By Simon Black, CEO, Sage Pay

In my last article, I discussed the importance of online businesses preparing for Christmas well in advance of the festive season. Last year Cyber Monday, the single busiest day for online shopping, saw 113 million visits to online shops in one day. Retailers need to make sure they’re as prepared as they can be ahead of time. But now that we’ve hit November, how exactly can online businesses prepare themselves for Christmas?

Knowing how to market your business properly is essential in ensuring prosperity, especially during the festive season. For a small business, social is a good starting point. Lots of consumers will be watching social channels for offers and deals. So, if your business is not already using social media, there’s no time like the present. Social channels can give a brand a real boost and even better, they won’t cost anything but time. They’re a great way to reach out to your target audience given the varied demographics of users across each channel.

Moreover, there is great scope with social media to get creative. It’s important to realise that as we approach the Christmas period, every other retailer will be thinking along the same lines. Therefore, it’s vital to be creative with marketing and ensure your messaging really stands out from the crowd. Before committing to any social activity, carry out some quick and easy market research to look at how your competitors are using social media. This will avoid echoing and being overshadowed by other retailers.

Additionally, social media is a great way to publicise positive word of mouth. It’s true that consumers take to social media to vent their frustrations at businesses, and this is something you should bear in mind. But don’t let that put you off. Customers also use social media to sing companies’ praises. If you are able to offer your customer a great, hassle-free service during the stressful run up to Christmas, they are more likely to take to social media to recommend you to their friends and family.

At the same time as revamping your marketing, you should also spend your time refreshing your website. Given 400 million hours were spent online by UK consumers in December 2013, you need to make sure your website is ready to handle the sudden volume of activity it will experience during the festive season. This needs to start with a website makeover. Retail websites need to be fresh and relevant. Put yourself in the consumers’ shoes and think careful about your website’s navigation; put seasonal deals front and centre and group products by customer type so shoppers looking for presents can easily find something to suit their loved one.

Furthermore, it’s good practice for you to test your webpage regularly, especially in the run up to Christmas. In many cases, drop-outs are down to a technical fault that went unnoticed. You should user-test your sites as often as possible in the run-up to Christmas – ask a professional third-party to give feedback on the website. Alternatively, asking a digitally savvy friend for their opinion can be just as useful.

One of the key incentives to turning a browser into a buyer via a website is ensuring there is a clear returns and refunds policy. There’s always one family member who ends up returning their Christmas gifts and shoppers will look out to make sure that if there are any problems or they simply change their mind, that there is a slick and hassle-free returns policy. This needs to be concise and placed somewhere clear on your website.

Once you have refreshed your website and Christmas marketing strategy, the next phase of preparation is to ensure you’re ready to cope with the demand and influx of web traffic that Christmas will no doubt bring to your website.

Moreover, it’s most important that your payment methods are up to date and you are providing a range of payment options to your customers. After all, there’s no point putting time and effort into festive social media outreach and a snazzy website makeover if you then aren’t able to process the influx of payments and still end up losing out on revenue. My next article will focus on ease-of-payment for a consumer and why a positive customer payment experience is vital in ensuring payment completion.