[intro]The holiday season is a monster. Is your eCommerce site ready for the madness?[/intro]
A new report from Adobe Digital Insights predicts that the 2017 holiday season will break $100 billion in online sales for the first time. That’s a healthy 13.8 percent increase from the previous year, and far surpassing overall retail’s growth of 3.8 percent.
Nearly $20 billion in eCommerce sales will occur over Thanksgiving weekend alone, gobbling up $1 of every $6 expected to be spent online for the entire holiday season, according to Adobe.
The competition for holiday shoppers will be fierce. By this late date, you’ve probably spent months planning and implementing your marketing strategy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Now it’s time to make sure your online store is completely optimized for the onslaught of activity.
Here’s a last-minute checklist to get your eCommerce site ready for the busiest shopping time of the year.
1. Check the Pipes
At this point, your No. 1 priority is to make sure that your web performance is up to par. Your store needs to be ready in terms of scalability and stability to handle the increased demands on your web infrastructure. Believe it or not, every millisecond counts. Your pages need to load blazingly fast to prevent user frustration and, consequently, shopping cart abandonment and site bounces. Your team should be checking page loads for every aspect of your site, from image rendering to ease of browsing to the checkout process.
Consumers prioritize website speed and ease of navigation above all else. In fact, 62 percent of users will only wait for five seconds or less for a site to completely load, according to the Imperva/Incapsula eCommerce survey. And according to Google, “two seconds is the threshold for eCommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.”
A few years ago, Amazon calculated that a page load delay of just one second would cost it a whopping $1.6 billion in sales each year. That figure is undoubtedly higher now. While you won’t have the volume of Amazon, there’s no question that your sales will suffer if your site is slow.
The ramped-up traffic during Black Friday and Cyber Monday can bring down even the largest sites. In 2016, shoppers experienced outages at a wide variety of online stores, including Macy’s, QVC, Victoria’s Secret, and The Gap family of brands (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athletica).
Talk with your IT team and/or outsourced cloud service about your needs, and have contingency plans in place to meet the online surge and deal with possible outages.
2. Take Stock of Your Inventory
Selling out of items that you’re promoting on Black Friday or Cyber Monday might seem like a good problem to have, but it will lead to visitor frustration and lost sales, since you can’t sell what you don’t have in stock. In order to avoid over-selling, it’s crucial to make sure that your eCommerce solution is in constant communication with your warehouse so that inventory is properly tracked as purchases roll in.
If your online store happens to continue selling an item that’s out of stock, you’ll likely have a customer service nightmare on your hands. Make sure you’re using an eCommerce solution that is reliable, scalable and fast, so that your store is updated immediately when a product sells out.
Inventory issues can plague even the biggest eCommerce operations. In 2011, Best Buy famously botched its holiday season by failing to deliver some orders made during Black Friday in time for Christmas. “Best Buy Is Ruining Christmas,” screamed one headline.
Now is the time to stress-test your order and inventory management systems, if you haven’t already done so.
3. Check Your Checkout Process
During Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online shoppers have literally thousands of options for hot sales. Don’t give them a reason to skip your site in favor of a competitor’s. One big reason this might happen is your checkout process proves to be too slow or cumbersome. Before the heavy holiday sales get underway, be sure to take the time to remove any unnecessary steps during checkout which could interfere with buyers making a purchase.
Here are some ways to simplify your checkout process and boost cart completions:
- Allow users to complete purchases without registering
- Remove unnecessary form fields
- Remove sidebars, headers and footers
- Offer as many payment options as possible
- Allow users to modify quantities and remove items easily
- Ask for credit card information last (after entering shipping info)
- Make it as mobile friendly as possible
- Make error messages extremely clear
- Clearly indicate shipping costs
- Offer free shipping
Your checkout process should be as frictionless as possible at all times, but it’s especially critical during these important shopping dates. Consumers just have too many choices to bother with a confusing or lengthy checkout experience. It’s a good practice to be constantly A/B testing your checkout process to see which tweaks will make a difference in boosting conversion rates.
4. Make It Bold & Beautiful
Every day is a competition for user attention, but none more so than the two days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Be sure to work with your design and web development team to properly highlight your biggest promotions on your homepage.
You only have seconds to make a first impression. Upon landing on your site, your customers need to know instantly what you’re offering that’s specifically for Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday and how to buy it now. Consumers won’t bother hunting around for the best promotions on your site during these highly competitive shopping days. You need to make sure they’re front and center with large, engaging visuals and prominent call-to-action buttons that push potential customers to take engage.
Consider highlighting just one incredible bargain at the top of your site rather than a whole bunch of different promotions. This might be your best “door stopper” deal that will instantly hook in customers and get them to explore the rest of the site.
5. Prepare the Troops
It’s a given that you will need to scale up your customer service resources during this heavy shopping season. There will be many more questions, many more returns, and many more hiccups with credit cards and shipping issues to resolve than normal.
Hopefully, you’ve spent the last several months beefing up your team. At this late stage, it will be challenging to hire and train new people. However, depending on the complexity of your operation, it could still be possible to bring in more customer support or give existing employees more hours. You could also look into third-party customer service providers, including overseas options.
A mobilized “swat team” of engineers, managers, and support staff should be on call at all times to fix bugs, detect errors, manage inventory, make site updates, and put out other fires, small and large.
In fact, your on-call team should be aligned with your business goals ahead of time. When using a full-service eCommerce solution, they should be monitoring operations, logistics, and shipping in real-time, regardless of whether it is the holiday season.
6. Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Of course, your warehouse will be at its busiest in this fourth quarter. Make sure your logistics team is ready to prepare and ship high volumes of packages as fast as they can. If you are using a third-party logistics provider, make sure you know the daily capacity that it can handle. Have a backup plan for an unexpected flood of orders.
In the era of Amazon Prime and free two-day shipping, customers are highly demanding about delivery speed and not very tolerant of shipping delays. Have your team prepared to monitor social media for customer complaints and empower them to respond as quickly as possible.
7. Ship for Free
One way to stand out during this highly competitive shopping season is to offer free shipping during the Black Friday through Cyber Monday period.
Free shipping has evolved from something that’s nice-to-have into a must-have for most eCommerce brands. In fact, a majority of shoppers would prefer to get free shipping over getting their packages delivered faster. Free is often better than fast.
High shipping costs are by far the biggest reason for cart abandonment. Free shipping has also been shown to increase average order value, order volume, and gross merchandise value. When NuFace, an eCommerce store for anti-aging devices aimed at women, added a free shipping threshold, its orders exploded by 90 percent. You may even want to consider offering free shipping at all times, not just during the holiday season.
8. Roll Out the Red Carpet
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are perfect times to create a VIP experience for your top customers. These are the people who tend to make repeat purchases and larger orders, so be sure to take advantage of the heightened holiday excitement to get their attention and make them feel extra special.
Reward your most loyal users with special member-only sales or give them an exclusive window to shop for deals ahead of non-VIPs. Consider upgrading them to the next level of shipping, either free or even complimentary overnight shipping. Allow them to earn extra reward points for purchasing Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. VIP shoppers may also be given a special customer service line for faster returns and more personalized service.
9. Think Mobile First
Adobe predicts that more than half of online visits to retail sites will come from mobile, either on the smartphone or tablet. While desktop purchases still make up two-thirds of revenue year-round, shoppers are increasingly turning to mobile to do their holiday browsing. Many of these shoppers are likely whipping out their smartphones while they wait for stores to open on Thanksgiving night.
Mobile represents a huge opportunity — and potential pitfalls — for online retailers. You will live or die by your mobile experience. Make sure your IT team is continually monitoring how your site behaves on mobile throughout this critical time. Your mobile site should be fast and easy to navigate. If you’re making a big Black Friday or Cyber Monday promotion on your website, make sure mobile users can access it and make purchases. Make sure images and website designs are optimized for mobile because the last thing you want is to frustrate and turn away customers who have countless other options during this all-important holiday time.
The competition for eCommerce customers is ferocious every day of the year, but none more so than during the four days following Thanksgiving. Your brand’s profitability this year could very well depend on how your online store performs. The most prepared eCommerce sites have already spent months putting their marketing plans in place, and have battle tested their websites and operations to make sure they can handle an incredible amount of traffic and transactions.
By following these tactics, you can ensure your eCommerce business stays competitive for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.