Checklist for a Holiday-Ready E-commerce Site

November 17, 2014 Jason Miller

shopping cart mouseWith the holidays upon us, e-commerce retailers are fine-tuning their sites in preparation for Black Friday. Here’s a quick checklist to help make your 2014 Holiday Season brighter by gauging your site’s readiness. I’ve included several tips and tools for testing that have worked well for me in the past.

1. Is your site up to speed?

With 47% of users expecting a web page to load in less than two seconds, speed is crucial. Slower sites increase bounce rates and decrease conversions. Walmart found that for every one second page speed was improved, conversion rates increased up to 2%. Think about what that means to your bottom line. Holiday shoppers aren’t willing to wait for your site to load.

This brings up an interesting point when we talk about page load speeds. To your users, the page is complete when it appears visually ready and they can interact with it. A great way to measure this is www.webpagetest.org, which lets you compare your site against your competitors. This will help identify scripts and elements you can load later in the page cycle to improve performance.

We can’t really talk about speed and the holidays without talking about stress testing your site for the surge in traffic that peak season will bring. You want to make sure your web infrastructure and content delivery network are properly configured so you don’t experience any downtime. Properly load testing a site requires coordination with your CDN and IT teams to ensure you don’t unintentionally DDOS your own site.

2. Do you have a consistent user experience across channels and devices?

Tablet and mobile traffic has now eclipsed desktop traffic, according to Branding Brand’s Mobile Commerce Index for 2014. Today’s users often interact with multiple device types before they convert. The majority of emails – 65% – are opened on a smartphone or tablet. According to Limelight Networks, Inc., 80% of customers abandon a mobile site if they have a bad user experience.

Users expect a seamless experience between different devices. If you don’t optimize these first-touch customer experiences, you risk losing buyers. There are many different ways to address this issue, from responsive design to dedicated mobile sites, each with its own challenges. For instance, responsive design requires careful coding and CDN configuration to minimize download time while dedicated mobile sites need special attention paid to redirecting links based on device.

It’s all about reducing friction for the user as they travel down the conversion funnel. For mobile users, don’t use incompatible desktop features like hover and make sure email links are optimized for smaller screens. On the other side, make sure links shared via mobile open properly for desktop users.

Here are a few more things that work well no matter the device format: Limit the amount of form fields on checkout, put the search bar in an obvious place near the top of the page and use predictive analysis to help auto complete search queries.

3. Do you have the right merchandising and product mix?

Knowing the right products to offer and displaying these products first on your category pages increases conversions. For customers using SLI Learning Navigation, all category pages are automatically merchandised based on user behavior, such as clicks, conversions, sales and margin, to ensure that you display the most relevant products first.

Wondering what promotions or product mixes your competitors had last year for Black Friday? Try the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

4. Are you using gift finders?

At this time of year, you will have shoppers who aren’t your regular customers coming to your site to buy a gift. A parametric search lets you provide a guided shopping experience and walk the user down a path. A user might say she is shopping for a man, wants to spend $100 and wants the gift to be in sporting goods. This quickly gets the customer to relevant products. This type of search works well anywhere a guided experience is useful, such as a trip finder where filtering by region and price make it easier to see a large range of products.

5. Do you provide recommendations?

Customers appreciate a personalized experience while shopping. Being able to offer them other contextually relevant products enhances the customer experience and increases both conversion and cart size. When shoppers interact with the related products displayed on SLI Dynamic Product Banners, retailers are seeing a 10-20% increase in conversion rates.

As the customer moves through the site you can make more fine-grained recommendations. On the homepage, new customers might see “top sellers.” As they go deeper into a site, based on behavior, you can show recommendations like “customers who viewed this item also viewed” or “frequently bought together.” At the cart, you can suggest accessories related to the items they are buying, and at order confirmation, you have the opportunity to upsell again.

The most personalized recommendation you can offer is “recently viewed,” which performs really well. In this case, customers have shown an explicit interest in a product. If you make it easy to quickly jump back to that product – even if they come back to the site after a few minutes or a few days – it increases conversions dramatically.

My advice on recommendations is to test all the variances you can on the page to see which one preforms best. I would even test the call to action verbiage around the recommendation because context is very important to recommendations. Customers will value the recommendations more if they understand the logic of why you are showing the items.

To learn more about preparing for the holiday season, see a video of a webinar I recently presented on this subject.

May your season be bright, and your site bring in much revenue!

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