Business owners can’t help but focus their attention on a strong Q4 every time September rolls around. This is the part of the year when seller can make 30% more sales than any other time of the year. This past October, Amazon sales were up to 43.7 billion US dollars – a 34% increase.
You can get on this wave and ride it to soaring profits. But you won’t reach the pinnacle of your potential without following a few – or more – best practices. It’s more than harnessing the power of advertising. Every seller needs a great operations plan to experience a strong Q4 on Amazon.
If you sell seasonal items, the first thing to do is determine whether or not they are good holiday items. Identify the items in your inventory that would make good gifts, even if they are not really Christmas items. If you don’t think you have enough to finish a strong Q4, start looking for Christmas-themed items, other gift items, and winter season hot sells as early as now.
What you can also start doing right now is prepare for post-Christmas shoppers. Don’t stop looking for items to sell even if any new supply orders won’t make it for Christmas. Keep sourcing the best products to list for those late shoppers.
From December 26th up to mid-January, shoppers will be scouring Amazon for more deals. After all, Three Kings is the true gift-giving day, and that’s not until January 6th! Many of them will be holding gift cards that they will want to use before the thrill wears off. They know that post-Christmas sales are awesome. They will want to add to the excitement of getting an Amazon gift card by making a steal. Still others will be trying to console themselves with purchases to make up for not getting what they really wanted for Christmas. Make sure that you have in stock the items that they are going to be looking for.
One week before Christmas and one week after, you will want to be on the look-out. You can grab a ton of Christmas-themed items at very low prices. If you are quick to source and list, you can make a killing again from those late shoppers. You can also stock up on these items to prepare for a strong Q4 next year. Many of these items will even sell well before the holiday season, so they won’t just be gathering dust in your warehouses. Christmas ornaments are used for all kinds of decorating. People miss candy canes and crave them in summertime. Some people like to do their holiday shopping as early as August. And don’t forget about the Christmas in July fad. Buy up at up to 90% off and resell throughout the year at a modest 30% off for a not-so-modest profit.
If you have issues with your products, make sure that you have addressed them before you place your Q4 orders. Your competitors – both old and new – are going to be looking for ways to gain the edge for a strong Q4. You must be able to list a product that is better than before, and better than the rest. If you miss this, your market share is likely to get stolen away from you.
Take that same list that you created for all the products that you expect will sell in Q4. This time, add in your pricing and review it. Make sure that you are staying competitive with all the other Christmas and holiday items listed on the marketplace. Raise or lower your process based on what you find out there and how much inventory you need to be rid of.
One week before Christmas, expect increased orders from Amazon Prime members. Don’t lower prices on your FBA items that you expect will sell for Christmas. If you are one of a few FBA sellers with these items in stock, you might even want to raise prices a few dollars during this week. If you face tough competition, however, lower your price enough to make sure you can sell out before everyone else lowers their prices below what you can tolerate.
By August, you should already know how much inventory you need for a strong Q4. Anticipate how your sales volumes are going to change with each coming month. Take into account most especially the huge sale days of black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the spike that Christmas shopping always brings. Look at your own sales trends and study the general peaks and valleys as well.
To really be able to boast a strong Q4, you must not sell out. You can’t expect to enjoy maximum sales if you have nothing left to sell. Don’t give your profits to your competitors – you’ve gotta catch ‘em all!
But don’t be too hasty. Again, check your sales volumes and stock product accordingly. Unless you have a great plan, you’ll end up losing a lot on storage fees for overstock. If you intend to buy up at ridiculously low prices and sell for huge profits months down the line, make sure your fees are covered and your cash isn’t all tied up in stocked inventory.
If you’re a new seller, the general rule from Amazon’s reports is to add 30% to your regular volume. You can also always look to Google to view trends. They provide historical data, so you will have some solid numbers to base your calculations on.
Production and Delivery
It’s essential to know how much inventory you need for a strong Q4. You will miss your targets, however, if you can’t have it on-hand when you need it. Be certain that you will have each item available on your store when orders come in.
Check Amazon or your third party fulfillment centers and take note of their established cut-off dates. You have to have your inventory in their warehouses by these dates so that product delivery for the holidays can go smoothly. Miss these dates and you won’t make your targets. Amazon’s cut-off dates are usually the first week of November for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the last week of November for Christmas.
Know your supplier’s production time for each item so you know when to place your orders. They have to be ready in time for your anticipated spikes in sales. Contact your suppliers and ask them what their schedule is like. Most suppliers will also be much busier as October rolls around. You want to be sure that you give them enough lead time to complete your orders and ship them out in time, despite the holiday rush. In addition, make sure to factor in shipping times from manufacturers to you or to Amazon warehouses – more on this below.
Place your holiday supply orders early. Manufacturers are always slammed this time of year. They see their peak as early as July and it just gets worse all though to December or even February for Chinese suppliers. And remember, Chinese factories all close down for an extended holiday during this time, so be prepared for that, too!
As a general rule, double their promised lead time. Better still, contact them and update the estimates, then add a week or two just to be sure. You can’t know how much other factors will affect their delivery times – they also rely on others in the supply chain to send them all the materials they need to make your products. Leave room for any weak links so that you don’t suffer as a result. Moreover, you can’t know who will be ordering from them, and you want to be ahead in the line since they aren’t likely to let you cut in – it’s usually strictly first come, first served. Anything can and will happen, so don’t put your strong Q4 at risk by not doing all you can to prevent delays.
Shipping always gets more expensive in the 3rd and 4th quarter, with peak time for freight coming at the end of the year, every year. Expect higher shipping costs for the holiday season, no matter how you ship. The average increase in 2017 was 25% above the usual rates. Because of this huge difference, make sure that you recalculate your profit margins and adjust your pricing if you want to enjoy a strong Q4. Don’t forget to factor in lead times as well so you won’t end up paying even more for express delivery just to get your products to your warehouses on time.
Returns and Refunds
Expect more returns, and not just because you’re selling more. A lot more people are going to be getting gifts because it’s Christmas. In addition, a lot of these people are not going to be happy with what they got. They are going to be returning a lot of items for exchanges or refunds. Be ready to handle this increased volume with a palpable smile shining through in all your communications. Factor this increase into your inventory planning as well. In addition, take note of all these returns and stay current on the Amazon returns policy. If you don’t get reimbursed by Amazon within 45 days, be prepared to follow up each late case. The retail giant doesn’t have such a great memory when it comes to this.
People are always just a little more on edge during the latter part of the year. It’s going to be a crazy time for customer service. Feedback in general is going to spike because of increased sales. Negative feedback is going to spike because everybody gets stressed during the holidays. Put added focus on customer service,
starting in September. Make sure you are prepared to give all your old and new customers the best experience ever. You can achieve a strong Q4 only if you can keep them happy. You will be busy with calculations and suppliers, but make time for this!
Be vigilant about customer service 24/7 during the 4th quarter. As orders are delivered, check your feedback. Don’t delay requesting the removal of any misplaced feedback comments. Things move very fast during this time of year. You don’t want poor scores to be left up for a minute longer than they have to as this can kill your dreams for a strong Q4. You could lose the buy box and these comments will turn away any customers that do still happen to find you.
Implementing these strategies starting now and continuously throughout each year is the key to a strong Q4 every year. And a strong Q4 is the key to your growth and ultimate success as an online seller. Diligently take care of your supply chain, your inventory, your shipping and your customer service for a strong Q4.