Is Your Ecommerce Website Ready for the Holiday Surge?

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In the world of ecommerce, the holidays come early—that is to say merchants need to prepare months in advance. In 2019, the majority of U.S. shoppers reported starting their holiday gift-buying long before Black Friday. And as we already know, there's a growing preference to shop from home (especially this year). On mobile devices alone, last year's ecommerce holiday sales exceeded $60 billion.

Is your ecommerce website ready for the 2020 holiday surge? Guidance knows what it takes to shine bright during the festive season and we've partnered with BigCommerce to help online merchants prep for the holidays. Find a breakdown of our recommendations as well as two downloadable guides below: a nifty holiday planning calendar and a guide to holiday ecommerce essentials. 

Gift Guides and Bundles

Gift guides and product bundles can be excellent ecommerce tools for the holiday season. With gift guides, you'll organize your products into categories that can be sorted by price, type, or recipient (for him, her, mom, dad, etc.). When your customers click on a guide, they'll be presented with a collection of gifts that align with their needs. You can promote your gift guides in pop-ups and banners on your website, in blog posts, on social media, or through email newsletters.

Similar to gift guides, bundles are designed to make gift-shopping easy on your customers. A bundle will include a curated group of complementing products. Each grouping can be presented as a gift idea and sold as one item. Depending on the type of products you sell, you might consider offering bundles in seasonal containers or gift bags. Bundles typically come at a discount, in which case you can promote the cost-savings as part of your holiday marketing strategy.

Merry Marketing and Promotions

When consumers begin their holiday shopping, will your products come to mind? With December still months away, now's the time to define your merchandising strategy so that you can ramp up your marketing and promotional tactics to build brand awareness and secure an online presence.

We recommend a social media outreach plan with targeted ads and a regular posting schedule. You may also want to create an email marketing calendar. If you don't already have an email list, hone in on building one now. You can build a list by implementing pop-up boxes on your website that encourage visitors to sign up or including an opt-in checkbox on your checkout page.

A strong SEO strategy and a fully integrated marketing campaign across all channels can amplify your sales—especially if you enhance your content with seasonal storytelling. We also suggest enabling gift card functionality on your website and mentioning gift cards in your marketing outreach. Incorporating additional sales channels can be helpful, too, like selling on Amazon, creating a Facebook Shop, or adding shopping tags to Instagram posts.

Seasonal Site Design

When people visit your website this holiday season, will it look the same as it always does, or will you implement some festive elements? Adjusting your website design to include seasonal pop-ups, banners, or a cheery color theme might be a worthwhile marketing endeavor. When customers are on your site, they'll be prompted to think about buying gifts, even if they initially stopped by for another reason.

Customer and User Experience Audit

Performing an infrastructure audit on your ecommerce website might not be the most cheery part of prepping for the holidays, but it should still be on your to-do list. No matter what time of year it is, your customers should be able to find what they're looking for quickly and with minimal effort.

Auditing your site will help you ensure your internal links, graphics, videos, third-party integrations, on-site search, filter function, promo codes, website tools, and checkout pages are working. In other words, your ecommerce website should be user-friendly, up-to-date, and functional. This is particularly important if you're making any website adjustments for the holidays, like including gift guides or changing the design.

Implementing one-page checkout can optimize the user buying experience on your site—it should be set up for multiple currencies, too. Also, enabling multi-recipient capabilities can make holiday gift-giving easier for your customers. We recommend setting up abandoned shopping cart notifications as well, which can drive traffic back to your site and ultimately boost your sales.

Site Performance Perfection

Another thing to be mindful of is site performance. Your ecommerce website might be running smoothly now, but can it handle increased traffic over the coming months? Slow load times and poor site performance can hurt your bottom line. You can't expect consumers to have the patience to wait for your site to load, especially if they're doing last-minute shopping. Ensuring your ecommerce platform is stable and equipped to meet increased demands is essential.

We recommend speed and performance tests to ensure your site can accommodate more visitors and transactions during the holidays. If you're unfamiliar with testing for performance and load times, the ecommerce experts at Guidance can take care of it for you. And if you need to make any adjustments, we can assist with that as well.

Mobile Site TLC

Currently, an estimated 72% of ecommerce transactions are completed on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. A mobile-friendly website is paramount for merchants that conduct business online. Aside from optimized mobile site navigation, holiday shoppers should be able to purchase items effortlessly. This means they shouldn't have to zoom in and out or scroll around a page to find the button they need to click.

One of the most vital components of mobile-friendly websites is a checkout progress bar. While it can be challenging to fit everything onto a mobile screen, the progress bar should tell shoppers where they are in a transaction and how many more steps they have to go. The first will be a manageable shopping cart, followed by fields for personal and shipping information, then payment fields, and finally, confirmation of the completed transaction. Additionally, if you're running any promotional codes, customers should be able to enter them on your mobile checkout page easily.

Prep Early For the Rush

As we mentioned, a substantial portion of American consumers start shopping for holiday gifts before December. You can probably expect to see the most traffic a week or two before Christmas, but if you're not prepared for the early rush, you might miss out on a lot of sales. With that said, there are a few crucial ecommerce dates you'll want to plan for this holiday season.

Your holiday marketing and production calendars should include:

  • Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving)
  • Small Business Saturday (two days after Thanksgiving)
  • Cyber Monday (the Monday following Thanksgiving)
  • Cyber Week (the week following Thanksgiving)
  • Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving)
  • Green Monday (the second Monday of December)
  • Free Shipping Day (December 14, 2020)
    Download this handy calendar for a full breakdown of holiday shopping. 

Be sure you have the inventory, site infrastructure, and marketing in place for early-bird holiday shoppers. Also, Amazon Prime Day, which was originally set for July, will now run from October 5 through October 9, 2020. If you think October is too early to shop for holiday gifts, think again. U.S. consumers love a good deal, and Amazon sellers should prepare for the rush. If you don't sell on Amazon, running a site-wide sale can help you compete on Prime Day.

Is Your Ecommerce Website Ready for the Holiday Surge-2Selling, Shipping and Fulfillment

Even with a fine-tuned marketing plan, strong infrastructure, perfect website performance, a mobile-friendly design, and cybersecurity in place, none of it will matter if you can't fulfill orders. Aside from inventory, this means you've got to have plenty of packaging and shipping supplies on hand—and gift wrapping if you're offering it—as well as a system for getting orders out on time. Are you implementing a seasonal unboxing experience? If so, make sure your fulfillment team has the training and supplies they need.

On-time delivery is always important for ecommerce brands, but it's even more critical during the holidays. If you guarantee deliveries by a specified date, you've got to clearly specify cut-off dates and see that all on-time orders are delivered by the promised date. Otherwise, it can really hurt your brand image, and you may lose loyal customers. Also, be sure your return and exchange policies are transparent, easily accessible, and efficient.

Customer Service and Support

Customer service and support are crucial year-round, but you'll need to step it up during the holidays. Does your ecommerce platform offer 24/7 support? If not, you may want to expand your customer service hours to accommodate multiple time zones. Now's the time to set up phone lines, email addresses, and contact forms and make sure they're easily accessible. 

Respond to all inquiries within 24 to 48 hours, and ask customers for feedback to enhance the support experience. You might want to have someone check and respond to social media comments and queries throughout the day as well. Creating a detailed and easy-to-read FAQ page can help cut down on inquiries, but you should still prepare for an influx.

Cybersecurity 

Is your cybersecurity up to par? A sharp uptick in site visitors and ecommerce activity this holiday season might make you vulnerable to lurking cybercriminals. As a merchant, you're responsible not only for safeguarding your business's sensitive information but also your customers' personal data. A security breach can be a substantial legal issue and lead to mistrust among consumers.

Prior to the holiday season, we suggest running a cybersecurity audit. This would involve a comprehensive review of your IT infrastructure and website configurations to identify potential vulnerabilities. Then you can take the necessary steps to prevent a breach. Displaying your security certification on your website can give shoppers peace of mind knowing their information is secure. Here at Guidance, we specialize in security audits, and we'd be more than happy to offer our expertise as you prepare for the busy season.

Measuring Success

How do you know if your ecommerce holiday strategy is successful? Before the busy season kicks off, establish trackable goals and KPIs (key performance indicators). Integrating Google Analytics to your ecommerce site can provide you with tons of useful insights through the coming months. If something isn't working, you can make real-time changes based on the data. Plus, you can apply the successful strategies and insights to your 2021 holiday strategy.

The holidays put pressure on retailers, but it's also an opportunity to boost sales, expand your audience, and gain a competitive advantage. Guidance and BigCommerce are committed to helping merchants thrive in the digital sphere. We can help you reach your full potential as an online retailer during the holiday season and the rest of the year. Download our 2020 Holiday Readiness Guide to make sure you cover all the bases.

Written by Jason Meugniot
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