Low-Cost Tips to Boost Online Holiday Sales
Forecasts for the holiday shopping season are mixed, but there are several steps retailers can take to protect and increase sales, meet their business goals, and build customer loyalty.
Making changes to a website doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money or months overhauling the site and operating platform. Tweaks can be made to increase sales and improve site performance and customer satisfaction that don’t cost a lot, and can be implemented in a matter of weeks. Consider the following three strategies:
- Understand the true cost of downtime and how to minimize website downtime and subsequent losses.
- Understand how site performance influences shoppers’ buying habits and what metrics retailers need to measure.
- Find cost effective and quick ways to deliver site search results that meet shoppers’ preferences and improve site usability.
While all online retailers have or will experience site downtime, they typically equate its impact on their businesses with lost sales. Lost sales, however, represent only a portion of the actual losses. The true cost of downtime includes increased customer service time, refunded and canceled orders, loss of customer loyalty, and the cost of bringing the site back online.
Systems failures not only result from failure of an application. They can be tied to failure of job functions, such as order processing, inventory updates and the integration of orders from online marketplaces such as Amazon.com.
When marketers have 10 critical applications or processes, even if each has an impressive 99.9 percent uptime, statistically this means that the expected downtime of the whole system is 1 percent. On an annual basis, that translates to 88 hours of downtime.
In monetary terms, an online store earning $10 million in revenue per year risks lost sales and associated costs of anywhere between $4,000 to $9,000 per hour (depending on specific company dynamics) when its business is incapacitated by a system outage. And given that it isn't uncommon for a company to generate 70 percent of annual sales during the two- to three-month holiday season, the total cost of 1 percent of annual downtime could be a staggering $800,000-plus.
Perform preholiday stress tests, documenting and diagramming all processes and job functions that are part of your overall e-commerce solution for identifying the possible points of system failure. Develop and document plans on how to correct and handle possible failures, and create contingency plans in the event a system failure occurs.
Do you know how many errors your customers encounter on your site on a daily basis? Unless you check web and database logs that show where and when errors occur on your site — such as during peak traffic — and track the impact each error has on customer behavior, you won't understand the impact systems errors have on your business.
Examples of systems errors include shoppers not being able to add items to shopping carts, broken links to landing pages within search engine results and system bugs. All of these errors can lead to site abandonment, which equals lost customers and lost revenues.
Regularly create reports and analyze error logs to understand where and when systems errors occur, how shoppers are impacted, and how to develop a plan on fixing bugs and the underlining issues that cause systems errors.
Site Search and Design
Site search can be a killer sales application, accounting for a significant portion of online sales. Tweaking the site search engine to enable suggestions of alternative products to search queries, perform spelling correction on search queries and enhance site navigation can significantly boost sales.
From a usability and site design perspective, retailers can quickly modify the checkout page to boost sales. Many retailers employ multipage checkout even though shoppers prefer a single page. Other “low-hanging enhancements” include moving important elements and information on the product page above the fold, having a lens feature so shoppers can zoom in on a product image by mousing over it, and installing a quick view with an “add to cart” option on the product search results page.
There are several open source tools that make incremental changes to a website easier and faster by removing the complexity of implementing changes through back-end coding, thereby allowing retailers’ marketing and merchandising staffs to revamp the presentation of existing material within a website.
The traditional approach to making changes to a website has been to undergo a site redesign. However, it’s better to continuously make incremental and measured changes and let shoppers decide what works for them. This way retailers’ websites will evolve from what they think their customers want into what really works.
When making these changes to your website, at the outset create a baseline for measuring success and a checklist to ensure all departments are on the same page and working toward the same goals.