1. Consider how much, if any, you’re willing to invest in making any theme updates that you can’t do yourself (this is a separate cost than any marketing campaigns you’ll run). Even just having a rough idea can help you prioritize changes later.
2. Quality Shopify customization work can cost about $50-$75 an hour — though the rate varies greatly. In most cases, however, look for rates in this range since it’s an indicator that the developer is experienced enough to command that rate but also still competitive. In many cases, “you get what you pay for” applies here, though that’s not to say there are not quality developers out there who offer lower rates.
3. If you’re not planning on spending anything and doing all the work yourself, it may be a good idea to consider a “budget” in terms of how much time you can and are willing to devote to getting your store BFCM ready.
4. If you can’t afford to spend any money, don’t despair. This doesn’t necessarily mean your site won’t be ready for the holiday shopping season. However, you’ll definitely need to be willing to put in some hard work and maybe even learn a new skill, such as Liquid or CSS, to make your store look the way you want. Just keep in mind that how much you’re able to change is directly related to how much time you’re willing to invest.
5. There are some great resources out there, ranging from a simple Web search to online forums and groups that can be a great resource. However, keep in mind that the ideas offered here may not be optimized for your theme or version of your theme. Always make a backup before you edit anything in case you run into issues later.
6. Before starting any customizations, keep in mind that, if you run into challenges, most theme developers won’t provide support for these customizations — so you may end up having to hire someone to help if it’s beyond your skill set.
7. Is your theme updated? If not, start thinking about if you need to update it before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and, if so, start planning for the update. This is probably a good time to start thinking about if you want to change to a new theme. Doing either of these things too close to BFCM could be unrealistic for more complex stores.
8. If you’re using an Out of the Sandbox Shopify theme, consider using the free Shopify Theme Updater App to make the process easier.
9. Keep in mind that heavily customized themes may require you to perform some manual updates — which you’ll need to do yourself or hire someone to help out with. If you have a highly customized theme, you may want to consider the “pro” plan of the app (there’s a free trial available) — which carries over language files and also generates a list of custom code that couldn’t be moved.
10. If you decide not to update your Shopify theme before BFCM but have an outdated version, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you can’t invest time or money into such a big undertaking now.
11. Keep in mind that using outdated versions of themes may limit what you can do down the road, as well as keep you from benefiting from recent fixes and features that have been added to your theme, so even if you opt not to update before BFCM this year, make it a priority to do so right after the holiday rush.
12. Once you have a theme version that works the way you want, it’s a good idea to make a backup of it. This way, if you make another change later than causes issues, you have a “good” version to revert back to.
13.Testing your Shopify theme and store is key. Not only is this a proactive way to catch issues, but it’s a great way take a fresh look at your entire store setup and identify areas of improvement.
14. Perform a “test checkout” on your site. “Buy” a few products from various collections. If you have products that require custom fields or advanced options, be sure to include those. Create a “secret” discount code that takes 100 percent off your order or pay with a personal card and then immediately refund it. Use this opportunity to test that any conversion pixels or other tracking is working properly. If you’re updating your theme, it’s a good idea to do a test checkout both before and after.
15. Imagine you’re a shopper looking to buy a product that you anticipate will be high demand for BFCM. Test how easy it is to find that product using your store’s navigation menus and if you should consider featuring or highlighting that particular product on your store’s homepage.
16. Test how third party apps work with your theme. If you encounter issues, contact the app developer for support.
17. Snag a friend, family member or maybe even just some random person at your favorite coffee shop (be sure to buy them a drink!) who fits your demographic but isn’t familiar with your site. Have them pretend to shop for a gift for someone. Have them talk out loud to you about their thought process about how easy it is to find products, if they trust the site and if it gives them the information they need. Try not to coach or help them, just take notes and look for roadblocks. Then think about how you can remove them.
18. Download as many reports as you can from the various tools you use, namely the Shopify backend, your analytics platform, social or paid advertising, Google Search Console, social media analytics and more. For most of these, a good range is the week before and week after BFCM of 2017. If you can, take a look at previous years too, while you’re at it.
19. Using Shopify sales reports, look for trends in what sold and what didn’t. Compare that to what you’re still selling this year and design your promotions based on what you learn. If you’re still stuck with inventory from last year (yikes!), consider promoting it more or discounting it, if keeping it on your books is costly. Be sure to commission or start designing any special graphics or photography you’ll need to add to your Shopify theme to promote these specials.
20. Take a look at your analytics from the past. Again, look for trends — where was traffic coming from the most? How much did you spend on this traffic? What methods paid off? Which ones didn’t? For SEO data, look for areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you spot “key” keywords you underperform on, start developing new blog posts or pages around that — or make a note to beef up your product and collection descriptions.
21. Go back and look for “anomalies” in your data — strange or interesting spikes or dips that stand out to you as odd. Try to compare data from all your reports to see if there’s a reason for it — maybe your ad delivery rate dipped that day.
22. Look back at all the reports and other information you’ve generated and takeaways you noted. Start generating a list of possible changes based on this data. In most cases, you’re best off focusing on small to medium changes or tweaks that you can realistically complete before BFCM.
23. Prioritize the your list by looking at what actions will be the most efficient to make but have the biggest impact on sales. Start the process of hiring designers, developers or other freelancers or setting deadlines to hold yourself accountable. Also be sure to clearly communicate your milestones and deadlines with anyone you hire.
24. Once you get quotes back from freelancers and developers, take a moment to do a quick analysis of the cost and benefit of each update. If you’re on a limited budget, this will help you refine your priorities even more.
25. If in doubt about how to prioritize, look for trends in your data that might support doing one update over another.
26. Keep your list realistic. Even if you have a huge budget and can hire dozens of freelancers, keep in mind that most likely they can’t all be making changes to your theme at the same time — they’ll end up overwriting each other’s work.
27. Also rely on your instincts if a freelancer is “overpromising.” If a turnaround time or price seems too good to be true — it probably is. There has likely either been a breakdown in communication over the scope of your update or the freelancer could be drastically underestimating, either from lack of experience or simply trying to win the work. Even if a freelancer’s price is significantly lower than others, it’s no good if they end up abandoning the project or can’t complete it on time.
28. Before contacting any freelancer, take the time to make sure your request is detailed and complete. Include examples, screenshots, mockups and detailed descriptions of what you’re looking for. Investing time in this now will help ensure more accurate quotes and timelines.
29. Always request a timeline and complete scope of work for a freelancer before agreeing to begin a project.
30. Check and verify that the scope of work and timeline provided by the freelancer is both complete and realistic — as well as meets your needs.
31. Be sure to check in periodically with all of the freelancers or service providers you’re working with to see how things are going and if they will be meeting your agreed upon deadlines.
32. Keep in mind that making changes to the scope of work will likely cause timelines to shift.
33. Avoid having your project delayed by preventing changes to the scope. Sending out quality project outlines from the beginning is the best way to avoid this. Also be sure to consider multiple angles and consequences of the changes you’re making to help prevent “surprises” from popping up.
34. Keep in mind that freelance designers and developers may have many customers — just like you. This time of the year also tends to be busier for them, so be sure to manage your expectations as far as turnaround time for both replies to questions and project completion.
35. If you’re doing some or all of the work yourself, it’s a good idea to “check in” with yourself to make sure you’re holding yourself to the timelines and deadlines you laid out.
36. Content updates and content marketing can be some of the most effective changes you can make — and they also tend to be the easiest to do on your own, since they generally don’t require any special software, skills or knowledge.
37. Take some time to review, update and rewrite copy throughout your Shopify store. Most likely, you’ve discovered something on your site — whether for SEO purposes or just to liven things up a bit, that needs an update.
38. Consider writing quality blog posts around your most popular products or collections for BFCM shoppers. These are a great way to generate relevant traffic to your site (for free).
39. Think of ways to cross promote your content. For example, even just a simple link to a relevant blog post from a product page can be a great way to give shoppers more details about you and your products.
40. In your blog posts, be sure to link to products, other blog posts or pages as appropriate. This is a great way to engage users to explore your site, increasing the chances they will make a purchase.
41. To create dynamic product pages, consider using Out of the Sandbox’s product.details template, if available in your theme. This will let you add complex layouts to all products that use the page by using the Shopify theme customization settings. You can also customize the code if you need more than one look for different products.
42. Other ideas for blog posts that can be effective for BFCM is to write gift guides to help customers find and locate the best giftable products on your site — as well as the best deals.
43. Another good topic is to showcase your Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials. Using these words in the blog title along with keywords related to your product type and industry can be a good way to generate organic visits of shoppers looking for deals.
44. With BFCM likely to generate more orders and therefore the inevitable customer service issues, make sure your Shopify theme is set up properly to handle legal and privacy issues.
45. Verify that your theme, in addition to your own internal business practices, are GDPR compliant if you sell (or want to sell) to the European Union. Keep in mind that, despite what you may read, a “checkbox” for opting in to email newsletters is actually not required for GDPR compliance.
47. Also be sure to review your return, refund and shipping policies, including generating any content about special shipping deadlines to meet holiday delivery (be sure to include all winter gift giving holidays).
48. Also, if you have special refund or return policies for holiday gifts, be sure to outline them prominently as well. Here again, you can use page.details or alternate page.detail templates to create slicker looking layouts for these important pages.
49. Once you’ve generated these policies, be sure they are accessible to customers. You can always display links to this kind of info in the footer, but you may want to consider prominently featuring the holiday shipping deadlines and return policies since many shoppers will want reassurance about these issues. Good places for this include the announcement bar at the top of the page, or you can use a “static” tabs customization to automatically place the same details on every product page of your store.
50. If you’re looking for a “friendlier” way to present shipping deadlines and return policies, consider creating blog posts highlighting them in a less typical way, including calling attention to special extensions or offers you’re doing for the holiday season and maybe developing a specific graphic or icon that you can associate with it.
In addition to our 50 tips to prepare your Shopify theme for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Out of the Sandbox has partnered with our friends at Pixel Union to produce a free ebook packed with actionable tips and advice to help you sell more this holiday season.