In the weeks leading up to the holidays, you can expect a higher than average number of visitors on your store, which is great. But if your website isn’t ready to handle the increased traffic, it can result in 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 were the Canadian athletic apparel retailer Lululemon, the American make-up seller Ulta, and the British department store Debenhams.
Those who were prepared, however, made their mark in ecommerce history by contributing to the biggest Cyber Monday to date, when shoppers spent around $7.9 billion.
There are many things you can do to prepare your ecommerce store for the holiday shopping blitz, and the sooner you do them, the better. Continue reading to find out your first steps.
Launch your updates now
If you’re planning on introducing an update to your website—do it now (preferably before late October), or postpone it until after the holidays. Making any big changes to your store during the merry period of increased traffic can cause unexpected technical problems that are never welcome to the party.
Keep your website’s layout the same
It’s good to keep things fresh, but changing up your website layout right before the holidays isn’t the best idea. People like consistency, especially when it comes to finding products and placing orders. Any drastic change in these processes may cause customer frustration or unforeseen technical glitches.
Instead of website redesign shift your focus to presenting your holiday deals in a way that is familiar yet interesting to your customers. Here are a few ideas you can steal:
- Create a holiday-specific landing page with all of your best deals in one place
- Put together new gift-specific categories, like “Gift Ideas for Dad”
- Add holiday banners to product pages
- Use promo bars or pop-ups to showcase deal of the day or week
Pro tip: 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 share their negative experience with friends. With so many potential eyeballs on your site over the holidays, you simply can’t risk a slow landing page and an unhappy customer.
Your website should load in a blink of an eye which means you have half a second—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 you can test and fix. Use Google’s Page Speed Tool to see how your website performs and understand where you need improvements.
Here are a few things you can do to speed up your website:
- Uninstall plugins that you’re not using
- Remove or compress heavy photo and video files on your website
- Distribute the traffic load to multiple servers by using Content Delivery Network (CDN) or a load balancer
- Upgrade to better hosting services
Increase web security
Even though people are used to shopping online, the question of customer data protection and payment security is never off the table.
With the holiday shopping season upon us, your website’s security should be on the top of your priorities list (not that it shouldn’t always be). Reassure your customers that their data is protected. Use SSL certificates and have security badges permanently displayed on your website or checkout pages.
Studies show that trust badges help uncertain customers feel better about giving away their credit card information, especially when they’re shopping on a website for the first time. Also, consider implementing address verification system (AVS) and requiring card verification value (CVV). Most importantly, don’t store your customers’ bank card data!
Scale up your store’s inventory
Take a look at your sales trends from the year before (or if you just launched your store, analyze recent sales) to predict which products will be popular during the holiday season. Stock your inventory or reach out to the the third-party services you use for sourcing your products to learn about the stock levels of the products you’re selling.
Give a warm welcome to mobile shoppers
Specialists agree that mobile commerce (or mcommerce) is growing and will account for 53.3% of all ecommerce sales in the US by 2021.
To online store owners, it means only one thing—adjusting to customer’s shopping habits to sell more not only during the holiday season, but all year round.
Start by making sure your website is mobile-friendly (you can test it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test). But remember, even though your online store can be accessed on mobile devices, it doesn’t mean your business is ready for mobile sales.
Here’s what you can do to offer better customer experience on mobile:
- Use responsive website design
- Optimize page loading speed
- Adjust font and button sizes
- Enable mobile payments
- 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?
The checkout process on your store should be simple and intuitive. And the best way to check it, is to go through it yourself. Remember, at this point, less is more.
If you have a single-page checkout, make sure the form isn’t cluttered and every field you ask your customers to fill is necessary rather than “good to know.” The same piece of advice applies to a multi-page checkout process.
Pro tip: Add progress indicator at the top of the page to let the shopper know how far along they are in the process. This can help lower the number of abandoned carts.
Be ready to answer customers’ questions
With more visitors on your website you can also expect more inquiries from your customers-to-be. To get ahead of that, make sure your website content provides all the necessary information users might need to take the plunge. Manage their expectations by:
- Writing informative product descriptions
- Putting together clear store policies
- Creating an FAQ section
And in case your visitors can’t find the answers on your website, make it easy for them to reach out to you:
- Create a Contact Us page
- Use live chat or enable chatbot
- Include social media handles in the footer in case customer prefers communicating via direct messages
Pro tip: Instead of handling customer questions sporadically, block out time in your calendar every day to answer them once you get them. Doing so will boost your productivity and reduce stress.
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 prepare for most scenarios.
Conclusion? Test, test, test
Start preparing for the increased holiday traffic early. Test your website’s functionality and 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’re sure your website is ready for the increased traffic, it’s time to tackle the rest of the holiday preparations. And to make this process easier for you, we’ve put together a content marketing checklist. Download it below to get ahead of the game!
This article was originally published in September 2015; it has since been updated.