Every year, online retail sales skyrocket in the weeks leading up to the holidays. According to the National Retail Federation, online sales from November and December 2017 generated more than $691 billion, and topped 2016 sales by almost 6%.
With the holidays slowly approaching, you can expect a significant increase in traffic, which is great. But if your website isn’t ready to handle more than the average number of visitors, it can undoubtedly result in a loss of sales and online reputation.
Last year, even some of the industry’s giants weren’t prepared for the exceptionally heavy traffic on their websites. Among a great number of websites that crashed on Black Friday and Cyber Monday was the famous American retailer J.Crew and Debenhams, the beloved British department store.
Those who were prepared, however, made their mark in ecommerce history by contributing to the biggest Cyber Monday to date, when shoppers spent more than $6.5 billion.
There are a number of things you can do to prepare your ecommerce store for the holiday shopping blitz, and the sooner you do it the better. The bottom line is, your store needs to perform seamlessly to keep sales skyrocketing and customers happy.
This blog post will go over some things you should keep in mind during this merry period of increased traffic.
Launch your updates now
If you’re planning on introducing any updates to your website – do it now (preferably before late October), or postpone it until after the holidays. With higher than average visitors and purchases on your site, avoid making any big changes as they may cause unexpected technical problems.
Make any necessary updates now (with increased traffic numbers in mind) and carefully test them before the busy season starts.
Don’t experiment with website layouts
It’s good to keep things fresh, but don’t try anything new during the holidays. People like consistency. They won’t appreciate coming to your store and finding out the navigation they’re used to has been replaced. Changing up your layout can also cause unforeseen glitches, which, again, you don’t want during this time of the year.
Now’s not the time for going crazy with your layout. Instead, focus on presenting your holiday deals in a way that is familiar yet interesting to your customers. Create holiday-specific landing pages with all of your best deals in one place.
You can also put together new gift-specific categories, like “Gift Ideas for Dad”, specialized gift guide pages, or simply jazz up your website by adding holiday-themed content to put customers in the mood to shop. Most importantly, give yourself time to test the new additions to your website. It should not only look pretty, but be functional, too.
Improve your website loading speed
75% of internet users agree they wouldn’t return to websites that took longer than 4 seconds to load. Not only will these customers leave for good, but 44% of them will also tell their friends about their negative experience. With so many potential eyeballs on your site over the holidays, you simply can’t risk a slow landing page and an unhappy customer.
You might be wondering now how fast your website should load. Ideally, in a blink of an eye. Your website has approximately half a second to appear in all its glory because according to the Harvard Database of Useful Biological Numbers, that’s the duration of a human blink. But in all seriousness, anything between 500 milliseconds and 2 seconds will match current page load speed expectations.
Website loading time is something that can be tested and fixed, if needed. Use Google’s Page Speed Tool to see how your website performs and understand where you need improvements.
There are many ways you can speed up your website. To start off, use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) or a load balancer to help distribute the traffic load to multiple servers. Uninstall plugins that you’re not using, and keep your website light by removing heavy photo and video files that can slow things down.
Increase web security
Even though more and more people choose to shop online, the question of customer data protection and payment security is never off the table. A recent CIGI-Ipsos Global survey found out that 52% of web users are more concerned about their online privacy compared to a year ago. And they have good reason to worry – data breaches occur over the holidays more than any other time of year.
With the holiday shopping season upon us, your website’s security should be on top of your priorities list (not that it shouldn’t be all year round).
Reassure your customers that their data is protected. Use SSL certificates and have them permanently displayed on your website or checkout pages.
Studies show that trust badges can help uncertain customers feel better about giving away their credit card information, especially when they are shopping on a website for the very first time. Also, consider implementing address verification system (AVS) and require card verification value (CVV). Most importantly, don’t store your customers’ data!
Scale up your store’s inventory
Take a look at your sales trends from the year before and use them to predict how many sales you’ll be making this year. Stock your inventory to keep up with the demand – don’t promise an item that you can’t deliver.
One of the pros of using a drop shipper like Printful for your fulfillment is that you don’t have to worry about inventory or shipping – we got that covered! You see, as a Printful user you get regular updates about items going out of stock or being discontinued. But if you use other drop shipping (or any ecommerce-related) services, things might work a bit differently.
Give a warm welcome to mobile shoppers
80% of internet users own a smartphone, so it comes as no surprise that mobile commerce (or mcommerce) is only going to grow. The proof is right here: according to Invesp, American retail sales conducted via mobile amounted to over $114 billion in 2017, and this number is expected to grow by $18 billion this year.
If you don’t want to lose an opportunity to drive more sales, you’ll have to adjust to the new shopping habits of your customers.
Start by making sure your website is mobile friendly (you can test it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test). Just keep in mind that even though your online store can be accessed on mobile devices, it doesn’t mean your business is ready for mobile sales.
Here a few things you should consider for a better customer experience on mobile:
- use responsive website design
- optimize page loading speed
- adjust font and button sizes
- if you use pop-ups for mobile, make sure they’re the correct size and customers can easily close them.
Optimize your checkout process
Your holiday marketing campaigns are up and running, your products are ready, and you have customers visiting your store. But can they buy your products without a hitch?
When a customer comes to your checkout page, you want the process to be as intuitive and simple as possible. And at this point, less is more. So go through your buying process to make sure it’s seamless and easy to understand.
If you have a single page checkout, make sure the form isn’t cluttered and every field you ask customers to fill is necessary rather than “good to know.” The same piece of advice applies to a multi-page checkout page.
You should also add a progress indicator at the top of the page to let the shopper know how far along they are in the process. Believe it or not, it can help you lower the number of abandoned carts.
Create a Backup Plan
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Think of all the problems that might occur during the holidays and come up with a plan of action for each. What will you do if your server crashes? How will you handle a data hack? What if your products go out of stock? You can’t always predict what will happen, but you can cover your bases and prepare yourself for most scenarios.
Last but not least, make sure you have your entire team on board, especially during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. You need to be ready to solve any occurring issues before they cause any serious trouble and act fast.
Conclusion: Test, Test, Test
With the holiday season slowly approaching, your website traffic is going to skyrocket. And to make the most of it you need to start preparing early.
Test your website’s functionality and whether your servers can handle the increased traffic. Concentrate on anything that can cause delays or crashes on your store over the holidays. Pay close attention to website security and work towards providing a pleasant shopping experience for any visitor.
Once you sure your website is ready for the increased traffic, it’s time to get the rest of holiday preparations intact. And to make this process easier for you, we’ve put together a content marketing checklist.
This article was originally published in September 2015; it has since been updated.