Christmas in August: 7 Ways to Prepare Now for the Holiday Shopping Season

While consumers are still winding down summer vacations and gearing up for back to school, those in the retail business know preparations for the holiday shopping season have already started.

Consumers are expected to spend nearly $355 billion online in 2016 according to Forrester Research, with major spikes during the holiday shopping season.

Today’s multichannel selling presents the ultimate challenge – a multi-platform user experience that is both seamless and personalized.  Price isn’t the only differentiator for a website.  Waiting too long for relevant content to load can undermine conversions or worse.

Approximately 4 out of 10 shoppers will leave an ecommerce web page to buy a product from a competitor if they have to wait too long. This year, don’t leave money on the table because of poor performance.

Here are seven tips to prepare your ecommerce site and other digital properties for the holiday shopping season.

Design for Multiple Platforms, Optimize for Mobile

Phones are poised to outnumber computers as the origination point for shopping searches. Even those who visit brick and mortar locations are still utilizing their smartphones for research while in-store In addition, Google now advises retailers not to make their mobile sites second-class citizens, but rather build them using the same URL and infrastructure as their computer sites. All in all, the average shopper uses a total of five devices when making a purchase, so make sure your network is optimized for multi-device delivery, especially mobile, ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Plan Globally, Optimize Regionally

Many online shopping sites still operate with a last mile connected to the un-optimized public internet. Depending on where your shoppers are, your websites could be accessing your origin servers through the crowded, unpredictable pathways of the public internet, resulting in a website that will experience potentially serious delays especially during peak hours. If you expect global traffic, consider a densely-architected, global content delivery network (CDN) which can bypass the congested public internet to improve performance and reduce latency. Additionally, the geographic placement of your content across this massive network means no single point of failure and scalable egress capacity. Not all CDN’s are alike, however, and you may want to consider a multi-CDN strategy to ensure all regions are served well.

Anticipate Traffic Spikes

More than 103 million people shopped online over Thanksgiving weekend last year, known as the unofficial holiday shopping season kickoff. Whether you’re offering a special promotion or stocking up for a popular shopping day, be prepared to scale your website for significant traffic spikes by provisioning additional infrastructure, including servers, storage and network capacity.

Plan for the Impact of Personalization

The best omnichannel sites strive to create a targeted end-user experience.  By using a behavioral marketing program, you can target the right customers with the right messages. Integrating customer data – such as their location, the type of device they’re using to access website, their session behavior and preferred search keywords – can give you a much more accurate view of what content that customer needs to see to make a purchase.  However, customization can come at a cost to your website’s performance, especially when scaled over millions of users. Be sure your websites and network are optimized to deliver personalized content without revisiting your origin servers for every request.

Test, Test, and Test Some More

There are a variety of volumetric tests that can help you understand a website’s capacity and vulnerabilities. Load tests, for instance, will help you understand capacity under normal circumstances while spike tests assess how the system handles sudden traffic spikes. Pay particular attention to these metrics since these are factors that frustrate consumers and could cause them to abandon your site.

Be Ready to Purge – Fast!

Sold-out products that are still listed as available, prices that are inaccurate, model numbers that are wrong – these are just some examples of web content that you need to be able to fix quickly. Not being able to do so creates high customer dissatisfaction and potential financial losses during the holiday shopping season.

It’s important to have the ability to purge unwanted content in a matter of seconds in a controlled way that gives you peace of mind that the offending files have really been removed.

Assume You Will Be Attacked

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are not just the problem of major retailers. These days almost any site, from a small boutique to a major brand, can be subject to an attack which can overwhelm your origin with malicious traffic, severely damaging your site’s response time – now or during the holiday shopping season – and your brand’s reputation.  For the holidays, adopt a good defensive strategy that will absorb and address attacks before your visitors even notice.

Anne Blanchard is Senior Product Marketing Manager at Limelight Networks.

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