Holiday Season Readiness Roundup

What steps do retailers need to take now to ensure a successful holiday sales season?

Website Magazine asked several industry insiders for tips about securing customer data, optimizing the checkout page for conversions, tracking ongoing metrics, shipping strategies and more to help our retail readers prepare for their most lucrative months ahead. Let's check out some of the top responses.

insidersUnderstand Consumers' Expectations Heading into Holidays 2017

"Consumers continue to expect faster and faster shipping times while leaving holiday shopping to the last minute." + Casandra Campbell, Content Marketer at Shopify

"The most fundamental expectation is that every site will be fast, stable and fully functional. So, as online shopping continues to grow, retailers need to be able to handle the traffic headed their way this season without a hiccup. Last year, traffic to our retail clients doubled and ran higher and longer globally starting in early November. The trends toward earlier and longer shopping periods will continue in 2017."

+ Amanda Berger, SVP and General Manager of Americas at RichRelevance

Look to Holidays 2016 for Lessons around Web Security

"Retailers should know they are more vulnerable than they may think, even large ecommerce sites. Unpatched Web servers, lack of compliance with PCI-DSS (payment card data security standards), lack of intrusion prevention and easy email spoofing will likely continue to be the leading causes of credit card theft during this year's shopping season."

+ Robert Hamilton, Director of Product Marketing at Imperva Incapsula

Test Web Security Now

"There are essential tools that retailers should invest in to help reduce the likelihood of fraud. First, the website or ecommerce platform should be scanned for unpatched systems that allow hackers easy entry into a site. Second, intrusion prevention systems and a Web application firewall should be utilized to minimize the likelihood that a hacker can exploit a vulnerable website. Third, DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack prevention should be utilized to decrease the likelihood of an attack for ransom during the busy shopping season."

+ Hamilton, Imperva Incapsula

Avoid Common Retail Mistakes

"[Using] low-quality product photos [on product pages is a mistake]. Consumers want to see a retailer's product from as many angles as possible, so great product photography is incredibly important. Ideally, there is a mix of product shots and lifestyle photos showing how the product can be used. It is very important that colors are accurately represented and details are visible to minimize returns."

+ Campbell, Shopify

"Too many companies want [their checkout page] forms to fulfill many functions. Not only do they want to use it to sell products, but they also want to use it as a marketing research tool, so the form is unnecessarily packed with unrelated fields. To increase conversion rates, smart companies keep their forms as short as possible. We have researched our users and we learned that when a form had fewer than five fields, nearly 20 percent of their customers made it to checkout. If more fields are included, conversions steadily decreased. In fact, only nine percent of customers completed their purchase when forms are longer than 50 fields.

Furthermore, companies also ignore testing a form. It's good practice to have the form reviewed and tested to ensure it functions as designed and that it's easy for customers to navigate it, fill it with products and complete the payment and shipping information."

+ Steve Hartert, Chief Marketing Officer at JotForm

Alleviate Shipping Concerns

"The two main concerns consumers have when it comes to shipping is whether their shipments are on time and will arrive as promised. The use of API technology can facilitate a range of complex inventory, shipping processes and optimization models to augment systems for retailers. APIs can help to better manage costs, track deliveries and ensure an improved end-to-end customer experience."

+ Michael Griffiths, VP of Marketing and Communications at Pitney Bowes

Consider Alternative Payment Options

"Retailers who want to give their customers more purchasing power this holiday season (and eliminate credit decline rates) should consider offering a wide range of financing solutions - from revolving credit to lease-to-own to installment plans. Today, there are more financing options and financing providers than ever. With the growth of technology innovators in the space, the technology finally exists so that this range of financing solutions can be quickly implemented through a single integration to provide new options for holiday shoppers to pay conveniently and easily at checkout."

+ Keith Nealon, CEO of Vyze

Measure & Monitor During the Holiday Season

"There are always the classic metrics like attributable sales and revenue per session - and these are important. However, retailers should pay attention to other metrics such as product return rates, which are harder to track but essential when we are talking about holiday gifting. From an omnichannel perspective, it is critical to track how online shopping behavior is changing store transactions. If a shopper finds a dress they like online and then goes to the store to buy it, the retailer needs to be able to effectively tie that together and understand the impact that online had on the sale. And finally, retailers absolutely have to resist the urge to look at data, patterns and trends from the last month or two. Instead, look at trends over years - holiday season to holiday season."

+ Berger

Know What's Working & What's Not, Now

"Retailers should go through their site's checkout flow and make sure it is well optimized. Better yet, watch a friend do it. Is it easy to navigate? Do shoppers have all the information they need? Most shoppers will not actually buy the first time they visit a website so it is also important retailers have a system that will follow up with them. An abandoned checkout email series can bring people back who started to checkout but did not finish. Even visitors who did not start to checkout can still be reached affordably by using Facebook Dynamic Product Ads, and retailers can always offer an incentive such as a discount to get first-time visitors to subscribe to their email list." + Campbell, Shopify

Read the full transcripts of these interviews with each of our knowledgeable insiders at