It’s not too late for retailers to make modifications that can head off website problems that can result in lost sales during the holiday shopping season.

Roy Rosinnes, Co-founder & CEO, Shoppimon

Roy Rosinnes, Co-founder & CEO, Shoppimon

The holiday shopping season is the single most important time of year for online retail sellers. According to Deloitte, for the first year ever, online sales are poised to beat in-store purchases. It’s never been more important for online stores to be at their best, and this trend will only continue in 2018. Plus, over 23% of 2016 e-commerce sales were made in just two months, starting Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 31, based on Adobe’s estimate of 2016 holiday sales and the U.S. Commerce Department’s e-commerce sales figures. So, brands and merchants can’t afford to get things wrong.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many site managers either forgo additional site preparations altogether, or leave things to the last minute. Or worse–change almost everything right before the holiday season, only to have functions fail catastrophically, leading to revenue losses.

Each of these scenarios can lead to the same unfortunate outcome: brands not being ready for the increased traffic and load on a site’s infrastructure, site or campaign issues, frustrated shoppers, wasted marketing dollars, and lost sales.

Here’s how to holiday-proof your online store–the good news is it’s not too late.

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7 tips to have your site ready for the 2017 holidays:

  1. It’s not too late to improve your site before the holidays

Once a month, Shoppimon puts out its Online Store Health & Usability (OSHU) Index, which looks at the performance of top e-commerce brands, and evaluates and ranks shopping experience based on several factors: average site speed, site slowdowns, technical and content issues, and overall site stability. We know THESE are the issues that affect sales and revenue. And, our research shows that the average e-commerce store loses 13% of annual revenue to hidden site issues. Being in the know about these issues and monitoring for them is a must. If you know what the potential problems are on your site, you can take action, which is key to making sure your site is performing at top functionality on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

You need to monitor in real-time to know what your customers experience. The worst case scenario for any online brand is having serious sale-blocking site issues reported to them by shoppers. How many customers actually encountered issues resulting in lost sales before someone finally took the time to let you know? Use monitoring solutions to make sure you have full visibility and control of the shopping experience on your e-commerce site, to help you find critical issues before actual shoppers encounter them.

  1. Make sure to plan and execute your holiday promotions in advance

Make sure your campaigns are built, your ads are created, landing pages are optimized, holiday discounts are set, analytics are integrated, and pricing changes are decided upon. Which leads us to my next point…

  1. Secure & protect all site entry points

Having compelling campaigns that drive shoppers to specific items and points within an online store is just step one. It’s critical to ensure that each point of entry provides a consistent experience to users. Nothing should get in their way, from performance issues, to technical or content problems. Otherwise, you may cause damage to your reputation in addition to wasting significant marketing dollars, directly resulting in lost sales.

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  1. Estimate increases in traffic and load test your site

Can your e-commerce site handle triple its normal traffic numbers? Or can your back-end system support 4x the number of orders placed in any given hour? These are the questions you need to be asking now rather than finding out your site can’t handle the stress in the middle of the year’s biggest shopping season, when being unprepared means you’ve had an immediate impact on revenue.

  1. Don’t forget to optimize for speed in addition to load

It’s not enough for your site to simply ‘handle’ more traffic. It needs to handle that increase at breakneck speeds. Did you know that a one-second delay can slash 7% from your site’s conversion rate? And with the world’s top e-commerce stores driving average interactive load times (the point when a user can begin navigating and interacting with a given site page) of approximately 1.6 seconds, according to the Shoppimon OSHU Index, the competition to keep shoppers’ attention and provide them with a seamless purchase experience is steep.

  1. Be prepared to scale up on the fly

Even if you’ve been in business for years, it’s not always easy to know what level of traffic to expect on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. So, understand what it would take to double your web and data servers, for example. Make sure you’re aware of what that would involve both technically and in terms of cost. Keep in mind, that these types of changes will be easiest if you’re using a scalable cloud-based solution. If you already run a micro-service-based site, you’ll have it easiest, as you will be able to most quickly and cost-effectively scale up and down individual aspects of your site as traffic levels change. But, no matter how your site is structured, be prepared to make changes if and when necessary.

  1. Errors are inevitable, so handle them with grace

Even the best online retailers suffer from site issues. However, a surprising number of brands plan their sites under the assumption that errors won’t occur. They will. I have never seen an online store that did not occasionally suffer from even catastrophic website issues. That said, if you planned in advance with error pages created to look great, that admit a mistake occurred, and then engaged with customers and promoted alternative content, you stand to endear yourself with shoppers. And more importantly, you give yourself the chance to win back a potentially abandoned cart or shopping process due to confusion or frustration.

With online holiday spending in the U.S. expected to hit nearly $917B in 2017, make sure your online store’s performance is optimized and ready to go. Don’t give your customers a reason to consider buying somewhere else. Commit now to providing them with a smooth and friction-free shopping experience this holiday season. And, as an added bonus, you’ll set up your store for success well into 2018.

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Shoppimon provides website monitoring services for online retailers.

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