Why You Need to Perform a Holiday After-Action Review Now

Friday, February 21, 2020

5-minute read

In short:

  • For retailers who haven’t already analyzed their performance during the 2019 holiday season, now is the time. The results can still benefit your business.
  • Concentrate your analysis on concepts including promotions and sales, inventory and staffing.
  • Use this time to tweak and test the strategies you used last holiday season, so you’ll know which work best by the time the cycle begins again.


The holiday shopping season may be far behind us, but that doesn’t mean you should push it out of your memory, even though it’s tempting. And, now is the time to perform your holiday marketing after-action review (AAR) if you haven’t already.

Performing a timely analysis of your holiday sales and consumer trends will not only give you the greatest chance of holiday success next season but also help you grow your business throughout the year — after all, it’s not just about marketing performance. This analysis will impact everything from your supply chain to customer service. 

In a perfect world, you’d begin your holiday AAR as soon as the season wraps up. We don’t live in a perfect world though. 

From my experience consulting companies on their marketing programs, most of them plan to analyze their season upon completion, only to push it off later and later because of the next task at hand. Delay no longer!

Here are some reasons why it is critical to analyze your holiday performance and consumer shopping trends ASAP.


Testing holiday promotions year-round

Seven of the season’s top 10 online sales days and 27% of its total online revenue occur within a single 10-day period, the Cyber 10. After completing this sales sprint, many businesses just rinse and repeat their successful campaigns the following year. But that’s too holiday-specific and short-sighted — what if you could capture that sales magic year-round?

Let’s say you ran a holiday campaign featuring a free gift with a buy-online pickup in-store (BOPIS) order and it performed extremely well — it drove foot traffic, spurred additional unplanned purchases during pickup and increased conversions and online average order value. This campaign sounds like a winner, and you’ll probably run it again next season. Before you set it on the shelf, though, consider whether this promotion would appeal to your customers year-round.

This is why performing your post-holiday analysis now (and ideally earlier) is so critical. 

You likely ran a multitude of different promotional campaigns during the season, and being able to test which ones are holiday-specific vs. which ones work year-round can mean the difference between growing your sales throughout the year and customer churn. 

It can also help you test various incentive structures. These promotions might prove to be as successful in, say, springtime as they were during the holidays, even with lower discount amounts.

Look beyond the winners as well. Look at your poor performing campaigns, and discern why they fell flat. You’ll likely be able to make small tweaks to those campaigns and test the effectiveness of those changes throughout the year.

Analyze how your holiday-season promotions worked, so you can tweak and test them throughout the year.


Seasonal impact on inventory management

Inventory management is not solely of holiday-season importance, though having the right amount of inventory is especially critical as logistics and sales get ramped up during the holidays. Many companies usually need to place their inventory orders before they plan their holiday campaigns, meaning their campaigns usually reflect the inventory available.

This is kind of like the tail wagging the dog. In a better scenario, a company would perform a holiday analysis nice and early in the year, then test and determine which types of free gifts or special sales appeal to their customers the most.

For example, say a company advertised 50% off sweaters during the holiday season, but the campaign fell flat. The marketing team may think sweater-specific sales don’t perform well. And when inventory managers run their holiday sales reports, they may reach the same conclusion — after all, sweaters did not sell well.

But sweaters in general may not be the problem. Maybe the promoted style of sweater was not in demand, or your brand’s main competitors ran the same promotion two weeks prior and beat you to the punch.

Running an analysis allows your company to hypothesize why a given campaign did not perform well and test the hypothesis before it’s time to make commitments to next season’s campaign tactics.

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Hiring for the holidays

Each year, online holiday sales increase and, coincidentally or not, seem to start earlier, with Black Friday turning into Black Friday Week. Two years ago, it was considered a “good” day when U.S. online sales revenue reached $1 billion. This past year, only Christmas Eve missed that mark ($850 million), and 29 days reached $2 billion in sales, including each of the Cyber 10.

Companies should plan for this growth’s impact on staffing next holiday season, from customer service and warehouse personnel to seasonal hires . The increase in sales may mean you’ll have to hire additional customer service and warehouse (or order fulfillment) team members. The earlier start to the shopping season may require you to hire seasonal help earlier than in years past to ensure proper training.

Don’t ignore your web analytics in assisting with staffing decisions. 

If you find that early and late hours have periods of high online traffic, staff your customer service department accordingly. If you offer live chat as a customer service option, make sure it’s staffed to eliminate delays in response time, which may save a sale.

Consumers have never had more options to shop than they do today, and an inability to resolve customer service issues quickly can drive customers elsewhere.

Use data from this past holiday season to make staffing plans for the next.


Phones and the mobile doomsday

This past holiday season, mobile accounted for 40% of online revenue and 63% of online shopping traffic. Considering we are only one year out from the so-called mobile doomsday, in which mobile e-commerce spending is expected to eclipse desktop, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only did these mobile numbers grow year over year this holiday season, but smartphones (instead of tablets) dominated that growth.

Think about how these mobile growth figures should impact your business throughout the year. 

When it comes to email marketing , how smartphone-friendly are your emails? During your holiday AAR, analyze how the emails rendered on a smartphone, which email designs generated the most clicks and conversions and which links people clicked within the emails. Doing this now will allow you to make, and test, iterations year-round.

Do the same for your website. Is it smartphone-friendly — especially the checkout pages? Be sure users can click on product images, zoom in and scroll between them seamlessly. And while it may seem obvious, ask whether people can log into their accounts while on their phone. Make sure your login button isn’t hidden when the screen renders to fit a smartphone.

Finally, smartphone usage has a major impact on your paid search strategy. How much of your budget went to targeting your audience on mobile devices vs. laptops during last holiday season? Did the results warrant the investment? Test paid search strategies throughout the year the same way you do with other holiday initiatives.


The final wrap

Analyzing the holiday season is only good for your business if you’re prepared to test and implement the lessons learned throughout the year. Those who don’t invest their time connecting the dots may wind up in a constant game of catch-up with their competitors, churning customers along the way.