The 2017 holiday rush was a tipping point for eCommerce optimization. Between mobile sales taking over traditional retail and other trends that took the industry by surprise, the holidays gave retailers myriad reasons to rethink digital strategy. Today, with Black Friday looming only days away, 2018 stands to be another make-or-break point for online sellers who did or didn’t adapt.
Our partners at Shoppimon put together this list of last-minute reminders for retailers prepping for the big week of sales ahead. Dive in to discover the top recommendations for managing traffic, guaranteeing uptime, and perfecting conversion optimization that just might save your store this season.
#1. Test the full sales funnel – from landing page to checkout.
The full sales funnel should be tested and optimized leading up to –and throughout– the holiday season. However, some key points of weakness that lead to significant business downtime are:
1. Search: 0.7% of all issues Shoppimon sees are problems with search. When search isn’t working on a website and shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s all too easy today to buy elsewhere.
2. Page Errors: Exposed error messages are surprisingly common. In fact, they’re responsible for 0.6% of all issues Shoppimon identifies. These pose a problem for several reasons. The first is that they stop the shopping process dead in its tracks. As a result, they also scare shoppers off. Not only are customer unable to complete a purchase, but after seeing an error message, they may lose all trust in the site going forward. Lastly, depending on the error, exposed messages can pose a serious security risk to a website… Ensuring these types of message don’t happen should be a top priority.
3. Error Message Text: To cover all your bases, make sure the language in your error messages is friendly and less automatic. This will let the customer know you are aware a problem is occurring, and that it may be fixed soon. “Error 506!” sounds a lot worse than “Hey there! We are experiencing a slight issue due to heavy site traffic. Check back in 15 minutes and the problem should be resolved. Happy holidays!”
4. Missing Product Images: If a shopper can’t see a product, they won’t buy it, end of story. Missing product images are surprisingly common. In fact, they make up 2.1% of all issues we spot. Understanding when this happens and fixing it before you lose a sale is a must. Monitoring your site will help keep you aware and in the know about missing product images and info.
5. Add to Cart & Checkout Errors: You are likely losing 4% or more of your total sales to issues occurring in these two key shopping stages. Issues here range from missing add to cart buttons to problems with payment providers. The average retailer will lose approximately 13% of sales to functional and performance-related website issues during the holidays. To avoid this, thoroughly test your conversion funnel and upgrade your website in advance of the seasonal surge. It can make a significant difference to your bottom line. If you’re out of time for a significant upgrade, monitoring your site closely and proactively address issues as they occur. It will have a dramatic and positive impact on your bottom line.
#2. Stress-test your site’s ability to handle increased traffic.
Under enough stress, every system will fail. Stress-testing your website before the holidays is a great way to find out if additional traffic could be your downfall. Leading up to Black Friday, we recommend you do both of the following:
1. Load Testing: making sure that your site can handle a given number of users/requests consecutively and concurrently.
2. Completing A True Stress Test: load the site to the point that it crashes to see how that crash is handled by your software (and potentially, your team).
When a site is overloaded, if a server is properly configured, it should be able to handle the benchmarked number of consecutive or concurrent requests, after which requests will be queued. If you then pass the benchmark for you queuing, requests should time out, rather than the site itself going down completely.
If your server does crash, splitting the load across other third party solutions like CDNs will help in the long run, so the servers don’t need to handle each and every request. However, if you need a last minute fix you can quickly tune the configuration of your servers to change the amount of memory they use. You may also be able to manage the number of requests they handle (assuming your code has been built to allows this).
#3. Be prepared to scale-up on the fly (and know how to).
The first thing an eCommerce manager should do is simply talk to their team. Understand what is already in place and what it would take to scale-up their web and database servers if needed. In an ideal situation, when a website is on a cloud platform, you should have deployment automation that allows you to quickly spawn more servers (which should only take a couple of minutes to complete). This does however require that automation is already in place to allow you to do this, and that the code was written in a way to support the expansion to additional hardware. And this is true not only of web servers, but database servers as well.
In a typical eCommerce setup, the biggest bottleneck is the database, which also tends to be the hardest to scale in an emergency situation. With limited time to prepare before Black Friday and Cybyer Monday, your top priority should be to check if your database hardware can scale if necessary. This is critical. If the situation arises where the database needs to be scaled and it wasn’t prepped in advance, it will usually result in significant downtime for the full site.
Going deeper into the issue, Redstage CEO Adam Morris states, “…when downtime occurs, or things do go wrong during the holidays, the effect of those issues is compounded because you’ve probably expanded your customer service team to make up for higher demand, as well as increased marketing budgets to attract more holiday spending. So when things go wrong, those marketing dollars are lost, and [customer] support may suddenly be relegated to a more junior team with less experience and a lower quality of service.” (Check out more insights on holiday emergency management from Adam Morris here on Shoppimon’s blog).
#4. Find problems before your customers do.
At Shoppimon, we see retailers monitoring their websites in a multitude of different ways; From manual checks conducted by different team members, to using completely automated systems like Shoppimon, and everything in between. Unfortunately, many of the systems require resource-heavy investments, not just for setup, but also to understand them and react to the data they generate.
While we know that monitoring automation is key for any business at scale, it’s important that a team’s resources spend as little time as possible on the monitoring itself. Instead, team members should be free to spend their time making a website or application better, fixing bugs, and creating a great customer experience.
Luckily, Shoppimon supports script-free and integration-free automated setup, which takes minutes. The solution also automates issue prioritization and notification, so users get critical information when it’s most needed, but never bothers them when it’s not.
These benefits have made a huge difference for our customers leading up to the holiday season. We’ve seen brands successfully roll out new updates and upgrades just before the sales surge, and also helped them identify better ways to plan for next year.
Each year we see the biggest challenges and successes of major brands in the eCommerce Industry. Last year, in our Online Store Health & Usability Index (OSHU Index), we saw brands like Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club and Saatva excel during the holiday season, with consistently faster load times and fewer issues both leading up to and during the holidays. However, we saw other retailers, like One King’s Lane, that experienced significant downtime during Cyber Monday, really struggle. The difference relies on your ability to react.
Monitoring your online store for bugs and the ability to react quickly will determine the winners and losers for 2018. Testing is paramount (especially if you had issues last year), which means diving into your funnels, your site, and being prepared to tackle anything that needs fixing, fast. However, without a monitoring solution in place, you might not notice significant issues on your site causing lost revenue every minute. Do your due diligence and walk through each stage of the customer journey to make sure your holiday haul will be a happy one. Let us know what you think of these tips in the comments below, and enjoy the holidays!
For more insights on last-minute holiday strategies, check out this post from our partners at Brightpearl on omnichannel & backoffice prep!