They say if you think obscurity is hard, then try success. An ecommerce website might execute the perfect Black Friday and Cyber Monday marketing plan and gather a teeming audience champing at the bit to take advantage of its sales, but have it all be for naught unless the site has the technical chops to satisfactorily serve that mass of customers.
Here are seven steps that'll help ensure your site is prepared to succeed this holiday season:
1) Talk to your Web host about what you expect.
Your hosting service is the backbone of your presence online, and it must ensure that your site is available and delivering high quality customer experiences 24/7. This is especially true during the critical Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales days. Communicate with your hosting provider to ensure that your hosting plan is up to the task of handling the spikes in traffic that you anticipate. It may make sense to invest in a plan offering more robust and powerful site hosting if a new one aligns better with your site's (and your business') needs. Also, be sure to know ahead of time if your host offers an uptime guarantee - meaning that you'll receive compensation if there's any downtime.
2) Have your ecommerce site in place well ahead of the big sales days.
If you're launching a new website or outfitting an existing one with ecommerce capabilities, be sure to complete this work early enough to work out any issues ahead of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. A new ecommerce operation can face wrinkles that need to be worked out even during light traffic - and those huge sales days are far too intense for your ecommerce debut. Whatever ecommerce platform you rely on, see that it offers the features your customers require, give your team the time to get familiar with it, and be sure that it can handle whatever amount of traffic will come.
3) Confirm that your customers can shop securely.
Internet retail success requires developing a rapport and trust with customers in order to win their business over the long haul. At a basic level, this hinges on making sure customers feel safe shopping with you (and that they are, of course, also actually safe). As many as half of internet users are actually still hesitant to shop online because they worry their sensitive personal and financial information will be stolen and exploited. That's a powerful incentive to give your audience the peace of mind they require to do business with you.
Your site can help on this front in a number of ways. First, be sure to display safe shopping messaging on your site, especially throughout the ecommerce checkout process. Secondly, put an SSL certificate in place to ensure that data is encrypted and authenticated when transferred online (and your Web host may be able to simplify this implementation). Lastly, showcase the names of other sites that feature your products, and any endorsements from businesses, blogs or other sources online, in order to communicate your business's legitimacy and the trust placed in your online business.
4) Make your return policy transparent and easy-to-execute.
Some purchases will inevitably come with issues and, if you want those customers to return, your return policy needs to leave no hard feelings. Probably unsurprisingly, online sales have a three times higher rate of return than in-store purchases - making a thoughtful return policy all the more important for ecommerce sites.
Make sure your return policy is easy for customers to find on your site. State the rules of your policy clearly (no fine print), and ensure that customers know exactly what they need to do and what to expect when submitting a return (no difficult hoops to jump through). At an organizational level, work to make returns a hassle-free experience.
5) Optimize your site experience.
Remember: the more efficiently your website performs, the easier it is for customers to buy from you. The potential to optimize your site exists on many fronts, from mobile shopping, to SEO, to your user interface, to simply reducing load times.
At the same time, adding mobile-responsive design is one of the many techniques site owners can use to improve SEO and appear more prominently in the search engine results viewed by holiday shoppers. Other SEO-friendly measures include:
Utilizing a reliable hosting service.
Selecting a site template designed with SEO success as a focus.
Adding robust content in blog posts and more: search engine algorithms respond to wordiness.
Getting image files right: resize for faster load times, use the correct formats, and name them descriptively.
Keeping your site simple to use and intuitive to navigate will also help customers reach your checkout unimpeded. Be sure to take a look at streamlining your site's structure, and then dive into this checklist of techniques for reducing load times across your site from a technical standpoint:
Finally, after making the most of all available measures to optimize your site, use Google's PageSpeed Insights to put its performance to the test.
6) Make your customer service easy to access.
Customers are full of questions, and they may simply shop elsewhere if they can't get answers. Being responsive to their needs during the peak sales days requires preparing an effective team - one that's on hand to deliver positive custom service experiences as needed. Prominently displaying email or phone contact information is a must, while technology such as live chat functionality can enhance the speed of these experiences.
7) Plan thoroughly, prepare for surprises, and learn from experience.
Actively test your systems and train your personnel to take on every challenging scenario you see as a real possibility. At the same time, be ready for emergencies and the unexpected by having backup plans ready to go.
Last but not least, continuously analyze statistics on your website's performance, traffic, and sales. Use that data to understand customer behavior, iterate your site and your practices, and improve. If your site was active during the holidays in past years, leverage that data and experience in your current decision making.
By following these steps, your ecommerce site's technical capabilities will be in a strong position to handle anything that might happen on those frantic Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days.
About the Author David Andrews is the Product Marketing Manager of Hosting at DreamHost, a global Web hosting, domain registrar and cloud services provider.