10 ecommerce sense checks before the Christmas sales frenzy

By now it’s too late to make fundamental changes to your peak trading plan (e.g. if you haven’t planned stock, that boat has most likely sailed) but it’s a frenetic period of activity in ecommerce trading teams to make last minute refinements and react to ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns’. In this blog I pick out 10 simple checks that ecommerce teams should be doing to iron out the little bumps that can cause customer frustration or lose you potential sales.

I know it’s not an exhaustive list but I’ve picked these out as actions that are often overlooked when focusing on the big campaign planning and execution activities. Feel free to add in your tips in the comment section below.

1. Monitor and react to competitor USP messaging

Sense check what your direct competitors are doing in terms of brand and marketing messaging; if they’re offering free delivery on all orders, a ‘free delivery over £50’ on your site isn’t going to cut it unless your product pricing is advantageous, or you know that 99% of orders are above that threshold. Even if the latter is the case, the persuasive impact of ‘free delivery on all orders’ could hurt you.

It’s a time of high flux for marketing content, so check daily – on the website, in emails, on social media, paid search etc. You shouldn’t let competitor activity dictate your strategy but it should most definitely inform it. And make sure you and key team members are signed up to competitor marketing campaigns.

2. Flag out of stock products in Wishlists

Wishlists are popular during gift season and a common issue is not updating lists when products go out of stock or become obsolete. Ensure the wishlist is updated based on current stock status with user-friendly messages:

  • Out of stock – add option to ‘email me when back in stock’ and show an expected delivery date (be clear if it’s not expected in time to make the last order cut off date)
  • Obsolete – remove from list and display message saying ‘X was removed from your list as it’s no longer available’ – ideally use a recommendations engine to suggest replacements.

3. Make sure affiliate partners remember your campaigns

The big affiliates will be coaxed and teased by many retailers, so don’t assume that just because you’ve shared your campaign assets, they’re going to be front of mind. Maintain regular dialogue with the affiliates and keep giving them reasons to love your promotions; surprise them with bonus commissions for blitz events and unique promotions that add value.

And don’t forget that revenue is what motivates most affiliate sites; if they’re doing well, tell them and show them what they’re earning + how much more they could with a little more love. For slow performers, show them a league table that highlights the earnings potential if they pull out all the stops.

4. Do your promotions work?

Have you created a matrix of all promotion permeations and tested each use case? By this, I mean do you know the various combinations of line level, order level and shipping level promotion that can be applied by customers, and do they work as the customer would expect? Do the exclusions and inclusions work correctly?

This is time consuming but worthwhile, as it will reduce customer frustration and delight the Customer Service team by reducing the volume of inbound emails/calls querying redemption issues.

I’ve seen exit rate spikes in checkout when promotions misfire e.g. an automatic promotion at order level is wiped when the customer enters a promotion code for a specific item.

If you know a promotion is working well, think of ways to extend the reach e.g. sharing it via a popular forum like Moneysavingexpert. Of course, always respect the rules and values of the forum and don’t be a spammer.

5. Do your new campaign landing pages work on all devices/browsers?

With more sites going responsive, this is becoming less of an issue but it’s still important to validate the UX across core devices. Market data shows that mobile share of traffic and sales is increasing rapidly, both on Android and iOS, so it’s essential that you check pages render correctly on different devices and that the content interactions are seamless e.g. CTA button sizes are optimal based on device resolution.

6. Are features disabled when not available?

People are generally in a rush at Christmas, so it’s important not to put dead-ends in their way. A good example is Live Chat, which typically doesn’t run 24×7 due to agent availability. Ensure it’s clear to users that when something isn’t available, it’s inactive with information on when they can use it. This is really important when you’re running international sites that cut across time zones as you don’t want a local market having a poor experience because Live Chat is always showing as unavailable during their peak hours.

One option is to hide the Live Chat links and prompts unless there is at least one active agent, or display an offline mode with details of when it will come online again. An offline mode could also include a ‘Please call me back’ option so that people who want support can request it.

7. Are all customer notifications working?

Assumptions are dangerous. The fallout from failure of a key notification is amplified during peak e.g. order confirmation texts aren’t working.

Make sure you’re regularly doing dummy runs as a customer and checking off each notification that should fire – text, emails, online account updates etc.

If anything is broken or not working as it should, jump straight on it. I once discovered a Client’s new customer email program had stopped working, so no new customers were receiving activation campaigns or promotions. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget to check notifications. The ideal scenario is having alerts to flag errors, or reports that monitor volumes so you can quickly identify sudden dips.

8.Are low/out of stocks excluded from recommendations?

I know, default rules should already be established that exclude zero stock items from recommendations but have you reviewed the threshold for removing items during peak? At this time of year, more people add to basket and typically stock isn’t deprecated until purchase, although some sites reserve stock for a limited time and display this to the user.

The last thing you want during peak is for recommendations to appear and then the user click through to an item that has just sold out because your sales rate is faster than usual. So double check rules based recommendations and tweak thresholds if required.

9. Are items that can’t be delivered in time clearly badged?

Some items like personalised products or made to measure furniture often carry long lead times (up to 28 days in some cases). For any item that will fall outside the Christmas delivery cut-off, make sure this is clearly communicated to your customers across the site i.e. a product badge on the list and details page.

10. Are gift-wrap options obvious?

Make it clear from the moment someone lands on the site which products are eligible for gift-wrap, the options available and associated costs. If you offer free branded wrapping, promote this as a key benefit to shopping with you online. It also helps to provide an image of a gift-wrapped item for context, give people a visual clue of what they can expect.

Comments and questions

I appreciate that this is a summary list and you could add a lot more ‘checklist’ tips but these are the ones that I find most often overlooked as people focus on the bigger picture of sales targets.

If you could give one tip to people for a last minute sanity check for an ecommerce site ahead of the Christmas trading frenzy, what would it be and why?

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.

Peak trading preperation