Lessons Learned from the 2013 Holiday Season

The 2013 holidays have come and gone. As usual, many themes emerged, telling stories of another busy shopping season gone by: Black Friday may be dead. Gift cards remain a popular gift choice. Many late shipping promises were broken, leading to very unhappy customers.

In the weeks since, retail marketers have been busy examining the results of their holiday initiatives to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what can be improved. From a technology perspective, there were many lessons that emerged that can provide valuable guidance for retail marketers in the coming year.

Here are three of the most poignant lessons:

Mobile is growing exponentially, and so are consumer expectations

According to the most recent holiday online scorecard from IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, mobile traffic on ecommerce sites was 40% higher than in 2012, accounting for nearly 35% of all online traffic.

On Christmas Day, mobile shopping and browsing comprised 48% of all online traffic. It’s no surprise, then, that headlines about the surge in mobile shopping over the holidays were plentiful.

With mobile shopping’s popularity showing no signs of slowing down, retailers need to ensure that their mobile sites can handle the increased traffic, during these peak times like the holidays, and beyond. It seems, for instance, that some retailers were not necessarily ready for the level of online shopping post-holidays, at least according to the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending Jan. 5, which found that page load times were slower for nine of the top 10 retailers on the index.

Consumers today have high expectations and want instant gratification. Most will abandon your site if the load time is too slow. If your systems are not prepared for the expected increases (like around the holidays) and the unexpected (a post-holiday rush), then you risk losing valuable sales and turning off both loyal and potential customers.

So what do you do? Load test. Consider the impact of your page design on how well your site performs and how fast your pages load. Work closely with your IT team or cloud provider to devise the best strategy for achieving maximum uptime.

Scale to meet demand or lose sales

Motorola’s Cyber Monday promotion for its Moto X smartphone was so popular, it crashed the company’s website. As a result, the company had to apologize to frustrated customers and would-be customers and offer a postponed deal to make up for the failed one.Not an ideal way to begin the holiday season, for sure.

While the company handled the situation as best they could, it is quite likely they lost many sales in the process. The crash serves as a reminder that you can never really predict traffic. As such, you must ensure that the web server infrastructure supporting your website is able to handle increased traffic loads and can scale up to meet spikes in consumer demand.

Security matters. Today, Tomorrow, Always

In mid-December, right in the middle of the holiday season, Target became a target itself of a security breach, which compromised 40 million credit and debit cards. Mere weeks later, news broke that Neiman Marcus was breached, impacting 1.1 million credit and debit cards. And now Michaels Stores says it may have been breached.

While this is sadly nothing new, retailers are still struggling with protecting themselves – and their customers – from attackers intent on stealing their data and money. Use these breaches are a reminder to remain vigilant and remember that breaches aren’t just an IT or security team problem.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, so too should your security practices. From an online perspective, make sure that your IT team or cloud provider is implementing strategies for multiple layers of defense against attackers, conducting regular audit and assessments and monitoring logs.

Putting these best practices in place can help minimize risk and detect breaches more quickly…so you can focus on implementing strategic marketing initiatives, not on damage control.

Though we lack crystal balls that will tell us where things might go wrong, we can take precautions to help us minimize our risks. With 2014 in full swing, here’s to hoping we don’t revisit any of the technology mistakes of the past holiday season.

Andrew Hodes is Director of Technology at INetU.