6 Ways to Enhance Website Performance During the Holiday Season

Dec 10, 2011 1:46 AM  By

With an estimated 226 million people having shopped online over the Thanksgiving week, it signaled the start of the busiest ecommerce holiday season ever. Each day moving forward through Dec. 31 will present an opportunity to further increase holiday sales and grow revenue.

For those retailers who depend on their ecommerce sites to deliver added holiday revenue throughout the season, ensuring those sites are optimized to operate effectively under heavier than normal volumes is of the utmost importance.

Increased website traffic and overstuffed cyber shopping carts are expected to hit year-high peaks not just between now and Christmas Eve, but also the days and weeks after, as many retailers push sales items out the door to make way for next year’s inventory. Taking the time to implement best practices for your ecommerce store can be the difference between a record-setting holiday season and an average one.

To meet the demands of online holiday consumers, retailers are preparing their sites through the following means to ensure they are prepared throughout the holiday season for the increased traffic they’ll see. The following precautionary measures should enhance website performance:

Minimize updates: Minimize, or completely eliminate, site updates over the next six weeks. If critical updates are required they should be done during off-peak hours, between 3 a.m. – 8 a.m.

Test and re-test: Design changes should be kept to a minimum and avoided if the site can go without them. However, many online retailers will want to highlight special holiday promotions online. If updates are made, test those changes thoroughly before they go into production – then test them again. Add software that enables testing in multiple browsers, as there are a number of popular options available and you can’t predict what browser any one customer may be using; create and use a test page, never a live page and keep a backup of the original page in the event there are issues with the new page when it goes live.

Prepare for the best: Imagine the highest number of shoppers or buyers that might visit your site at any one time. Now run a test using that number to see what happens to performance and site behavior. This can be done by using software that simulates many simultaneous shoppers all browsing and clicking at the same time.

Upgrade rich media solutions: Now that Adobe has announced it will begin phasing out support for Flash, merchants should look to take advantage of other rich media solutions, like HTML5.

Organize data: Do your best to make sure your data, such as product descriptions, codes, prices and inventory is on hand, up-to-date, clean and indexed. Any bad data could introduce negative changes that result in lost sales.

Keep open communication: Always make sure your suppliers support contact information is available and know when they are accessible. Surprisingly, most merchants don’t know the exact times that they can contact their service providers for assistance, and many offer 24/7 customer support services.

One online merchant, Condomania, treats each month as if it’s the most important month of the year, but will minimize any changes to its site prior to the holidays, posting specials and deals on items they know will be sought after well before the Christmas rush.

Condomania will also increase its inventory to meet increased demand and will make sure any advertised specials are implemented in the system well ahead of schedule so there is little tinkering with the site when traffic is peaking.

Following the implementation of these best practices, retailers should monitor the performance of their sites on a routine basis in order to identify any issues that are abnormal and remedy them swiftly. If retailers spend the extra time to adjust their sites now for maximum performance, they will certainly yield dividends come year end.

Fred Lizza (mailto:fred.l@dydacomp.com) is the chief executive officer at Dydacomp, a provider of business technology platforms for small and mid-sized ecommerce and multichannel merchants.