The busiest month of the year is now upon us, and brands and retailers of all sizes have prepared for the massive surge in sales that takes place during this time.

According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season can represent as much as 30% of retailers’ annual sales.

So for retail brands, there’s no more important time of year. What happens in December often determines whether yearly sales goals are missed or exceeded.

Whatever your product offering is, holiday ecommerce is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for retailers.

Hopefully your ecommerce business has already fleshed out strategies to attract online consumers and bring in a chunk of those billions. If not, here are three absolute musts for a successful and profitable holiday season.

1. Stress and load test your website

For an ecommerce business, few disasters are worse than a website crash. One common culprit behind website crashes (aside from the expiration of a domain or hosting subscription) is a sudden surge in visitor traffic.

Given that retail traffic increases drastically during the holidays, the proper functioning of your website right now is absolutely critical.

Put another way, there’s no worse time to have website problems. It literally equates to lost revenue, which could have devastating effects on your company’s bottom line at the end of the year.

So, if your site is unable to handle the increased capacity, find out as soon as possible, because the holiday rush is here. It’s only a matter of time before last-minute shoppers surge online retailers once again. Take action now and preserve your end-of-year profits.

Perform a load test to make sure that the website can withstand surges in traffic. Companies like Soasta, BlazeMeter and RedLine13 offer this service, which consists of, basically, bombarding your website with simulated visitor traffic.

If it fails, you’ll need to make necessary adjustments, such as putting a content delivery network into place. It’s better to find out now as opposed to in the middle of the last-minute rush.  

The updates will cost you, but it’s much less than the lost revenue that would result from an untimely website crash in the week before Christmas.

2. Optimize product descriptions and images

Your ecommerce site is only as effective as the content that’s on it, both written and visual. Every product page should feature well-written, easy-to-read descriptions of the product so that shoppers can know exactly what they’re buying.

If they’re unsure, they’re likely to search for the product on another site. So do a final pass to optimize product features so that they’re thorough, clearly listed, and prominently placed on the page.

Another reason to be meticulous about product descriptions is because they can help your website appear in search engine results — important because over a quarter of consumers still begin their search for products on Google and other search engines.

Make sure to use descriptive keywords early and often, and link between product pages. This improves SEO and also makes it more likely that consumers will see your other product offerings and impulsively purchase something extra.

Better yet, use holiday-themed keywords (e.g. “Christmas,” “last-minute,” “present,” etc).

3. Freeze your website code

If new page templates, new designs, or new features are being developed for your ecommerce website, that’s great. Initiatives to improve the user experience are well worth the effort.

But December isn’t the time to implement such improvements. If it hasn’t been done already, ecommerce companies should do a thorough review of each page within the website (especially the product pages) to find errors in the content and the code.

Double check that the design is consistent throughout and that the mobile side of your site works as well or better than the desktop version.

(And yes, by this point it should go without saying that your entire website should be mobile-friendly. Mobile ecommerce currently makes up 29% of total ecommerce, and that’s expected to rise to 48% by the year 2020. Google offers this free tool to analyze how mobile-friendly a webpage is.)

If you discover any bugs or other anomalies, fix them immediately and then institute a code freeze immediately. No more work should be done on the back end of the website until after the holidays.

In theory, this eliminates the possibility of a developer accidentally introducing a new bug while attempting to improve some already-existing feature.

If such a bug were to compromise shoppers’ ability to use the site in the week before Christmas, it could result in abandonment of purchases, which translates to possibly thousands of dollars in foregone revenue. 

It’s an exciting time of year for retailers, and the advent of ecommerce has lowered the barriers to entry for small businesses that are introducing new product offerings.

As ecommerce retailers gain momentum and build customer bases, good planning and preparation can yield big rewards throughout the rest of this holiday season.

Bart Mroz

Published 5 December, 2016 by Bart Mroz

Bart is CEO and Co-founder of SUMO Heavy, a digital commerce consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Good advice for 2017, but about a month late for 2016. The best advice now is do nothing.

My additional piece of advice is that people are more likely to be sending goods as presents and entering a *delivery* name and address that's different from their *payment* name and address. So you should test this feature thoroughly.

Amazon does this perfectly, but multiple addresses don't work smoothly on some other sites. For example on the Harrods site, if there's a problem with your credit card and you have to use a different card, the website seems to reset the delivery address back to your normal one. Meaning the bottle of whisky you intended for your landlord gets delivered to you instead of his office. Reporting this for a friend.

over 1 year ago

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Pauline Ashenden, Marketing Manager at Eptica

Looking beyond the website, now is the time for retailers to ensure that they are focusing on customer service – responding rapidly to customer questions and providing all the information that shoppers need when making buying decisions. We’ve put together some tips on how to achieve this in a recent blog http://www.eptica.com/blog/what-customers-want-christmas-when-it-comes-service

over 1 year ago

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