For many retailers, $2 to $4 out of every $10 earned annually come from the holidays. And while November and December get all the attention dollars-wise, the work doesn’t really begin in those months. If you think of the holidays as ecommerce’s fight night, you have to view the months leading up to it as gym season. To avoid the most common mistakes, think about the different stages of the user’s decisions—and plan well ahead of time for each one.

gifts postMake Sure You Show Up on Time

You know the saying that showing up is half the battle? That couldn’t be more true come holiday season. Your biggest mistake—possibly your only mistake—will be to not show up. Because prospects buy the way they buy, and not how you sell, you need to be where they are—on their search results pages, in their inboxes, on their social media streams, on their phones. And to do that well, the heavy lifting needs to be done before November:

1. Don’t skimp on PPC research. Try to find good search term combinations that signal some buying intent without costing a fortune. Bonus points if from the previous years, you have segmented search terms that perform well most of the year, but don’t perform well during the holidays. Try to keep those out to keep costs down.

2. Prepare your email campaigns beforehand. Your marketing collateral and email lists should be ready before you get to the final stretch. That way, by November you’ll have more time to work on tweaks rather than conceptualization.

3. Plan out your social media efforts. Plan your discount announcements, follower rewards, campaigns, and urgent offers for social media ahead of time; use November and December for changes, not planning.

None of this will ensure that visitors won’t abandon your cart, but at least they’ll show up.

Get Ready for a Traffic Jam

Up next, you have an even bigger challenge: converting all that extra traffic. As research says, most of your cart visitors will do nothing. For the past few years, November abandonment rates for certain days have reached eight to nine out of every 10 people. So prepare for the worst:

4. Don’t assume your servers can handle it. Nothing says wasted opportunity quite like a 404, 502 or any other error page. If you can spend time driving traffic to the site, you should be able to able to spend the time working with your IT department to harden the website for the upcoming traffic spike.

5. Don’t stray from the messaging that got them there. You can’t use the same landing page for your PPC ad, email campaign, and social media offer because the pages will need to tie into the campaign the visitors first noticed. Your upstream messaging needs to be consistent.

6. Don’t use the same page for mobile phones. On smartphones, visitors need to be able to compare prices and view store locations. On desktops, laptops, and tablets, your checkout needs to be dead simple.

Assuming you get most of that right, you’ll get some visitors to convert, but still lose a lot of prospects. You need a strategy for the latter.

Be Prepared to Take Action

You have four options when people abandon their cart—you can let them go, try get their email, try to retarget them, or assuming they are far enough along that you have their email, give them a gentle nudge:

7. Don’t wait until the sales lead is cold. If you have their email, use it to nudge them towards the sale—and soon.

8. Don’t forget to get their email on exit. If you don’t have their email, try and get it on exit. Use a light pop-over box and keep it simple.

9. Have a plan for retargeting. If you don’t get their email at any point, you can use retargeted ads. Be very careful with your messaging though to convince the visitor to come back and complete the transaction.

10. Don’t chase after everyone. You have to segment your failures, and chase after the legitimate fence-sitters. If your smartphone traffic doesn’t convert, that’s most likely because they’re just using the phone to check price. If your tablet funnel fell off the cliff, you need to fix your checkout, and try to retarget those prospects.

Remember, if the holidays are fight night, it’s supposed to be hard. It’s where you get to show your chops, and rise above. But to get that done, you gotta start hitting the gym now.