10 Tips to Prepare Your Online Store for the Holidays

The COVID pandemic decimated traditional retail, while eCommerce continues to grow.
The COVID pandemic decimated traditional retail, while eCommerce continues to grow.

Is Your Website Ready to Take on the 2020 Holiday Shopping Rush AND the “New Normal” of COVID-19?

Unlike a local retail store, online shops stay open 24/7 and can cater to customers unbound by location.
Unlike a local retail store, online shops stay open 24/7 and can cater to customers unbound by location.

Much like their traditional ‘brick and mortar’ counterparts, online businesses can expect a serious increase in traffic in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. However, unlike physical stores, where their respective customer bases are limited by the surrounding location, eCommerce is unbound by such restrictions as location and store hours. Shoppers from all across the state, country, and even the world (for those who cater to international business) can visit your store anytime. This means a greater potential for more views, more income, higher conversion rates, and a chance to close out the year big on sales figures–just like how ‘brick and mortar’ shops rely on Black Friday sales to earn their nut for the year.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, US eCommerce sales shot up to a record 44% increase during Q2 and holiday shopping is slated to surge 34% year over year for the 2020 season. With the major holiday shopping boom about to take place in the coming weeks, now would be a good time to review your website and prepare to take on the mass influx of new visitors and prospective customers that will be heading your way.

Here are 10 preemptive measures you can take to ready your online store for the holidays.

#1: Overestimate the Holiday Traffic

Like airports and highways, the Internet also experiences a mass exodus of holiday travelers.
Like airports and highways, the Internet also experiences a mass exodus of holiday travelers.

The Christmas holiday season is the #1 busiest time for travel and in 2019, AAA reported that over 115 million Americans made their annual pilgrimages by air or by automobile. You can imagine just how hectic those airports and highways must’ve been–unless, you yourself was among the 115+ million. In that case, you know all too well from firsthand experience. In this sense, your website is no different than an airport or major state highway; time and money can both be lost without preparation and planning. Slow websites are the kiss of death for online businesses and are the #1 cause of high bounce rates. Shoppers expect pages to load in under 2 seconds; any slower and they’re bound to go elsewhere. Make sure your website is capable of handling extreme bursts of traffic, even if your past records indicate otherwise. It’s always best to overestimate the amount of traffic your website could possibly see rather than underestimate, which is practically an open invite for your visitors to spend their time (and, most importantly, their money) someplace else. Or worse, your direct competitor. Speaking of which…

#2: Observe the Competition

If there's a dollar to be made, someone's going to figure out how to do it--and there will be someone else there to take it.
If there’s a dollar to be made, someone’s going to figure out how to do it–and there will be someone else there to take it.

Chances are, you’re selling in a field that’s heavily populated with other retailers of all different sizes–from small independent shops to regional chains, up to major big box corporations. After all, even those major big box corporations had to start from somewhere. Regardless of the size of business or brand recognition (or lack thereof), it’s important to keep close eye on your competitors. Pay attention to certain sales or deals they’re running. Take note of how they dress or present themselves for the holiday season. Some go overboard, some are subtle, some might not even take the opportunity to revamp themselves for the season. There are opportunities to be had and on the busiest shopping time of the year (especially, this year), it would not be in your best interest to simply rest on your laurels.

#3: Go Mobile

Mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets have overtaken desktop computers as the most preferred way to browse the Internet.
Mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets have overtaken desktop computers as the most preferred way to browse the Internet.

Mobile devices account for nearly half of the world’s total Internet traffic. In fact, it’s highly likely that you’re reading this article from your phone, laptop, or tablet computer. As mobile devices are far more commonplace than they were a decade ago and as mobile connectivity has gotten more advanced as it was even 5 years ago, some websites have even skipped past the desktop design phase and placed all of their emphasis on smartphone and tablet viewing. Responsive web design automatically adjusts for mobile and desktop viewing. It is Google approved, can lower website maintenance costs by having a single do-it-all page as opposed to a secondary dedicated mobile version, provides visitors with a seamless user experience, and can help boost your organic SEO efforts.

#4: Focus Your Marketing Efforts

Focus your marketing efforts to take advantage of the rush of new visitors who will come to your site during the holiday shopping season.
Focus your marketing efforts to take advantage of the rush of new visitors who will come to your site during the holiday shopping season.

Billions of dollars are spent on advertising and marketing throughout the year. You’re bombarded by it everywhere you go. On TV, on the radio, on the computer, in magazines and in newsprint, on outdoor signage and highway billboards to even clothing. In anticipation for the busiest shopping season of the year, it makes sense that companies double down their efforts during this time. Now, not many of us have the unlimited financial resources of Amazon or Walt Disney but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not worth putting forth an effort to assemble a marketing strategy for the holidays. There’s a lot that can be done organically, with little-to-no extra cost to you. Work on adjusting your website’s metatags and SEO content so that it’ll rank higher in Google and the other major search engines. Do your keyword research and exploit the most effective and efficient ways of getting them out there to help broaden your audience. Perhaps, open a social media account and begin to build an online community. Direct random visitors to your website through the use of landing pages that are seen and highlighted by search engines. Organic marketing is an excellent way to kickstart a dedicated advertising campaign or program and with the holiday shopping season just around the corner, that means plenty of first-time visitors and on-the-fence shoppers that can be converted into long-term loyal customers.

#5: Clean Up Your Website

Cleaning up web clutter and junk code can give your website a boost in loading speed and performance.
It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it.

In relation to points #1 and #3 on this list, cleaning your website of excessive clutter can not only help with improving site performance, it can also provide visitors and shoppers with a quick, easy, and painless user experience. Get rid of redundant and unnecessary code that can cause usability problems and slow loading times. Eliminate junk files and outdated material such as obsolete images and media or temporary pages. Lower the resolution (or change image format, if necessary) on large display images. Retail websites don’t need basic graphics set at ready-to-print 600dpi resolutions, especially since most visitors are viewing your site VIA mobile (see point #3). You may also want to think about doing a light revamp of your website’s design. Do small tweaks and adjustments to layout. It’s probably not a good idea to go for a major website overhaul right now and expect it to be ready in time for this holiday season (these things do take time, you know) but a slight polish here and there can have a dramatic effect on the user experience, as well as SEO ranking. Update any and all plugins, fix or delete broken links, maybe even look into better and faster web hosting. All of these fixes can impact your website’s performance which, in turn, can result in better sales and higher conversions.

#6: Update Your Security

Make sure that your SSL Certificates are in order.
Make sure that your SSL Certificates are in order.

Just as retail stores are vulnerable to thieves and shoplifters, online web businesses can fall victim to malicious attacks from hackers and pirates. Since July 2018, Google has made it a mandatory requirement for all business websites to have an SSL Certificate. An up-to-date SSL Certificate puts wary shoppers at ease that their sensitive data will not be compromised and Google itself considers the use of SSL Certificates when ranking websites by order. Make sure you pay attention to the expiration date(s) on your SSL Certificates and if they are out-of-date or set to expire soon, it is imperative that you address these deficiencies immediately. A security breach is something that you definitely don’t want hanging over your head, your name, your branding, and your reputation. Target, Chipotle, and Yahoo! should’ve been more careful with their data security measures.

#7: Get Help

Distribute the increased workload by hiring more help for the holidays.
Distribute the increased workload by hiring more help for the holidays.

This complements our earlier point #1 about preparing for big spikes in holiday traffic. Part of the preparation process is to make sure your business is adequately staffed in order to prevent being inundated. You might want to hire more staff members to answer customer questions, fulfill orders, and evenly distribute the increased workload. Make sure you do this ahead of time so that your new hires can be formally introduced to your company’s operating procedures. Nothing deters shoppers like long wait periods and non-communication. Your website may be in top shape, performance and functionality-wise but the human aspect can still contribute to high bounce rates.

#8: Get Into the Spirit

You don't need to go all Clark Griswold with the holiday decorations, but some themed decor on your site can help get your visitors in the spirit.
You don’t need to go all Clark Griswold with the holiday decorations, but some themed decor on your site can help get your visitors in the spirit.

As part of your seasonal website preparation efforts, consider doing some holiday decorating, just as a physical retail storefront would. Showing a little holiday-themed flair can help put random visitors in the mood to look around–and eventually, make a purchase (or several). This can be done relatively easily with holiday-themed graphics and images, color schemes, and select wording. At the same time, be careful not to oversaturate your website with holiday themes. Gimmicks like CSS effects and additional Javascript can create some very amusing visual effects, but these can also add empty calories to your website’s code. Thus, slowing down your website’s loading times and all of the aforementioned dangerous side effects that go along with that. Dress up and decorate your website, but don’t go so over-the-top in that it could be detrimental to the user experience.

#9: Know This Season’s Shipping Deadlines

COVID-19 adds a whole new set of challenges in shipping and order fulfillment.
COVID-19 adds a whole new set of challenges in shipping and order fulfillment.

Get familiar with the shipping rates and ship times of your major carriers. This will help you organize and streamline your shipping process, as well as ensure that customers will receive their items in a timely manner with enough leeway to make adjustments to their orders or (if necessary) return or exchange items. This is especially important this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current situations with the US Postal Service. This also affects domestic USPS alternatives UPS and FedEx, Amazon’s own delivery services, and DHL international (when applicable). It might also be wise to adjust your business’ holiday season return and exchange programs, accordingly.

#10: Remember What Happened Last Season

Think back to last year's holiday shopping season; what you did and what your competitors did.
Think back to last year’s holiday shopping season; what you did and what your competitors did.

It was only a year ago and a lot has changed in the world since then. But still, any historical data that can be used for reference is an advantage to you rather than going in blind. Think back to your last holiday season. Was it successful? Did you make profit? What problems did you encounter? Keeping records of previous seasons can help you make better decisions and predictions. But, as things are in life, just because things worked once before is in no way a guarantee that they’ll work again in the future. Instead, analyze your data and adjust accordingly to current events and current industry and market trends. If you haven’t before, try and research your competitors’ previous seasonal outings and compare and contrast with your own data. This is where you’ll form your battle plan for the 2020 holiday shopping season.

One Last Nugget of Advice

The world of retail is a high-stakes game of virtual chess. It takes calculated strategy, anticipation, instinct and above all else, some luck on your side. Even so, no one has the clairvoyance to 100% accurately predict the outcome, nor the infinite variables that could have a detrimental impact on said outcome. Expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. For many businesses, Q4 is the most profitable time of the year. If you wish to capitalize on the year’s best chance of higher traffic, visibility, and income, stay alert and ensure that your website has the performance, ease of use, security and stability to soldier on and push through the holiday season. This year, a holiday season that now has to deal with the growing pains and adjustments of COVID-19 and the New Normal.

At Diztinct, we are dedicated experts in design, development and marketing that don’t believe in the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Every aspect of our services–from graphic design and logo illustration, to platform development and web design, to marketing and advertising–is custom-tailored to suit your business needs and the needs of your customers. We’re here to make you stand out from the pack; to give you the cutting edge, to make you distinct. We are Diztinct.
Contact us at Diztinct.com to learn more about our services and pricing.

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