Outside companies that place code on a retailer’s site can cause problems. Do a thorough audit now, and address any issues that could slow down or crash your site during the holidays.

Jason Goldberg, SVP, Commerce & Content Practice, SapientRazorfith

Jason Goldberg, senior vice president, Commerce & Content Practice, SapientRazorfish

Consumers are ready to enjoy the summer without a thought of snowmen and holiday shopping. However, retailers don’t have the luxury of neglecting holiday planning until the temperature starts to turn. In fact, if you’re not thinking about optimizing your ecommerce platform for the holiday season right now, you may already be too late.

According to a National Retail Federation report based on Department of Commerce data, online sales increased by 12.6 percent during the 2016 holiday season from the previous year. And about 59 percent of all purchases were influenced by digital tools – a number that will spike to roughly 75 percent over the holidays this year.

There are a number of back-end precautions retailers can take – and should start taking now – in order to make the holiday blitz less unpredictable. This will allow sufficient time to identify potential single points of failure (SPOF) and develop remediation plans. It’s not something you want to do under pressure on Black Friday, so the preparations you make now will pay off with results in November.

Between May and August, utilize the following exercise to ensure you won’t miss a single sales opportunity:

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  • Make Your List, Check it Twice: To begin, take inventory of all your third-party digital solution vendors and conduct audits to gain an understanding of the role each one plays on your site.
  • Find Out Who’s Naughty and Nice: The next step involves pinpointing which vendors could be a single point of failure.
  • Put a Bow on It: The final step is to run simulated tests to “break” each individual service and see how it impacts your customer experience. Construct a remediation plan with each vendor, including who to call in the event of an emergency as well as monitoring to inform you immediately when a problem occurs, and when it’s been fixed.

The process is tricky and requires extensive planning due to the multitude of vendor solutions whose performance can make or break your holiday sales season. Large retail websites could have upwards of 60 third-party utilities powering independent ecommerce capabilities, any of which could affect customer experience or crash your whole site. Outages are all too often related to these plug-in utilities, not your primary platform. Develop a plan for when the outsourced functionality crashes, so customers can still make purchases instead of seeing a “white screen of death.”

This Q4, even more consumers will shop on their smartphones at the Thanksgiving table, producing a decreasing crowd at big-box retailers early Friday morning

To further complicate matters, some of these third-party vendors rely on additional “fourth-party” vendors, and you must test the integrity of each application to reduce peak-season liabilities. Facebook, for example, is often a fourth-party site upon which your platform may be dependent for part of the customer experience.

In addition to back-end considerations, 2017 will mark new trends in front-end design, so remain cognizant of these new consumer preferences. The growing extent to which consumers conduct their transactions and other daily chores on smartphones is vastly reshaping the typical rhythm of the first seismic weekend of holiday shopping, so mobile design will be more important than ever. The apparel industry is already taking notice, and retailers that have yet to bolster their mobile platforms will suffer this holiday season.

2016 marked a significant change in smartphone-based consumer interaction, with shoppers more likely to access a retail site from a mobile device than from a desktop browser. This Q4, even more consumers will shop on their smartphones at the Thanksgiving table, producing a decreasing crowd at big-box retailers early Friday morning to fight for the doorbusters and potentially get pushed aside by another shopper.

This year, the entire holiday period could be one big online shopping spike. That’s a fundamental change from previous yearsIn fact, 2017 could be the year in which Black Friday ends Cyber Monday’s 15-year reign as the biggest online retail shopping day of the year, as sales will be more evenly spread throughout the holiday shopping season.

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With the increasing popularity of online shopping, retailers will have one chance to earn consumer sales this holiday season. The next retailer providing a better customer experience is just a click (or swipe) away. Begin your testing now – right down to every utility, fourth-party vendor and mobile-friendly shopping cart – to ensure your ecommerce platform will function at optimal levels in the heat of the competitive Q4 sales peak.

Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg is the senior vice president of the Commerce & Content Practice at SapientRazorfish, a company formed last year when Publicis Group combined two of its digital agencies, SapientNitro and Razorfish, into a new unit with a mission to help “clients transform their businesses in a connected world.” Jason writes about retail on his blog, RetailGeek.com, and talks about retail on “The Jason & Scot Show” podcast.

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