Online retail comes with many challenges, but when you run a seasonal business in a niche market, there are hurdles aplenty. My Christmas Founder Nicole Keleher tells us how to sleigh when the holidays roll around.
My Christmas, as its name suggests, sells….used car-parts. Ok, clearly it sells Christmas decor. Think Christmas trees, ornaments, Christmas lights, wreaths, garlands and table top decorations. Founder, Designer and CEO Nicole Keleher launched the business 12 years ago to to fill a gap in the market for quality and stylish festive pieces. But being in a niche market in a seasonal business means that there are many elements that need to come together in order to have a sturdy multichannel strategy.
For the first three years of business, My Christmas operated in short-term lease pop-up stores. Since then, it has a permanent location in Melbourne. Yet still, it only opens its brick-and-mortar store seasonally. The website however operates all year, but due to the nature of the business, volumes are generally low from February to July.
There was a stage that My Christmas had a different POS system for both the website and the brick-and-mortar store. This meant they were manually updating each system with stock levels and product descriptions which was obviously extremely time consuming. They moved to moved to Shopify a number of years ago and now use their POS and e-commerce, making them fully integrated and saving time.
Like most e-commerce businesses, fulfilment is an area that causes challenges, but being Christmas decorations, it’s even more complicated because of the nature of the goods. “One of the biggest hurdles is streamlining the pick and pack size of the business. We have a lot of fragile, breakable items that require great care in packing,” Keleher tells us. “This is also very time consuming, and leads to very bulky parcels. We started using StarShipit last year which has really streamlined the customer contact around online orders, and the post component, but we are always looking for better ways to streamline the picking and packing.”
Being a seasonal business also means that timings are crucial. “We put considerable effort into our post season analysis to help us identify products, procedures and customer service initiatives we can improve for the following year,” says Keleher. “An annual analysis of the website with our web developers occurs early in the year to ensure we prioritise changes to the website and have them implemented by the time customers start looking at the website to see the new range (which is July).”
What is Keleher’s advice to others operating a seasonal retail business? “Cashflow management is crucial,” she says. For example, My Christmas doesn’t discount products at all during the trading period when the retail store is open. Yet in the pre-season, customers can preorder collectible pieces at a discount. This provides cashflow for the business and gives the chance for regular customers to save.
Furthermore, when it’s go-time for a seasonal business, there aren’t many opportunities to reorder stock, so testing a product isn’t really an option that’s available. “Be aware that your buying options may be limited (one bite of the pie, so to speak) so you need to pay close attention to how your products perform,” Keleher advises.
Finding a way to attract staff that can come back to you each year and simplifying procedures is also key. “The seasonality of our business means all our staff are casual,” Keleher explains. “Business is not consistent enough in the off-season to warrant a permanent team. While I have a number of staff who have chosen to come back year after year, we always have new staff to train for a very short trading period. This means we need simple, succinct procedures to easily bring less experienced staff in for very short time frames.”
My Christmas also has a major focus on customer service. During the trading season it implements Livechat to support customer enquiries online. Customers can choose click and collect or post for all purchases and they encourage phone enquiries, supporting these enquiries for both in-store and online purchases. “We really do want to provide exceptional customer service and help customers create their own Christmas wonderland,” says Keleher. “Therefore, in the store we run demonstrations, but we also broadcast these on Facebook Live.”
Not to alarm you, but it’s less than 80 days until Christmas, which means that it’s time for My Christmas to hit its stride and for retailers across the board to ensure their holiday strategies are in full swing.