How to Boost Your Site’s Performance and Experience Before the Holidays

Oct 18, 2011 2:55 PM  By

By now it’s too late to focus on the two big holiday readiness activities that you’d have liked to have kicked off in Q2:

1. An inventory/supply chain optimization project (to make sure you have the right holiday inventory levels and can efficiently move it through your infrastructure to your customers).

2. A comprehensive performance testing and tuning project to make sure that your site performs at a high level for the peak holiday traffic.

But there is still a lot that you can do to prepare for and take full advantage of the holiday peak.

Performance:
1. Take a very critical look at your page weights (particularly key pages like home page, search results pages, and product details pages). Have you used minification on all your HTML/JavaScript/CSS. Move all your JAVAScript and CSS files to high performance CDN Networks (or take advantage of those offered by Google, etc…). Optimize the loading sequence of all your javascripts and ideally have as much as possible load asynchronously at the end of the page. Consolidate all your CSS files. Consolidate background images by leverage image sprites. Are all your images the optimal size, with the most efficient compression, and all meta data removed from the binary files (via smush.it or other tools).

2. What plug-ins and external systems are you dependent on (reviews, social badges, testing vendors, recommendations, analytics vendors, etc…) Do you have a performance and crisis plan in place? Do you know how to gracefully take their tags off your site if you need to?

3. Talk with your CDN/Cache/Hosting providers. Make sure you understand what options they have available to help you deal with unanticipated peak volumes, and what the process, lead times, and costs are. Don’t wait until you are in a crisis to work it out.

4. Have a staff readiness plan. If you have a performance issue or even an outage during your peak traffic periods, identify who will be on call and the process will they follow.

5. Remember that holiday is also peak for your internal users of your website (customer service, in-store staff, etc…). Do they have a good plan in place if their performance or access is affected during their busiest times?

Experience:
1. Pre-Holiday is a great time to strip away a lot of the clutter that may have accumulated in your customer experience throughout the year. Are their badges, promotions, offers, extraneous information, etc…, that might distract shoppers from their core shopping missions? Now is the time to get rid of the visual clutter and have a friction-free shopping experience.

2. Add some holiday themed visual elements or content, so that your visitors know your site is prepared for the holidays. Shoppers that land on your site need to instantly know that you are aware it’s a mission critical time of the year, and that you stand ready to meet their holiday needs. Some considerations: Are your visual merchandising schemes and promotions targeted at products you have in ample supply for the holidays? Your site shouldn’t feel exactly like it does the rest of the year.

3. Optimize your navigation and flows for holiday shopper missions. Do you have gift- choosing navigational tools, gift suggestion categories, holiday wish lists, clear badges for shipping cut-off dates, the ability to filter search results by shipping cut-off dates, clear tools around gift wrap, gift messages, and gift receipts? Giving shoppers some unique way to designate an item as a gift purchase is a great idea (even if you aren’t prepared to offer gift wrap), because it allows you to filter those purchases out of suggestive selling databases. As you get closer to shipping cut offs, alter your visual merchandising and promotions to focus on digital and quick ship items (gift cards, services, etc…), or shift your focus to driving more traffic to your bricks and mortar locations.

4. Prepare your transactional e-mails and drip campaigns. Does your order confirmation e-mail reference your holiday cut-off dates? Do you have special return windows for the holiday? If you do remarketing and/or abandoned shopping cart campaigns, make sure they respect holiday cut off dates (don’t send me an e-mail on Christmas Eve asking if I still want the items in my cart). Remember those transactional e-mails have a much higher open rate than your typical marketing e-mails, so make sure you make the most of them. Take advantage of the generous holiday mood to solicit favorable reviews and social network participation.

5. Do something to surprise your customers and exceed their expectations. Consider offering:

  • Extended return windows
  • Free gift wrap
  • Expedited shipping
  • Some bundled service or gift with purchase
  • Offer a charitable donation on behalf of the shopper

Most retailers will see more new shoppers around the holiday peak than they do at any other time. When you win their order, this is your opportunity to win a new repeat customer and not just a one-time holiday buyer.

6. Holiday may not be the best time to experiment, but it’s a great time to learn. Make sure you have your analytics dialed in and that you are reviewing your key metrics and check-out funnels much more frequently. Your continuous improvement and reaction cycles need to be much shorter during the holidays as one day in your holiday season may be the equivalent of 2-3 weeks during your off-peak.

7. Start thinking about post-holiday. How will you encourage all those new gift card holders to redeem? How will you handle the higher-than-normal returns? Most importantly, how will you leverage all those new first-time buyers and turn them into valuable life-long customers?

Jason Goldberg is vice president of strategy and customer experience for ecommerce platform provider CrossView.