December 13, 2013, 5:15 PM

A tale of Christmas present from an online retailer

How one web retailer prepared for the holiday season, and how it’s going.

Ever wonder how the elves at e-commerce firms handle their busiest time of year and get those magical gifts under the tree?  It is all about looking at Christmases past to plan for the present and future holiday crunch. During the run-up to Christmas, sales are three times higher than at any other time of the year. It’s such an important time of year that I have an app on myCEO Santaphone that counts down to the last Christmas shipping day!

So how do we prepare? Spreadshirt is a global e-commerce business that lets anyone create, buy and sell ideas on products consumers love to wear, use and carry. All our products are printed on demand and we ship all around the world. If you haven’t yet found a special gift for someone in your life, you might be turning into one of what we call our “stress purchasers”. We strive to be stress relievers at holiday time as people turn to us for something original. This is the basis for our social media campaign in facebook- the Holiday Hit List.

As shopping starts in November, most e-commerce companies try to entice shoppers to start their online shopping during that month. The last thing an e-commerce company wants is a bottleneck as Christmas nears, so everyone runs campaigns that encourage early shopping. For U.S. companies, the official Christmas shopping time starts with the famous Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with peak buying time in the last two weeks before Christmas. Last year, Spreadshirt received the most orders on 12th December with15,000 purchases.

How do e-retailers prepare for all this activity? We make sure we have very accurate forecasts (based on several years of traffic analysis) and that production has plenty of advanced planning. All departments must have their stakes in place and for team planning and infrastructure. This encompasses purchasing, marketing, controlling and customer service, as well as our platform operations team

All these preparations start several months ahead of Christmas. Everyone receives special training before the holiday season starts, with many seasonal employees joining our team in both production and customer service. We use big data tools to analyze information and make correct predictions for optimizing our production facilities. Although we can scale up or down, we want to ensure that we don’t have idle staff. Similarly, we never want to over-promise to our customers. We strive to be neither under- nor over-supplied with people to deliver what the customer expects.

One notable trend in buying this season is the continual increase in purchases made via a mobile device. Last year we saw mobile traffic hit critical mass, and, unlike in previous years, it stayed at a high level. Other global notables, in France in 2012, there was 50% more tablet traffic on 25th December, as people claimed their gifts. Our best estimate is that every 1 of 8 orders to Spreadshirt was made with a mobile or tablet device last year. Those Christmas numbers from 2012 are probably the base level for 2013 shopping.

What are people buying?

Over the last four years, a notable growth trend is for products like aprons and bags that only come in one size. This season we already see a 15% increase for one-size items, and expect even more of an increase, as one of every six products ordered during the holiday season is a one-size item.

Our hottest selling one-size 2013 products currently are smartphone covers and aprons. We have tripled our product range and added covers for various tablets and phones to meet consumer demand and expectations. We expect to see our baking apron product increase in sales by as much as 200%.

Hope you enjoyed a peek into what happens at a busy e-commerce company like Spreadshirt. At this time of year, it does feel like we are Santa’s elves toiling away at the North Pole and we would love for the magic of Amazon air to be a reality instead of dealing with the logistics of all those sleds.

Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipRooke

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