The Holiday and Christmas shopping season is almost upon us. While many retailers will have plans in place, there’s always a few last-minute fixes and strategies to improve seasonal performance.
With a little testing and some small changes, you can improve site performance and help to convert more of your visitors.
SaleCycle data shows how Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season impact on online sales volumes, with the number of transactions almost 80% higher than average in November and December than the rest of the year.
With so many more people shopping online at this time of year, it’s important to be in a position to make the most of the extra traffic.
Here are 19 simple tips and tweaks which can still be carried out in time for the busiest shopping season.
1 Can Your Site Handle Traffic Spikes?
Can your site stand up to the extra volumes of traffic that may come your way? Even the biggest ecommerce brands have suffered in the past, becoming overwhelmed to the extent that sites crash altogether.
If an ecommerce site slows down, this can be enough to deter would-be customers from making a purchase.
This is why it’s best to test and find the limits of your site now, while you have a chance to make some changes.
By performing a load test, you can make sure that the website can withstand large surges in traffic. Indeed, there are lots of free tools which can simulate traffic spikes, so you can see how your site responds.
2 The Need for Speed
Ensuring that your site can take any extra weight is one thing, but it’s also important to focus on loading speed.
According to Google, as page load time goes from one to five seconds, the probability that visitors will leave increases by 90%
3 Check Out Your Competitors’ Emails
This is worth doing at any time of year, as it allows you to see what other retailers are up to, and can provide some useful inspiration.
In the holiday season, when email volumes are higher, you can learn a lot, and adjust your email marketing in response.
4 Look at Ways to Incentivise Repeat Purchases
With more people shopping online, the holiday season is a great opportunity for customer acquisition.
If customers are buying from you in this period, it’s important to think of ways to encourage them to come back for more.
A strong post-purchase email strategy is one way to do this, with smart product recommendations and timely messages.
Another tactic is to offer promotions which incentivise people to return to the site later.
One way is to give gift cards for purchases. This encourages people to buy in the first place, and also gives people a reason to return to your site.
Last year, Apple did just this on Black Friday, as an alternative to discounting.
5 Give People a Reason to Come Back
Promotional formats like advent calendars are a good way to maintain customer interest, and encourage repeat visits during the Christmas shopping season.
For example, Amazon ran ’12 days of deals’ last year, which offered discounts in different departments every day.
6 Test Your Checkout Process
Problems with your checkout process can seriously damage your performance during busy periods, so it’s important to identify any issues and quick fixes.
Even close to the shopping season, there’s still time to make some simple changes which can make a difference.
Look at your analytics, customer feedback, and any user testing to identify areas of your checkout which may be hammering your conversion rates.
Even a small piece of microcopy to explain tricky form fields or guide users can make a difference.
7 React to Trends with PPC
Paid search ads can be changed quickly, allowing you to respond to seasonal trends and pull in more customers.
If you’re stocking one of the season’s most wanted gifts, then PPC can help to pull people in.
8 Attract Last Minute Shoppers
Lots of shoppers leave it to the last minute, just before Christmas, before they buy presents.
Google finds that searches for ‘where to buy’ peak around December 23 as last online delivery day passes and they have to find stores that stock what they need.
For online retailers, it pays to be able to sell as close up to Christmas Day as possible. When competing sites may have stopped selling, this can be a chance to grab some extra custom.
Of course, you have to be able to deliver in time, or have local stores which can fulfil these orders, but it can give you a big advantage.
9 Look out for Bad Weather
Bad weather is a factor which can disrupt the Christmas shopping season for customers and retailers alike.
Some years have seen snow and massive disruption to deliveries as a result.
If this is the case, be ready to use clear on-site messaging so that customers are kept informed of how weather may affect deliveries.
10 Provide Clear Information on Delivery Times
The closer it gets to Christmas, the more delivery timing becomes a factor when customers are considering a purchase.
If you let customers down by failing to deliver in time for Christmas, then they’re unlikely to be forgiving, so it’s vital to provide clear information on when you can and can’t deliver.
Delivery timescales should be clear before customers place an order, and ideally well before they reach the checkout.
Placing clear messaging on homepages and around the site is an excellent way to make sure the message gets to visitors.
In addition, countdown timers can be used on product and basket pages to add a sense of urgency while communicating the message clearly.
11 Free Delivery
Shoppers consider delivery before buying, and free delivery is an attractive proposition for most.
According to an Advantec survey, free delivery was the most important consideration for 49% of respondents.
In a competitive shopping season, offering free delivery can give you the edge over your competitors.
If you do offer this, clear messaging around the site reinforces the message and can help to convert more visitors. Here, ASOS makes this clear on its product pages.
Of course, costs matter, and you don’t have to provide free delivery for all orders. Instead, it can be used as a carrot to tempt people to spend a little bit more.
Here, Body Shop has a delivery threshold and encourages shoppers to add more items to qualify.
12 Show Clear Returns Information
Returns policies affect a customer’s decision whether or not to make a purchase, and even more so during the Christmas shopping season.
People are buying gifts for people, perhaps unsure of whether they’ll like them, and whether they’ll fit.
This means they need the reassurance that items can be returned easily and without hassle if they need to.
It’s a potential driver of sales, so make returns information easy to find for customers, and if you offer easy and extended returns, shout about it.
As with free delivery, easy or free returns can be used as a key message across the site. Here, Joseph Joseph adds this to the site header, along with messaging on free delivery and guarantees.
13 Offer Extended Returns
Customers begin buying relatively early in the season. Indeed, some of the more organized shoppers have already done their shopping before September.
Most are buying in advance, so that the normal period provided for returns just doesn’t work in the holiday season.
Most ecommerce sites, and retailers in general, will extend their returns period for items bought in November and December. Last year, John Lewis allowed returns up to January 28 for Christmas purchases.
An extended returns policy like this reassures customers and makes it more likely that they will place an order.
14 Make it Easy for Customers to Contact you
Every customer contact could be a potential sale, so make sure customers can easily find contact details, and you have the staff in place to deal with it.
If shoppers can contact you easily for help, you can resolve any issues and keep them from abandoning potential purchases.
15 Offer Extras like Gift Wrapping
If you’re like me, and are rubbish at wrapping presents, then gift packaging options are a godsend.
Here, Selfridges offers wrapping and other extras like personalized messages and removing price tags as an extra at checkout.
It’s another incentive to purchase for shoppers, and can help retailers to increase order values.
16 Use Social Proof
Customers may be shopping on your site for the first time during the holiday season, so it can pay to use social proof.
For example, AO.com pushes it’s excellent TrustPilot score alongside other key messaging in the site header.
17 Offer Gift Vouchers
Gift vouchers are a useful alternative for shoppers who just can’t decide what to buy.
They can also appeal to last-minute gift buyers, shopping too late for physical delivery, as they can be sent by email.
As with offering gift cards as promotions, they have the extra advantage of bringing people back to buy after Christmas.
18 Get Ready for Christmas Day Sales
People aren’t waiting for Boxing Day sales any more, and many shoppers head online on Christmas Day, looking for bargains.
There’s a growing trend for people to purchase online on Christmas Day. Last year, it accounted for three times as many sales as Christmas Eve.
If you want to take advantage of this, get your sales ready for Christmas Day.
19 Follow up with Newly Acquired Customers
If you’ve attracted new customers in the run-up to Christmas, then it makes sense to target them again in the post-Christmas sales.
If you’ve impressed them the first time, you can target them for repeat purchases with smart email marketing.
Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.