Big box retailers do 40% of their total business for the year in their 4th quarter (October- December). A poor holiday season can make for a poor year, where a successful holiday season can make a year. Especially with supply-chain delays and shortages, it's imperative to get a head start and stock up on supplies to be able to fulfill as many orders as possible.
Something to note, I'm writing this as I'm going into my 4th holiday season. I don't really count my first holiday season as I opened my shop in October of 2018 and didn't prep at all and therefore didn't have a busy season. I'm speaking from my experience on Etsy for the holiday seasons of 2019 and 2020 (yes, 2020's holiday season was as bad as you heard). This is purely based off of my opinion owning my business (only selling online) through those two seasons and working in big box retail for 9 years prior to that.
If this is your first holiday season, I will admit it's tricky to prepare for it because it's hard to know what to expect. According to Etsy, they had 13 million shoppers join Etsy during the 2020 holiday season (which was a 77% increase from the year before and they anticipate more shoppers joining this year) so it's safe to say you can expect an increase in audience and shoppers at your site this year.
Specific items that will see a drastic increase in sales during holiday season (based on previous years on Etsy) are custom items and holiday themed items. Etsy also releases a trend report quarterly that may help you recognize if you should anticipate your items to see an increase of audience during holidays. Here is this year's Holiday 2021 Trend Report from Etsy. It also may give you some ideas of what products you can start selling this holiday season.
The pandemic creates a huge influx of shoppers on Etsy for a few reasons. People aren't shopping in stores and more are shopping online. People also can't visit family members that live far away as easily, so they are more likely to order something online that they can ship to those family members or friends. And lastly, after the last 2 years people are searching for something unique and personal to try and give an impactful and thoughtful gift.
So here's what I do to prepare for the holiday season-
Think of how you want to create an order deadline. You can either create a date deadline or a maximum number of orders you'll take. Either way, you'll have to be very clear with your audience and remind them multiple times what your deadline is. To create your deadline, think of how long it takes to make an order, and how much time you will have available. Estimate how many orders you can get done in the time you have and use those numbers to decide when you need to stop taking orders. Be clear with your customers what your deadline guarantees and what it does not. In 2020 I said that I could guarantee orders placed before 12/1 would ship out by 12/15 and that I COULD NOT guarantee the item would arrive before any of the holidays. In 2020, shipping priority mail (quoted 2-4 business days domestic) took upwards of 8 weeks to get delivered.
Do as much prep work as you can before the season starts. Ideally, you started this before reading this post. We decided this year to spend time through out the year to do whatever we could early, but it's never too late to start. If you can cut wood pieces, print inserts, etc before the season starts, it gives you more time to assemble orders once they come in.
Buy supplies early. There is no question about it- there will be shipping delays and supply shortages this holiday season and it's better to get supplies early, rather than have to turn away customers during the holiday season because you don't have supplies to make their order. Some things I'm stocking up on- shipping boxes, wrapping paper, canvases, and envelopes. If you're planning on doing this business for the long haul, focus on investing on supplies you'll use after the holiday season. That way, if you over estimated, you can still use them next year. If you don't have go-to shipping supplies and you aren't sure what to stock up on, I wrote a blog post about my favorite shipping supplies here.
Trust your gut. You know your business and customers better than anyone else. Believe in yourself and your products. The last two years I have underestimated how many orders came in, and this year I'm shifting my mindset and planning for best case scenario. While I recommend taking a little risk when buying a surplus supplies before orders start coming in, it's important to look at your own stats and research your demographic and trending gifts when estimating how much business you'll do this holiday season.
If you're still having a hard time envisioning what your holiday season will look like, I will share some of my stats from the last two years. Looking at how much business I do in the holiday season, you can look at how your year has been and get an estimate of what to expect for the holiday season. Remember, everybody's business is different and you still have to have searchable items for them to be found during holidays. If you're struggling with search terms or SEO I wrote an entire blog post about using Etsy's listing tags, here.
In 2019, 73.4% of my total orders for the year were in November and December. I did more orders in November 2019 than I did January 2019 - October 2019 combined.
In 2020, 56.2% of my total orders for the year were in November and December. I did more orders in November of 2020 than I did for all of 2019.
Good luck and may USPS be in your favor!