Failsafe Q4 Prep Schedule: What to Accomplish and By When
by Matt Ellis
The holiday season as an Amazon seller: the best of times and the worst of times.
If you’re like most sellers, this is the time of the year when you make a substantial amount of your annual profits as customers pour in for holiday shopping. But keeping your head screwed on through it all remains a challenge — organizing everything, remembering important dates, managing the details and putting out every new fire along the way. Diligent sellers are certainly earning those extra sales.
However, if you enter the holiday shopping season with a solid plan and well-thought strategy, the stress is a lot easier to manage. Not only do you have to spend less time worrying about what to do, you also have a strong sense of confidence that helps you brave the storm.
That’s what this article is about. Below, we outline a reliable schedule for the Q4 shopping season so you can worry less and sell more. And who knows — you might end up actually enjoying yourself for the holidays.
Get Your Inventory In On Time
While your marketing and promotional campaigns dates are more flexible, getting your inventory to the fulfillment centers on time is more of a hard deadline. There’s no wiggle room if your products aren’t available during the shopping rush.
Your first priority should be scheduling your inventory shipments well in advance of the key shopping dates to ensure your main products are in stock. According to last year’s guide, Amazon recommends using these dates as deadlines:
- Inventory for Black Friday and Cyber Monday should arrive at fulfillment centers by November 7.
- Inventory for Christmas shopping should arrive by December 1.
- Inventory for the new year should be sent after December 17. (Before December 17, Amazon asks that you only ship items for 2018 sales.)
Usually I’d suggest restocking your inventory as soon as possible, so it’s one less thing to worry about. However, with FBA special fees for the holidays, it’s not that simple. Amazon charges more than 3x as much in monthly storage fees for the months of October, November and December. To make matters worse, this year those fees are increasing to $2.40 per cubic foot.
Monthly inventory fees are charged between the 7th and the 15th, so there’s little chance to avoid them. If you have reliable shipment methods, you may be able to avoid excessive charges for October by getting holiday inventory in after November, but only if the risk is minimal. This year, Black Friday falls on November 23, so you want to be fully stocked well before then.
Know Which Products to Promote
Part of the hassle of planning your Q4 strategy is knowing which products to promote. Your best sellers aren’t always as obvious as where you’re making the most money — you also have to factor in the return on investment (ROI) for promotions, which items have the best search traffic and the actual price per unit.
Check back on your sales data over the first part of the year and compare every item in your product range. Evaluate areas like:
- number of units sold vs. price per unit
- page visits vs. conversions (actual sales)
- success of advertising campaigns — calculate and compare the ROI for each (net profit / total investment, then multiply by 100 for a percentage)
- popularity of searches (which items are users searching for, and what keywords are they using)
Another key area for determining your most profitable products are customer reviews. Take time to analyze your customer reviews and turn them into actionable data. For example, a low-selling product that has stellar reviews deserves more promotion, while a high-selling product with poor reviews may need some revisions in the product description or images.
A great place to collect product data for your Q4 strategy is Prime Day. As one of the biggest shopping days months before the holiday season, it’s the perfect predictor of what to expect during the winter. If you want to know some specific techniques, read this earlier article on how to use your Prime Day sales to prepare for Q4.
Optimize Your Advertising for the Holiday Season
A large part of advertising relies on timing. The huge spikes in traffic during Q4 months make the results of your campaigns exceptionally sensitive, so everything should be chosen with care. Let’s break down your advertising strategy into three main areas based on Amazon’s data for 2017:
September & October
You can start advertising for your holiday sales today, if you haven’t already. September and October are the lightest sales months leading into Q4, so you should use this time to experiment.
As mentioned above, if you’re making changes about which products prioritize, these early months are the time to test out new things and work out the kinks. This includes learning how successful promoting different products can be before it’s too late, as well as giving you extra time to perfect your keyword choices to maximize your ad views.
Around mid-October, you should start transitioning into your main promotions, using what you learned in the weeks prior.
November is arguably the most important month for advertising. Your advertising strategy should revolve around promoting your Thanksgiving weekend deals. This is when everyone ramps up their marketing, so check your competition frequently to make sure you stay competitive.
You may think by mid- or even late-December, most people have finished their holiday shopping, but the actual figures say different. In 2016, December 19 was a peak day in Amazon shopping. Last-minute shoppers are still buying gifts even on Christmas Day. As for after December 25, people are still coming to Amazon to use their gift cards and holiday cash. With these facts in mind, keep your marketing efforts strong, all the way to the end.
If you want to learn some more advanced advertising tips for Q4, check out the Ultimate Advertising Strategy for the Holiday Season.
Final Thoughts: Preparation, Not Perspiration
Part of the reason the holiday shopping season is so stressful for sellers is because they have to make last-minute decisions. While there’s always a degree of uncertainty and unforeseen problems, in general the more you prepare beforehand, the more smoothly your Q4 will go. Take some extra time now before things get truly hectic and plot out your entire holiday strategy — you’ll be glad you did in the next coming weeks and months.
Originally published on September 12, 2018, updated February 25, 2019
This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.