Christmas trading tips for ecommerce sites

For many retailers, Christmas planning started long ago. With the festive season fast approaching, now’s the time to finalise the peak trading plan and agree what actions will help you take advantage of the sharp spike in web traffic and sales. In this month’s blog I provide a hit list of actions that I have either used myself or know other ecommerce teams have successfully implemented.

Site performance

  1. Load test your servers and find the tipping point so you can simulate the impact of traffic spikes; if there are problems, work with your IT team to make improvements e.g. adding memory, clearing down redundant data.
  2. Consider adding additional servers for peace of mind (if you’re using virtualisation, spinning up additional virtual servers can be really quick).
  3. Run your key webpages through testing tools to assess page load efficiency – there are free tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and paid tools like Pingdom (from as little as $7 per month).
  4. Review the UX of your site on tablet/mobile – mobile traffic is growing and you don’t want to alienate a core section of your audience; make sure you test your site and content campaigns on key devices (if your mobile traffic is dominated by iOS, test on iPhone & iPad).
  5. Review the core purchase paths in detail and iron out any glitches (don’t assume they’re still working fine). A good example is forms as data entry issues increase exit rates; make sure you’re using good practice techniques like address look-up (Postcode Anywhere offers Capture+ which can help visitors quickly find their address).
  6. Sense check analytics data for screen resolution of visitors and make sure your key campaign messages are visible to as many people as possible.
  7. Consider removing some content to help reduce page size for faster loading e.g. large images.

Customer service

  1. Improve the delivery service e.g. increase next day cut-off times.
  2. Consider increasing the returns period to reflect gift purchasing cycles.
  3. Make sure your delivery & returns policy information is crystal clear and has been updated to reflect Christmas – hugely important for gift purchases so people know what they can do if the gift isn’t loved.
  4. Keep an eye on the weather and respond quickly – if it’s closing in, be sure to alert customers to any changes to delivery times/cut-off dates.
  5. Increase cover for email/phone/web chat/social media – you don’t want to let people down when a quick response is essential. Schuh ensures it can responds to tweets within 5 – 10 mins! (thanks to @mcmillanstu for that insight).
  6. Use (or add) a USP bar in the global navigation to promote key messages such as delivery cut off dates & returns policy.

Planning

  1. Increase stock cover – don’t just base it on last year’s sales, think about how quickly you’re growing and if anything, go over rather than under in your projections as it’s very very hard to get extra stock if you’re suddenly low.
  2. Create a content calendar that maps out campaigns/content/promotions week by week over the Christmas period – make sure everyone knows what is being done, when and across which channels.
  3. Plan for the worst case scenario – what if crazy weather stops key staff from getting to the office? Can they connect to key systems remotely to keep the ball rolling e.g. CMS to updates, launch content/campaigns.
  4. Christmas Day is now a key shopping day – make sure you’re site is ready for it and customers can get the support they need; if nobody is working, make sure this is made clear and expectations set.
  5. Web-to-store orders can go through the roof – make sure all teams are prepared for this, including store teams to cope with extra volume of people coming to store expecting to pick up their order quickly.
  6. Work out how you’re going to service customers in remote postal areas like Scottish Highlands; give them a clear service promise.
  7. Make sure you’ve got your reporting dashboards set-up for real-time analysis of KPIs – at Christmas you need to be responding quickly to changes.

Marketing & promotion

  1. Make sure people can create gift/wishlists that are portable across devices (account synchronisation); should be able to email/share these lists with friends and family.
  2. Consider being more aggressive in acquiring new customers before peak hits – you can absorb the higher CPA based on driving incremental sales during peak campaigns.
  3. Ensure any products that are out of stock or low on stock are removed promptly from paid advertising campaigns – helps reduce wasted click costs.
  4. Test a free delivery offer (if you don’t already offer this as standard) – sacrifice margin to remove a key barrier to purchase.
  5. Create a Christmas gift landing page to act as a hub and sell your proposition.
  6. Use ‘popular searches’ text links on the homepage and category pages for quick links to popular products.
  7. Identify products/services you can sell that don’t need a physical delivery e.g. vouchers, experiences etc. This means you don’t have a last order cut-off date as the product can be sent electronically.
  8. Map out product bundles that you can sell with a special price promotion to increase basket size e.g. for retailers selling gift wrapping, create a set that includes everything you need – wrapping paper, gift tags, ribbon, sellotape, scissors etc.
  9. Plan your affiliate channel promotions – voucher and discount code searches spike in December/January, so make sure you’ve got a plan in place to take advantage (unless of course your brand is staunchly against discounting).

For multi-channel retailers with stores, promote in-store delivery heavily after the last order date for home delivery has passed.

A few words of caution:

Most ecommerce sites put a code freeze in place usually no later than end of October to avoid making code changes that could destabilise the platform. After this freeze, changes are only made to the front-end to enable campaign and content delivery.

Don’t assume that everyone visiting your site either loves or celebrates Christmas. You need to cater for everyone, so don’t hijack the entire site, make sure it’s business as usual for those who don’t want to deck the halls. An example of enabling a content switch is the Guardian’s ‘toggle’ button that let visitors switch between a Royal Baby fest and a non-baby version of the paper.

Comments and questions

I appreciate that this is a summary list and doesn’t go into implementation details, so if you would like more info on any of these points please drop by and ask.

I’d welcome your comments, questions and suggestions. Please share this blog with anyone who you think would find it interesting/have something to add.