In 2016, online sales from the holiday season reached over $658B, according to the National Retail Federation, and are expected to increase this year. Even people who don’t like to shop in brick and mortar stores are smitten with online stores. This is especially true during the holiday season. Not only are you able to explore a wide variety of products from different locations, cultures and countries, but the convenience of home delivery makes it even more attractive to consumers.
Most merchants plan well in advance for this important season. Email marketing, social media, blog posts, and huge discounts are just some of the planned and implemented marketing strategies. However many merchants don’t consider if their systems are ready for the extra load. Slow page loading, frequent error messages and even loss of sales revenue via abandoned carts are just some of the problems that can crop up.
E-retailers must realize that optimizing their site for the holidays is equally as important as creating a marketing campaign. Below are ways to prepare your online store for the holiday shopping season.
Step 1: Research
The first step is finding out how many people visit your site at any given time. There are a number of basic reports that most eCommerce programs provide. Additionally Google Analytics has a fairly in-depth reporting capability that can be used to veiw visitor traffic. Run the reports from last year’s holiday season, and you’ll be able to make a fair assessment of the site traffic and which pages were the most popular. Do you notice any traffic patterns? Are there peak days and times? Your systems should have enough resources to easily exceed capacity needs at peak times.
Step 2: Load Testing
The next step is to simulate an increase in visitors to the store. There are plenty of 3rd party programs that help with this. One free and quite popular tool to use is Siege, which can be downloaded here. This will allow you to find out if your servers are capable of handling the extra traffic. Additionally, your host should be able to provide stats on CPU usage, disk space and Memory in the site’s cPanel screen. This will help you make informed decisions. A talk with your host regarding any red flags will help resolve most of the problems.
Step 3: Upgrade to Cloud Hosting
If you are still using shared hosting, now is the time that you moved to the Cloud. Shared hosting is the cheapest and most popular hosting solution that can suit a tight budget, but comes with downfalls. Using a shared hosting solution means that the user must share the server resources with other users. Which means that if one user overloads the server, all users will suffer from low speed, limited disk space, memory issues, and downtime. This is the LAST thing you want to happen to your website during the busy holiday season!
That’s why it’s smart to invest into cloud hosting, where you won’t have to deal with the above issues. The biggest advantage of cloud hosting is that it allows you to easily scale resources when needed. Aspiration Hosting has designed its Cloud Hosting packages to suit the hosting requirements of different types of businesses. You can easily upgrade the hosting plan on demand.
Step 4: Upgrade to Dedicated Cloud Servers
You might find that this time around your hosting package is not going to be enough. In fact you might have to upgrade your plan to Dedicated Cloud Servers. Select a hosting company that has servers in different parts of the world. This helps distribute the traffic across different servers, minimizing impact on the site while maximizing on smoother customer shopping experience. At Aspiration Hosting, our servers are located in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia.
Step 5: Content Delivery Network
Step 6: Don’t Make Big Changes to Your Store
It is preferable not to make any significant changes to the store during the holiday season. This is because if there are any bugs or other issues, your store might have to close shop until the problem is resolved. This might take anything from hours to days causing you to lose potential customers. It is quite critical to freeze code changes by the end of October, if not sooner.
Step 7: Responsive Themes
More than 70% of online shoppers shop from their smartphones. With such a large demographic, having a responsive theme for your store is critical. This way, your customers can shop conveniently from anywhere, especially during the busy holiday season. Ensure your store is 100% responsive from a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Check out Nextopia, a leading eCommerce solutions provider, to make your site more intuitive to customers navigating and searching your website.
Step 8: Have Fun!
Let’s not forget that it’s Christmas – a time of giving, family and fun. Set up your homepage with Christmassy banners, products and other virtual Christmas decorations. For example, include an animated Rudolph running in the search area of your store. Or snow falling in certain areas of the store. You can be as creative as you want, just don’t go overboard on the decorations.
Step 9: Gift Wrapping, Wish List, and Gift Finder
Wrapping gifts can be a chore. So why not increase average order value by adding a gift wrapping option for your products? You can take this even further and provide a selection of different wrapping papers for your customers.
Another lifesaving feature is a wish list for people to upload their gift giving ideas and save products they like. This makes it easier for them to buy and compare products. Add Nextopia’s Gift Finder to help your shoppers identify and find all of the right products for their loved ones.
Step 10: Free Delivery and Faster Shipping
Let’s face it, people hate paying for shipping. According to research, 9/10 consumers said that free shipping was the FIRST thing they check before even browsing the product pages.
Along with free shipping, customers always look at how fast they will receive the products. A faster shipping option (i.e.same day delivery) is a great incentive for those last minute shoppers.
Step 11: Inventory Stock Check
The final but most important step is keeping up with the inventory stock. You can either do this manually, or sign up for a program that automates quantity in your store. Running out of products early should never be an option, irrespective of whether you sell them yourself or drop-ship the products.
Some careful research and planning can help ensure a smooth, busy and prosperous Christmas season. Start now –the Christmas season is almost here!
Nilofer Taher is the Content Creator at Aspiration Hosting – a high-performance US based Cloud hosting company whose main focus is providing Magento Hosting solutions as well as other PHP Applications like SimpleMachines Forum (SMF), WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. Our hosting packages are designed for all types of online businesses with special insistence on 99% downtime. Our customer service is unparalleled with 24x7x365 days highly qualified trained engineers at your beck and call.