If you’ve been busy sipping on a cool beverage at the beach or scarfing down cheeseburgers at your neighbor’s backyard bash, I’m sure the holidays are the last thing you want to hear about.  But if you’re not already planning and preparing, you’ll most certainly leave some money on the table this holiday season. According to the National Retail Federation, 40% of shoppers told surveyors last year that they planned to start buying gifts before Halloween. And many retailers have increasingly followed this Gray November trend, cashing in by offering member-only exclusives, sneak-peek sales and deep discounts earlier on to gain more momentum. Is your brand ready for the rush? How will you compete and snag those early sales? The thought of planning for such an extended season can be overwhelming, but if you start now, you’ll be ready to get in the game much earlier and bounce back even quicker when hiccups arise. And with ecommerce sales slated to well outperform in-store, be sure your online strategy is a top priority. Here’s a helpful checklist of tasks you can tackle now to help you attract those early-bird shoppers and keep your holiday marketing plan feeling festive and bright throughout the rest of the year.

1. Optimize your transactional emails.

In this case, I’m talking specifically about order and shipping confirmations. To start, decorate these emails as you would your store, in the true spirit of the holidays. This can be as simple as updating the colors of your CTA buttons or navigation bar. Next, be sure to include an email sign-up option. Take advantage of this valuable real estate, as well as the influx of holiday traffic, to add new contacts to your list. And take a look at your customer service pointers, such as email address, toll free number and store hours. Are they correct and clickable (when applicable)? Make the user experience as fluid as possible. BONUS FEATURE: Add relevant recommendations based on their purchase in the hopes of getting them back to shop with you again.

2. Adjust the throttling and timing of your current workflows.

You want to encourage your contacts to pass through the funnel a bit faster and start purchasing ASAP. For example, if you typically exclude recent purchasers within the last 14 days, try moving it up to seven. If you’re sending that second welcome message three days after the first one, start sending it one or two days after instead.

3. Manage unsubscribes ahead of time.

With the influx of emails to their inboxes during the holidays, it’s inevitable that at least a few of your subscribers will consider opting out of your communications. Don’t make it hard for them to do so. Domains/IPs don’t penalize unsubscribes as harshly as they do spam complaints and unengaged audiences. To prepare subscribers for an increase in communications, try sending a message with an opt-down form to let them manage the frequency of messages they receive. You might also consider using a double opt-in, which asks contacts to subscribe separately to your holiday program. For those who still wish to unsubscribe, be brave and place the unsubscribe link in the header rather than hiding it in the footer. And be sure to optimize the unsubscribe thank you page to direct them to other channels via social media icons.

4. If you can, consider offering free shipping and returns.

Try this one, really. According to our Holiday Planning Report, 38% of holiday shoppers won’t shop with a site that doesn’t offer free shipping. Remember: You’re competing with Amazon, Walmart and others who use site-to-store shipping models. Examine your shipping costs and establish a minimum threshold that will allow you to offer free shipping.

5. Always have a backup plan.

Be sure you have another promotion lined up in case the one you’re running goes sour. This can be as easy as switching from a dollar off to % off incentive. And what if you accidentally send a dead link or your website suddenly crashes? Have your holiday-themed oops email polished up and ready to go! It's better to have it in your back pocket and not need it than to discover a holiday flub and have nothing prepared to allow for a timely response.

6. In addition to the standard holidays, make one up!

It seems there’s a day for everything now – National Coffee Day, National Nancy Day, etc. If you sell sweaters, for example, you may want to establish “Ugly Holiday Sweater Day” and offer a flash sale promoting those items. This is your chance to really get creative!<

7. Remail successful campaigns (with a different subject line).

This strategy applies to folks who didn’t open your email the first time around. Remailing not only drives more revenue for your business, but it also saves your email allocation. But be sure to identify your recent purchasers from the previous campaign and exclude them.

8. Extend your sales and/or offer early access.

Start getting your shoppers in the holiday spirit by giving subtle hints here and there about your amazing holiday promotions as you gear up for the season. You might also offer them something a bit unexpected, such as a Christmas in July promotion. Black Friday and Cyber Monday will still be big money-makers this year, but don’t miss out on those opportunities ahead of time as well. After all, the early bird gets the worm. Happy marketing! For more on preparing for the holiday season, visit our Holiday Marketing Academy.