The ecommerce pro's guide to the holiday shopping season
As an ecommerce professional, you know that prepping for the holidays is a complex process that requires collaboration between marketing, product, engineering, and customer support teams.
Online retail revenue is projected to grow to $5.4 trillion dollars over 2022—and more in the years to come.
It’s more important than ever to plan ahead and make every customer touchpoint count.
This ecommerce holiday preparedness article is designed to help you assess your strategy’s strengths and weaknesses, and to offer resources for filling in the gaps. Here are five ways you can holiday-proof your digital experience strategy this season.
1. Check in on your checkout flow
It’s important to remember that just because a customer has entered your checkout flow doesn’t mean they have high intent to purchase. The smallest inconvenience could cause them to leave for a competitor. Here are some areas to focus on when optimizing your checkout flow:
Minimizing friction during checkout:
Identifying and eliminating friction in your checkout flow can help lower the chances that a would-be customer will leave as the result of some minor error or inconvenience. Analyze and address checkout flow friction by:
Creating a path analysis in Google Analytics to visualize user paths with page views and events, in order to understand how users journey through your checkout flow.
Using your digital experience analytics software of choice (we are, of course, partial to FullStory) to visualize the leaky spots in your conversion funnel. Then, use functionalities such as Session Replay to determine what’s actually happening. Are people getting impatient with the length of the checkout process? Are they dead clicking on a product thumbnail? Use this data to prioritize the fixes that are affecting the most people.
Reducing cart abandonment
According to Statista, the cart abandonment rate is over 80% on mobile and over 66% on desktop. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce cart abandonment rates. Here are some things you can do to combat cart abandonment on your site or app:
The top reason users report abandoning carts is unexpected shipping costs. Be transparent when it comes to shipping, or consider offering free or reduced shipping during the holiday rush.
Keep the “back” button fully functional to allow transition between browsing and checkout/cart. If a user feels trapped within a checkout process and can’t easily navigate away from it, they’re more likely to simply close the tab.
Test adding a progress indicator bar to your checkout process so that users can understand how close they are to completing their purchase. Progress bars appeal to the idea of “endowed progress”—we are more likely to complete a task if we are provided with artificial progress towards this task.
Make it easy to “save” a shopping cart for a guest to return to later.
When possible, follow up with cart abandoners in the form of emails and dynamic ads.
2. Set your sights on site performance
Online shopping is a competitive landscape, and a slow-loading website or app is a quick way to lose would-be customers. While measuring site performance is important all year, it’s especially critical during the holiday season when websites and apps experience higher-than-normal traffic.
What should you do to improve site performance?
Speed test: Run a quick speed test for an analysis of your site speed on desktop and mobile.
Load testing: Before heading into the holidays, it’s also a good idea to run load testing on your website with a tool like LoadRunner by Micro Focus or Loader. These tools simulate the traffic of thousands of website visitors at once and help to identify areas where performance suffers, to address the issues before the real traffic pours in.
Site monitoring: Consider setting up a site monitoring tool that will send an alert (generally via email, text, or custom integration) if your site goes down—especially with an influx of holiday shoppers. Check out free or subscription-based tools like Uptime Robot or StatusCake that will monitor your site at 5-minute intervals from several locations to make sure it’s behaving properly.
Turn up the volume on your user behavior data.
See FullStory’s Digital Experience Intelligence solution for yourself. Try FullStory for free — for as long as you'd like.
3. Be proactive with digital holiday promotions
It’s never too early to start strategizing your holiday promotions (and the sooner, the better). Here are a few tips and resources for running smart campaigns:
Use UTM parameters
UTMs are a tagging system that measures where web traffic is coming from, shedding light on the effectiveness of marketing efforts. Use these in emails and social campaigns leading up to and throughout holiday promotions in order to know what traffic is a direct result of those efforts.
Run A/B tests
Testing is a great way to learn what resonates with your audience and iterate on those insights in future marketing efforts. When it comes to your holiday promotions, any number of tests can be conducted, including:
Visual tests such as CTA button color, product image sizes, etc.
Content tests such as copy variations, personalization, email author, subject, etc.
Timing tests such as time of day and frequency of social posts and email sends
Take into account the risks and rewards of running A/B tests during the holiday season as learnings may not be applicable to future tests during the off-season.
Customize email marketing
Incorporating email into your holiday campaign strategy is a no-brainer: it’s a free way to reach your most engaged customers. Employ some simple strategies to make sure your email marketing counts:
Customization: Use the data you have to personalize your marketing emails as much as possible by incorporating your customers’ names, recommendations based on past purchases, and relevant special offers.
Re-engagement: Engage dormant email leads with nurture tracks that aim to wake them up. This might include “we miss you” messaging or limited-time offers.
Re-up retargeting ads
Retargeting ads are a way to reach people who have already visited your site, and the audience’s familiarity with your brand makes these ads highly effective.
It’s no surprise that Facebook ad prices skyrocket during the holiday season: customers’ newsfeeds are especially valuable real estate starting as early as September, with cost per click rising nearly $0.15 above the average by December. Make sure you’re maximizing your Facebook ad budget with holiday strategies like additional placements, custom audiences and special offers.
Get ahead of code freeze
Code freeze is a website development tactic that prevents site architecture from being edited or modified during a certain period and is common during the holiday season. Many ecommerce, product, and software engineers implement a code freeze to prevent checkout bugs or other poor experiences when anticipating high-traffic periods like the holiday rush.
While the need for code freezes can be controversial today, the one thing that’s certain is that you shouldn’t let it stop you from improving your site experience. Get ahead of code freeze with real-time insights. You can analyze digital experience data to increase conversions and grow revenue with FullStory’s DXI solution and native apps before the holiday code freeze. Having digital intelligence insights can help you:
Monitor your checkout flow ahead of the holiday season
Identify indicators of UX and UI issues to fix quickly and avoid revenue losses
Better understand points of friction using heatmaps and signals
4. Expect the unexpected this holiday shopping season
No matter how excellent your digital holiday strategy is, unexpected issues are still likely to crop up. While you can’t predict exactly what those problems will be, you can outline a response plan for any situation. Here are ways to help with communication, bug fixes, and customer enablement.
Internal: Employees tend to be scattered during the holidays, and it can be difficult to keep track of who is on or offline on any given day. How will you efficiently notify the appropriate person or team if something on your site or app breaks at a critical moment? Your internal communication plan can be as simple as a spreadsheet of on-call employee(s) on days when your office is closed, along with info on what channels they’ll need to monitor during their shift.
External: The second part of your plan should detail how to communicate with customers in the event of an issue. This might include a pop-up on your site, an email to the affected customers (if possible), and social media updates. Identify who would be responsible for each element of the plan and ensure they know what to do in a time-sensitive situation.
Bug identification plan
Bugs are inevitable. It’s how you handle, track and address them that determines how much or little they impact customers. For most teams, the key is to unify these processes into a single tracking tool where bugs can be monitored and managed.
Once you’ve established what that software will be and have achieved product adoption from the team, you will be able to: identify and define bugs, organize and secure them, and set up processes for tracking bugs.
Customer enablement plan
The holiday season is already a sprint for your customer support team; lighten their load by giving customers the resources to answer their own questions whenever possible.
Ask tenured support team members about the most common customer questions from past seasons and incorporate these into an easy-to-find FAQ on your website.
Consider adding a chatbot to your site that can answer basic questions automatically.
Don’t force customers to hunt for shipping and return info; make it prominent on your website.
Ensure that your entire team has the tools, processes, and protocols they need to be successful.
Last but not least, remember that the holidays are a busy, stress-filled season. Take steps to foster an empathetic culture and prevent burnout among your support team members.
5. Your mobile shopping experience matters
If you’re not already convinced of the importance of the mobile shopping experience, this stat should help you get there:
Last year, before the holiday season, 79% of mobile users made an online purchase using their mobile devices.
If your online store isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re very likely to be leaving money on the table this holiday season. Here are two key considerations:
Page load speed: 1 in 4 visitors will abandon a website that takes longer than 4 seconds to load. There’s no singular quick fix for speeding up your mobile site, but there are a few steps you can take to improve your mobile experience leading up to the holidays.
Browsers and screen sizes: To ensure that your site renders correctly across all browsers and devices, you’re going to have to check in on your customer experience. Use your phone to go through the checkout flow on the top browsers. Do this from all smartphones, and tablets. Note and address any issues.
Curious about how you can use FullStory to level up your shoppers’ digital experience this holiday season? Request a demo today.