The Ins and Outs of Code Freeze: Preparing your Website for the Holiday Ramp-up

‘Tis the season to be jolly! And, if you are an eCommerce business, ’tis the season for a higher volume of sales, and is the season for putting the last 10 months of planning and preparation to the test!

As we get closer and closer to the major holidays of 2013, all sites have to take measures to ensure site stability and health while enjoying a higher visitor volume and (hopefully) conversion rates. Most of the preparations that have taken place over the previous 10 months, but it is also essential to put your site into a code freeze in November and December.

Code freeze is a term given to signify a time period where no major changes get promoted to your website. And while the idea of major code changes is slightly ambiguous, this article will aim to clear the blurred lines of the do’s and don’ts of code freezes!

Don’ts: Things to Avoid


Change in Shipping Provider:
Any change to your shipping provider requires a change to the code within your checkout, which is the most sensitive portion of your website. During these months of higher volume to your site you do not want to risk on losing out on sales in the event your checkout breaks or malfunctions because of the changes.

New Extensions:
While there is some wiggle room within this, don’t. Generally, it’s the best idea to not add any new extensions to your website during this time of year, especially if they are untested. Your eCommerce firm might have a list of tested and trusted extensions which may defy this rule, but any new or untested extensions could cause operational problems on your website and interrupt sales.

AJAX or Heavy Scripts:
This is an important don’t for code freeze since AJAX scripts interact directly with your server to create an asynchronous connection to transfer data without changing or interfering with the behaviour of the page. One of the more common examples of an AJAX script that Demac Media uses on an eCommerce site is a seamless mini-cart drop-down. This script will have products added to a cart, and have the cart automatically drop down without reloading the entire page that the customer is on.

New Currency Configuration or New Country Support:
At this exciting time of year many businesses plan to enable shipping to new countries and/or operate with an additional currency or currencies. This often seems like the perfect time to enable something like this as businesses try to increase sales, and what better way of doing that than allowing people in other countries to purchase your products as well? The problem with these types of setups is that there are often quite complicated and multifaceted, and always require change to code in your checkout page and process which is the heart of your eCommerce site. Taking this into consideration, the risks of compromising the integrity and health of your checkout process outweigh the benefits of enabling those countries at such a sensitive time of year.

Do’s: Acceptable Changes


CSS Changes:
CSS Changes are normally fine to execute during a code freeze, as their impact on the rest of the sites functionality is fairly minimal. CSS stands for Cascade Style Sheet and generally represents most changes to the styling/theme of your website. When colours on your website are updated, that is a CSS change. When a holiday theme is added to your website, that is a CSS change. These are usually written in HTML or XHTML, but can also be applied to any kind of XML document.

Certain Bug Fixes:
Not all bug fixes directly implicate the data flow or conversion rate of your website, but those bugs that do not only can be fixed during code freeze but should be fixed any time that they arise. As is with any time of the year, you need to make sure visitors can complete transactions on your site, and that data is being sent and received in the way it was intended to.

Optimization Fixes to Speed up your Site:
Speeding up one’s site is always a good move. Today’s browsers move faster than ever, and businesses that have an opportunity to speed up their site should seize those opportunities when they arise. While it is still a better idea to implement these things before any holiday ramp up if possible (no later than October is preferred), updates/changes such as this should not affect the integrity and operation of your eCommerce site.

Related: Understanding Page Speed and Server Response Times with Magento

While I have highlighted most of the major examples of changes within a code freeze it is important to note that nothing is ever out of the question in the world of eCommerce. While all of the do’s and don’ts discussed above will ring true for most sites, it is important to note that any changes that are crucial at this time of year should be thoroughly reviewed by your lead developer or eCommerce firm to determine whether or not it can be implemented.

In closing, this is the best time of year for most retailers and eCommerce sites to move more product, so be sure to keep your site healthy and functioning to maintain those sales. As always take each holiday season as an opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your site in order to prepare for 2014 and beyond.

Happy selling!

Jim Cover (@jimmie_cover)
Customer Success Manager at Demac Media