Observed

There are some absolute, unassailable chapters you’ll find in the Holiday Retailer Playbook. For instance:

  • All of your core development should be done by September. 
  • You should also have agreed-upon code freezes acknowledged by everybody involved with your site. 
  • Keep last-minute inventory display decisions (like combining two products on a page) to an absolute minimum.

But there are other ways to stay sane as you build towards a successful retail season. The 7 items on this checklist might seem obvious, but can absolutely get lost in the shuffle.

1. Implement your apps early.

Identify and implement all third-party apps well before you need them, even if they’re being used in an offline environment or offline theme.

That goes double for any apps related to discount mechanisms, special offers, or — the big one — holiday shipping.

Test them out by running a mini-campaign in late summer or early fall to flush out any issues. That gives you some time to implement any fixes, enhancements, and/or process improvements well before the holidays

Then try contacting the app’s customer service team, or review their SLAs ahead of time. Set your team’s expectations about how long a third party might take before responding.

2. Communicate with your marketing team.

Once you set your product launch or promotion schedule, you need to communicate with your marketing team. And the marketing team should share their roadmap as early as possible with your delivery team.

It can be easy for a marketing team to be working on campaign assets (like, say, a banner) concurrently as the developers are working on the product launch. Does that banner they made fit with the site’s overall design, aesthetically or thematically? Can Shopify actually handle what the marketers want to do on the home page?

If not, you’re looking at hot fixes in production to accommodate marketing materials, which adds hassle and confusion to an already stressed team and an already tight schedule.

3. Communicate Your Q4 holiday vacation schedule.

Never assume everybody’s working or not working on certain holidays. Agree and sync on holiday dates, and SLAs for maintenance over those dates, with your development team well in advance. (The beginning of the quarter maybe?)

It’s the kind of thing that gets overlooked until somebody says, “Yay. It’s Thanksgiving. See you in four days.” It can leave you exposed at the last minute.

That applies to critical holiday-adjacent dates, too, like the Monday before Black Friday, when all the promotions go out, or Cyber Monday.

4. Communicate your vacation schedule for the rest of the year, too.

Overcommunicating with your development team also comes in handy around summer Fridays and the final weeks of August. Give very advance notice for federal holidays that international team members (and some contractors) may not be aware of.

5. Make sure that there’s time for QA and maintenance fixes. 

Time is the enemy of all product launches, and it’s always running out before holiday launches. You have to build in time after a release and before key dates to test new features and promotions.

Don’t be afraid of involving other teams in QA as you get closer to a release. Your sales and marketing team might notice issues your development team may not. They will home in on what’s critical to customers.

Even if they can’t be involved directly in QA, getting feedback from teams in all parts of the development lifecycle, but particularly before your holiday launches, could save valuable time later on.

6. Think about rules rather than specifics.

Don’t make decisions for the moment, future-proof your site and build with flexibility in mind. New products, name changes, new variants … product lines are ever-changing, so you want to make sure your site is adaptable and scalable.

When raising requirements to your development team, think about rules rather than specifics. Building features well before your campaigns are solidified will give your other teams greater flexibility to react to trends and changes in the market. Plus you won’t be yoking your development team to unachievable timelines.

Instead of defining requirements based on a particular product launch, think about your product categories more holistically:

  • What would you build if you thought about it from a range of products?
  • Or, instead of building out features for a specific campaign or collection, what would you build if you thought about the similarities and differences between collections?
  • How does your holiday approach differ from your standard approach
  • Could there be features that serve both?

7. One more thing about creative and marketing…

Something that can often fall by the wayside as launch day approaches is the timely delivery of marketing-approved copy. 

Creative teams may define their holiday campaigns early (probably during the spring or summer), but this might not be early enough for the development team. And given the shifting sands of the global supply chain, it’s not uncommon for beauty, wellness, and fashion brands to work on holiday campaigns a year or more before release.

Getting final copy early, and into the hands of developers before they start implementing a feature, will save you from rushing to get approval from stakeholders (and updating placeholder copy at the last minute). That’s easier said than done, because the words often come last in a creative process, but approved copy early in the process saves a ton of frustration.