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6 ways to prepare your eCommerce site for the holidays

The holiday season will soon be upon us. Are you ready? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, eCommerce sales reach their peaks. This is the time of year that can make or break a company. In fact, between November 2018 and January 2019, a massive $126 billion was spent online. With the massive influx of digital shoppers during this lucrative time of year, it’s vital for eCommerce businesses to prepare their sites to handle exponentially more traffic than what they receive during the rest of the year.

Therefore, if an eCommerce site doesn’t run smoothly, it’s sure to spell trouble for that brand’s sales and reputation. In 2014, Best Buy’s website went down on Black Friday because of increased mobile traffic. In 2017, Lowe’s website experienced a similar crash. Both incidents cost each brand countless amounts of potential revenue. These scenarios are a retailer’s worst nightmare. However, there are a variety of things that eCommerce sites can do to prepare their store for the holiday shopping madness.

To ensure that your site achieves peak performance this holiday season, check out these six important tips for preparing your eCommerce site for the seasonal sales rush.

1. Make important changes now

The holidays are not the time to experiment. Get all of the design work ready now and don’t leave it until the last minute, or you might not have your graphic designer working overtime. Have all your graphics ready to go — and there will be a lot — well before you’re ready to use them. Emails, website banners, CTAs, gift guides, PPC ads, etc.

If you plan on changing your hosting or migrating to Magento, Shopify or any other eCommerce solution now is the time to do it, before the holidays are in full swing. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Going live with untested or under-tested eCommerce site features or support could result in a Christmas disaster. And because of the increased traffic and sales your site is poised to receive, technical problems are already a concern. Don’t worsen things by implementing new features that you’re not yet familiar with. 

2. Test your eCommerce site for traffic and speed

Test your eCommerce site for traffic and speed

Improving your site speed by milliseconds can help you avoid shopping cart abandonment and site bounces. According to KissMetrics, nearly half of all site visitors expect pages to load within two seconds. More importantly, 79 percent of consumers won’t come back to a website if they weren’t satisfied with their experience. And of those who refuse to return, 44 percent will share their unfavourable opinion with friends.

With multiple new visitors landing on your eCommerce site over the holidays, slow load times are something you cannot afford. Therefore, increasing website speed is key to generating a satisfying user experience, increasing rankings and driving enhanced levels of traffic. The bottom line is that speed can make or break a deal for your brand. Leverage Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to give you advice on how to increase your site speed such as optimizing images, clearing the browser cache or enabling compression.

3. Optimize your eCommerce site’s mobile experience

Mobile sales over the holidays have been increasing exponentially year-over-year and that trend is expected to continue. In fact, Practical Ecommerce predicts that mobile sales will account for over half of all transactions in 2019.

Optimize your eCommerce site’s mobile experience

Preparing your eCommerce site for the increased holiday traffic will go a long way for enhancing mobile leads. However, small screen user experiences still need to be tailored to such devices. This means that attracting mobile users and providing an amazing UX relies on implementing responsive designs that allow visitors to shop without pinching, zooming, unnecessary scrolling or other frustrating behaviours.

Google Search Console’s mobile usability report can help you identify any mobile UX problems that consumers might encounter. And much like Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, it will provide actionable insights on how to remedy any issues. 

4. Streamline the checkout process for better conversions

Abandoned cart rates are nearly 70 percent across eCommerce sites, according to Baymard Institute. One of the major causes of this phenomenon is unessential, multi-page checkout processes that frustrate shoppers. Given that this percentage is the average, imagine how much this increases during the holiday season. Therefore, streamlining the checkout process is of the utmost importance to get conversions

To effectively simplify the purchasing procedure, cut out any unnecessary elements and pages, and remove form fields that are not required to get a customer their order. Consider adding a guest checkout option as many consumers — especially during the holidays — will simply leave a site that requires account creation to make a purchase. Also, consider improving the overall customer experience by exploring options with CRMs (Customer Relationship Management) for eCommerce that plug into your shopping cart and help you learn more about the customer experience. They will give you a 360-degree view of the consumer’s journey.

5. Anticipate potential security issues

Before the rise in popularity of online shopping, the greatest retail cyber threats were focused on brick-and-mortar stores — particularly, breaches of point-of-sale systems to pilfer shoppers’ credit card information. This is exactly what happened to Target, which discovered in late 2013 that it had fallen victim to a breach that compromised more than 100 million credit and debit cards. Now, fraudsters and hackers target vulnerable eCommerce sites over the holidays.

The best defence against malicious cyberattacks is to invest in a variety of security solutions and plugins that will help keep your site and customer information safe. If you don’t already have one, you should obtain an SSL certificate for secure shopping. Also, prominently display various trust badges to clearly show consumers that their protection is something your brand takes seriously. This will increase their confidence and make them more likely to complete a purchase as security concerns have been quelled.

Anticipate potential security issues

It may seem like a burden at times, but having a 2-step verification or multi-factor authentication gives you further confidence that you and your users are the only people logging into your store.

6. Ramp up your customer service

The increased holiday traffic also means that there will be a lot more questions and concerns from consumers; there will be queries about everything from specific products to refunds and exchanges, shipping and more. And these might not all be on your eCommerce site — don’t forget to keep an eye on your social media accounts.

Thankfully, one way to cut down on the number of emails, calls, and chats from questioning customers is to update your FAQ page so that consumers can answer their own inquiries. Nevertheless, there will still be an increase in customer service contacts, so you might want to consider adding temporary help for the holidays.

Be prepared

There’s a lot of preparation involved in optimizing eCommerce sites before the holiday shopping season begins. With many strong expert predictions in favour of heightened online transactions, there’s an even bigger potential for site crashes or other detrimental issues. Be sure to take the necessary precautions so you’re better equipped for the busy shopping season to come. 

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