How Retailers Can Optimize Their Sites for Peak Holiday Sales
It’s crunch time for retailers with the holiday shopping season just a few weeks away. With the continued demise of brick-and-mortar stores, retailers are grappling to create a digital experience that delights across every channel. Amazon.com's Prime Day fail this summer showed the importance of ensuring your site is geared to deal with surges in traffic. Rather than burying your head in the sand and hoping everything goes well, you need to think about preparing your site not only to be available, but to deliver an experience that delights. Failure to do so can negatively impact both a retailer’s reputation and revenue. Therefore, if you're a retailer and worrying about how to ensure you're ready for the upcoming holiday shopping season, check out these five essential tips to delivering a website experience that will delight.
1. Test through the eyes of the user.
Forget about testing the code; instead, look at how your website behaves under pressure. You need to understand when the site will start to slow down and, of course, when it stops functioning. This requires retailers to undertake load testing to understand the impact on the site as traffic increases. Real user monitoring is also vital to understand the website through the eyes of the user, providing real-time insights into how traffic volumes affect both user behavior and revenue.
Retailers need to start this process as early as possible to give themselves enough time to vary the capacity and run multiple scenarios. This requires both the business and technology team to collaborate.
2. Make it fast.
Having a fast website is a vital foundation for driving sales. Therefore, retailers need to continually look at how to make their sites faster and more resilient.
- Caching really matters: If you give long cache lifetimes to static files that don't change very often, visitors will be able to load them from their cache rather than from the site. This means there will be less pressure on the website's systems.
- Page size matters: Smaller web pages load much faster than big ones. Retailers can reduce page sizes and speed up websites by optimizing images, minimizing text files and removing redundant content. Failure to do this increases the risk of the website slowing down.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN): CDNs make websites more resilient and can make sites faster by delivering content closer to the end user. This means websites have less work to do at peak times.
3. Audit third parties.
No website is an island, and most retailers rely on third-party services to carry out functions such as feature detection and remarketing. Therefore, you need to ensure those services are also prepared to deal with surges in traffic as they're affected by the traffic patterns of multiple websites. It's also critical that retailers eliminate third-party single points of failure. It’s vital to do a full audit of third-party content on your website to help you assess potential downtime issues.
4. Review (but don't rely on).
Twelve months is an eternity for retailers, so while looking in the rearview mirror at last year’s data trends, don't depend on them to predict what could happen this year. Each season is different, including consumer preferences and a retailer's promotional strategy. Therefore, don't ignore but don’t rely on analytics from previous years.
5. Set up contingencies.
Despite the best-made plans, things can and still do go awry. Therefore, having a contingency plan in place is not a nice to have but rather an essential. Retailers need to incorporate both digital and physical solutions, ranging from ensuring you have a queuing system, adding more customer service capacity to answer customer questions, and having a workflow in place to manage external communications across social channels when things go wrong.
These tips aren't just for the holiday shopping season. They should be the foundation for ensuring your website delights day in day out. By adopting these approaches and continually testing and monitoring the performance of your website, you'll ensure that your site performs optimally.
Antony Edwards is the chief technology officer at Eggplant, a customer experience optimization specialist. He is a proven product and technology leader with extensive experience in enterprise software and mobile computing.
Related story: Amazon Prime Day 2018: Key Takeaways for Retailers