Is Your Site Ready for the Holidays?

Gian Genovesi

5 Questions for Your Holiday Readiness Checklist

1. Is Your Site Ready?

Site readiness may sound obvious enough, but there are things that even the best of retailers overlook.

According to a study conducted by Gomez, the average online shopper expects pages to load within two seconds, down from four seconds in 2006. More startling: after three seconds, up to 40% of shoppers can abandon your website.

There are a number of testing products and services which effectively gauge performance based on multitudes of factors and, frankly, you can never do too much testing and performance tuning. Upon testing, document, fix and retest any necessary functionality issues.

Once functionality has been fine-tuned, put a code freeze in place. This step will provide an extra layer of security and ensure that there is as little room for human error as possible.

In addition to any improvements made, double check that your hardware can still withstand full load, visitors and new or additional content.

2. Do You Have a Marketing Strategy?

While marketing strategies will vary depending on industry and targeted audiences, having a plan will allow your organization to better reach and relate to its consumers. If your business has already started to collect data on ecommerce site users, utilize that as a reference for all your campaign decisions.

Once you’ve gathered critical information such as how consumers are getting to your site, what they’re purchasing and if they’re abandoning carts; determine the goals for the 2013 holiday season. You’ll want to consider which social media platforms and services to leverage and ensure that each goal can be supported by all sales channels.

There’s no question that social media platforms give direct contact between shoppers and the brands they interact with most; however, email marketing has proven to be the most effective in customer acquisition.

If you have brick and mortar stores, strategize incentives for shoppers that make the most sense for what they want to accomplish and what saves you margin. Perhaps offer an in-store pick-ups, or free shipping for strategically relevant order values.

In addition to seasonal goals, you’ll also want to think about how to increase the customer lifetime value; you get them to convert, but how can you make his or her experience relevant enough to come back?

3. Is the Customer Experience Unified?

Across all of your sales channels, namely ecommerce, mcommerce and brick and mortar stores, can your customers easily find products at the same price? Do prices between your channels conflict? Do they drive traffic to the channels in which you are most profitable? If prices or promotions differ, managers need to consider if dissimilarities could deter consumers.

With regard to mcommerce and ecommerce, it’s imperative to create an environment which not only provides ease of use, but is truly device independent. Varying user groups will access your site from android and iOS tablets, smartphones and laptops; they’ll also be on a number of different browsers.

Your interactive commerce experiences should be identical, ensuring every consumer’s browsing and shopping experience is the same. In another instance, if your ecommerce store doesn’t currently offer a mobile component (which it really, really should), consider ways in which to do so.

When developing a mobile site, you’ll need to determine whether a responsive design is necessary, or if strictly a mobile template will suffice. In every scenario always have data to drive your decision and target your most strategically significant markets, those which will truly appreciate the effort put into a unified experience.

Also, it’s imperative to realize that this, in the big picture, is a marathon – not a sprint. Markets consistently change, shoppers’ tastes are constantly in flux, and at times the only thing that seems to remain constant is change. Embrace it!

4. Is Your Workforce Prepared?

Perfecting the ecommerce interface and customer experience is only really half of what needs to be addressed. In what will likely be an incredibly busy two months, your team needs to be ready as well.

Anticipating the bustle of the holidays, a training session or two may be the refresher that’s needed to be on top of your game. Knowledgeable staff members will guarantee that your customers will be happy and backend operations run smoothly.

In addition to educating personnel, is/are your distribution center/centers ready to handle the additional orders? Carrying a smidge of extra inventory, albeit expensive, can definitely help expedite the shipping process and makes lead times one less thing to worry about during the rush.

Additionally, one project which far too few organizations implement is integration. If your ecommerce system is fully integrated with your back-office management or enterprise resource planning system, you allow your customers to see real time information on the products they want to buy, and your order processing and fulfillment runs like a well-oiled, mechanical lawn Santa.

Integration points which make for seamless automation can include customer history, order processing and history, as well as inventory balances. Integrated systems also give sales representatives very easy access to information they’ll need, because the data is shown from where it’s meant to be stored.

5. Are you Mitigating Risk?

Though most will hope operations will dash as quickly and smoothly as a one horse open sleigh, things happen, and hoping all will go well isn’t a plan. Review your business’ disaster recovery plan. Does it include contingencies for instances in which a system goes down?

What happens in the event that your ecommerce site crashes, or if you’re unable to process orders? One way to combat these potential sale killers is to create a secondary operation plan which allows each system to operate independently of each other. Although integration is crucial, it shouldn’t be necessary for orders to be captured.

In addition to crashes, heightened response times and other threats to your customer service and support methods, ensure your ecommerce site is adhering to the standards of PCI compliance. While your users may never know if their privacy could be compromised, you wouldn’t want them to find out it was.

Gian Genovesi is a senior consultant with ecommerce design firm Briteskies

View the article as it originally appeared in Multichannel Merchant.

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