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What’s your game plan for the holiday shopping season?

Summer is over, and you know what comes next: the holidays. Here’s everything you need to know—month by month— to make sure your Q4 holiday season is a smashing success.

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Ah, the week after Labor Day. The fall equinox is only two weeks away meaning it’s time to start thinking about what’s really important: holiday retail planning.

Yes, Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer meaning you’ve started seeing more college football merchandising, Halloween decorations and pretty soon, pumpkin spice lattes. It also means that if you’re in marketing, holiday deadlines are approaching fast. Perhaps Labor Day is also an unofficial milestone to start thinking about your holiday campaigns.

For the past six years, I’ve covered ecommerce trends in the outdoor industry by reporting on trends seen at Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibition and this year, wanted to cover some important retail dates for Q4 2018. And sorry for being the bearer of bad news but you have less than a month before Q4 begins. That said, there’s a lot you can do in a short amount of time and this year, online sales are projected to grow by double digits again. Below are some dates so you can start getting planning out your holiday calendar now.

September to-dos

September is your month to begin planning. This includes defining your promotions, defining dates, getting your messaging and storylines on point and lining up the right people (influencers, ambassadors, other brand or non-profit partners). Most importantly, this is the time to define dates so you know what campaigns and promos will go live when. “We actually started our holiday planning conversations with retailers in late August. It hasn’t always been that way – we learned the hard way to get started earlier so these days, we’re more proactive than reactive,” said Ardy Sobhani, CEO of Oru Kayaks.

This is also your month to start preparing for your big Q4 lead gen campaign, whether you’re a brand running an email collection giveaway or you’re a speciality shop mailing out your first holiday catalog. “At the end of the third quarter, we start deciding what we’re going to advertise for the holiday season. We do a gear guide that goes out to 20,000 local customers that includes our top picks,” said Rob Potts, co-owner of Lewis and Clark Outfitters, a specialty shop based in Northwest Arkansas.

October to-dos

October is your month to start building assets (social posts, landing pages, email designs, etc.). If you haven’t started building these things by the time November hits, you’re going to be playing catch up for the rest of the season so get a head start on the creative that you know you’ll need. Pro tip: Start building as much evergreen content in advance; content you know you will need and is not time sensitive but can fill the gaps and buy time for when your production team needs to build content around inventory (which is nearly impossible to predict in October).

“For Native Eyewear, October is when sunglasses wind down and goggles are just starting to ramp up. During these in-between seasons, it’s important for us to raise brand awareness so when people are making their holiday lists, we’re on them,” said Jess Bryant, who heads marketing at Native Eyewear. October is your month to launch a big giveaway, a.k.a lead gen campaign.

Co-branded giveaways are hot right now and get email addresses for everyone involved. This October will likely see higher sales than in previous years because of the trend to move Cyber Monday to Cyber Month, but aside from that, October is still slower than November and December so use this month to collect prospects for the two months ahead.

November to-dos

There are two non-holiday dates to be aware of; Election Day and Veteran’s Day. After that, you have two weeks before the holiday season goes into full swing.

November 6 — Election Day

Do you work for a politically active brand? Midterm elections are on people’s mind in full force around mid October meaning you have 2 to 3 weeks to get your audience engaged. This year’s election season is trending to be the most searched mid-term election season since Google starting tracking search volume for this term in 2004. Lots of emotions out there and there might be a way to amplify your brand message (and make a difference) during this heated midterm.

November 8-11 — Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

Don’t forget, Winter OR has moved up a couple months to accommodate buying cycles.

November 11— Veteran’s Day

Does your brand have a tie in with veterans? Perhaps your company is intentional about hiring veterans or better yet, is veteran owned. This is the day to honor our vets so please keep the messaging meaningful.

November 22 — Thanksgiving

According to a 2015 study by Hubspot and a 2016 article by GoDaddy, Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the lowest email-open days of Thanksgiving week. The previous Monday and Tuesday do over 50 percent more opens than Saturday and Sunday. The takeaway here is to send your Black Friday email blasts earlier (Monday or Tuesday) and your Cyber Monday deals later (Sunday Evening and on Monday).

November 23— Black Friday

It’s not a bad idea to send a Black Friday reminder email on Black Friday but keep in mind email opens are much lower on Friday as they are the previous Monday or Tuesday.

November 24— Small Business Saturday

Saturday and Sunday are the two worst days for email opens (over 40 percent less compared to Cyber Monday). So stop email blasting and go to your local specialty shop and do some real shopping for goodness sake!

November 26 — Cyber Monday

Send the best content you have! Pretty much every company in the outdoor industry will be emailing the same people and you’re going to have to cut through the clutter somehow. Try split testing subject lines (MailChimp has a tool for this) or segmenting audiences (maybe a recent purchaser list and 12 month + purchaser list). If you want to ensure you stay at the top, consider Gmail ads.

December to-dos

You’re in the thick of it now! Every single day in December is important to your Q4 goals but some days are more important than others.

December 10 — Green Monday

What is Green Monday you ask?? Only the best online sales day in December! At least according to Ebay when they coined the term in 2007. Green Monday is the last Monday with at least 10 days prior to Christmas. The week of the 10th to the 14th (Monday through Friday) will likely be your most productive week in December.

December calendar icon

December 22 — Panic Saturday

Depending on your shipping and logistics capabilities, your shop may be able to take advantage of Panic Saturday which is the Saturday before Christmas. This year, Panic Saturday falls three days before Christmas Eve which is Monday so for many companies, Panic Saturday will be more like Panic Thursday with 2-day shipping.

For 2018, USPS will be open on Christmas Eve (last year they were not) but holiday cut off dates for UPS, Fedex and USPS have not been announced yet so check with your carrier to be sure.

December 25 — Christmas Day

Take a breather!

December 26 – Boxing Day (or Boxing week)

Boxing week is being dubbed as Cyber Week II in that many folks got gifts they didn’t want so they’re returning them

December 31 — New Year’s Eve

If you’re a fitness brand, there’s still some selling to do in January. For traditional outdoor brands, time to take a break; the next two months are going to be slow, and get ready to do it all over again at Outdoor Retailer Snow Show which is January 30th – Feb 1.

If you’re a retailer, don’t stop just yet! January is time to start analyzing your sales performance. “In January, based on Christmas sales, we start preparing our first orders for what we think will do well for the next holiday season based on what did well the previous holiday season,” said Potts.

There’s a lot to think about when planning for the holidays but creating strategic milestones will help you make the most of this chaotic season.