online retail sales: planning for a holiday rush

by Sara Tams of sarah + abraham

holiday items from sarah + abraham

I was recently talking with a friend of mine who’s in the process of starting up a new business. She’s been experiencing an increase in orders and wondered if the growth would continue beyond the holiday season or if things would slow down in January. After sharing my experiences with her, I thought it would be a great topic for OMHG readers who may find themselves in a similar situation.

I started my business in October of 2007.  It was 21 days before I had my first sale on Etsy. Then it was 13 days until my second sale, and 18 more days until my third sale.  In December I was thrilled to have 8 sales! I assumed that my sales would continue to increase at a steady rate. Imagine my disappointment when things slowed down in January, and I realized that my 8 sales in December were actually a “Christmas rush”!

Since then I’ve been diligent about keeping track of my orders (and more recently the hours that I work) in a spreadsheet, and as my business has grown, it has really helped me to prepare for what lies ahead, both in planning for a rush and managing my expectations when things slow down.

At the beginning of this holiday season I was very fortunate to have three years of data to look at plus a good idea of how many orders I can fill per hour (since February of this year I’ve been keeping track of my weekly sales and weekly hours spent on filling orders). All of this data gave me a great idea of the sales volume to expect and how many hours I’d be working each week to fill those orders.

To encourage early holiday sales in the hopes of spreading out those orders as much as possible, I offered a 15% discount on holiday items for three days in the first week of November (three days when I had nothing on my calendar and knew that I’d be able to work long hours).

I also know that the week between Christmas and New Years Eve will be the slowest week of the year and the best time to close up shop. So on the craziest days I know that I have that to look forward to!

Last year I expected to have a huge drop off in sales in January, but I began offering Valentine’s Day items and ended up with January sales that were almost equal to December sales. So this year I know that my “Christmas rush” will actually last from November through January, and things will slow down in February.

For lots of great advice on selling during the holidays, including an Etsy Success Holiday Boot Camp, be sure to check out The Storque this month. And if anyone has any of their own tips to share, I’d love to hear them – please leave a comment below!


  1. Meg B says:

    Great article. I’m constantly amazed by Sara’s ability to stay on target and your careful tracking of data. I plan to keep track of my hours next year. I hope it will help me to stay focused when working instead of allowing myself to be distracted by the internet. I’d also like to use the data to compare exactly how long I spend on filling regular orders vs. custom illustration work vs. packing/shipping and so on.

    My one bit of advice from this year’s rush so far is: Upsize Your Supplies. My natural inclination is to buy the “medium” pack of supplies (50 mirror backs instead of 100, a pack of 200 bubble envelopes instead of 500, etc.). Because of this – and probably because I haven’t tracked my data and wasn’t quite sure what kind of rush to expect – I lost time and money having to reorder and pay for shipping to replenish my supplies. The larger pack is usually cheaper per unit and having to ship one large item is usually cheaper than 2, 3 or 4 medium ones. So, buy the big pack! Even if you don’t use all the supplies this year, you’ll use them eventually, right?

    Probably a simple and obvious tip, but it took me a while to learn it!

  2. Melissa says:

    This was just what I needed! I opened my Etsy store a week ago today (Happy Anniversary to me!) I’ve had 3 sales and one custom order. I know the intent was for holiday sales, but I found encouragement in reading about your sale history in the early days of your business.
    Thank you!

  3. Joanne says:

    Very helpful post. I am careful to include “estimated labor ” tasks in all my pricing. I have never formally tracked the real hours because like Meg ‘s comment it is mixed with so many internet and marketing tasks. Sadly my cost never includes payment for the original artwork time.Yikes. In another post perhaps you could address how you track some of the labor involved in art and marketing tasks too? Thank you !!

  4. Thank you for the tips Sara! I just opened up shop a few weeks ago and was wondering when things get busy/slow down. During the slow time its a good idea to build more on your business plan and also use the time for more creative ideas on how to get your business out there. I’m thinking of joining chamber of commerce in my town to let people know what I do and how I can offer my services to the town/community.
    Brittany Lauren

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