketing material it’s a great idea to use across multiple platforms, and if subtly used it doesn't come across as spamming one offer all of the time. Plus it’s cheaper to repurpose than to create new marketing for each campaign.

How do you make sure you have enough stock for demand?

We researched our top-selling products, made a list of essential items, and ensured we had as much stock as possible at the start of November to cover the busy period. This was not a formula-driven exercise to forecast demand. As a new business we had no idea how the Christmas period would affect us, so we purchased as much as possible within our cashflow forecast limits. We also added jewellery sets to the website which are more suited to be given as gifts, but in honesty we did not get enough of this stock as we almost sold out. Luckily our stock orders only take one week to be delivered, and we have re-stocked for the last push before the 25th.

Our jewellery boxes have been slightly tougher to manage, as they take up to 3 weeks to be printed and delivered. We doubled the amount of stock we usually hold and thought this would be ample, but before the delivery came the rush had already started. Luckily I made another order straight away, as this week we had one day  where orders were unable to be shipped due to lack of boxes. The boxes arrived the next day and customers still received their purchases within the three day period we offer (usually we have it to them in two).

Will you be doing anything extra in January, such as sales?

January is around the corner, so we are working on our next promotion to clear out old stock and make space for new products, we don’t want our sales to dip after Christmas and we know customers will be wanting great January deals.

What do you anticipate being your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is managing the continual improvement of the website, customer service, marketing efforts and motivation when the increase of orders puts additional pressure on the business and those working on it. It can be overwhelming, having so much on your to-do list and not knowing which area to focus on in the little time you have. Productivity is the key to staying on top of all the additional work, and you have to clearly prioritise and accept the fact not everything can get done and it probably won’t affect the business as much as you think it will. Set deadlines for the tasks that must get done, and do them to the best of your ability. But one thing definitely not to do is go over these deadlines in search of perfection.

 

How do you keep organised when everything's busy?

Lists. I have tried numerous different apps, spreadsheets and online tools. The one I have found most useful, and which I'm using right now, is Trello. It’s a visually pleasing app and website that allows you to make checklists, set deadlines and share with your team. It is easy to use and great for managing multiple projects across a team of people, and it’s free! It has made my life so much simpler, more organised, and I no longer have multiple pieces of paper with different lists on my desk.

 

Get the Virgin StartUp Business plan