Why you’re late for the eCommerce Holiday Rush

If you think you’ll be able to catch the Holiday Rush by starting to develop your eCommerce store in early fall, well… I hate to break it to you, but you’re a little late.

Many retailers underestimate actually how much time goes into designing, building, testing and launching an eCommerce site properly. This is also true for adding new features to an existing site. Be careful with development companies that are willing to accept projects now with the promise that you’ll be up and running before December.

Spoiler Alert: it’s going to cause a lot of headaches and lost revenue.

I’m here to break it down for you on how to best plan for 2013’s Holiday season. I know, you’re probably thinking, “but the Holiday Rush for 2012 hasn’t even started” – actually, it’s in full swing… and if you’re just figuring this out now, you’re really behind.

So, When Does It Start?

A survey released this month by Shop.org showed that 22.1% of consumers start their Holiday shopping in October, and 39.% start in November. I wasn’t even shocked to see that 12.3% of consumers start before September. Why should you care about these stats? Think of it as a wake up call if you assume the majority of holiday shopping occurs in December. According to Shop.org’s survey, only 19.7% of holiday shopping happens in December.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that November records the highest percentage of holiday shopping. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have a lot to do with that. It’s a huge, and I mean HUGE month for retailers. Your eCommerce site and all the parts connected to it (hint: there are a lot), have to be robust enough to handle large volumes of sales.

Below are 5 pieces of advice on how you can plan and prepare your eCommerce business for the 2013 Holiday Season:

1. Plan In Advance

As mentioned above, many retailers underestimate the amount of time to properly design, develop, and test a site or even add new features to be “holiday rush ready”. You should give yourself a minimum of 6 months from when you want your site to be launched. You don’t want to be worrying about your site’s functionality when your main concern should be operations.

To begin the planning process you’ll need to choose an eCommerce platform, and decide which company is going to develop it. Some development shops specialize in certain types of platform development. Take us for example, we fancy ourselves experts in Magento. We work 100% with the Magento platform and have 6 Certified Magento Developers onsite (check out our profile page on Magento here). You’ll also need to think long term  to help your business and development shop figure out which eCommerce platform is right for you:

– What are your goals for the season and beyond?
– What are you looking to accomplish?
– What functionalities or special features are you looking to have?
– How do you want to grow your business?

2. Integrate

Although your eCommerce platform is important, don’t think of it as a stand alone solution, you’ll also need to take into account your back-end inventory system. It is important to treat your eCommerce site and inventory management system as one large integrated system. Our friends at Blue Link Associates outline some key benefits of eCommerce integration:

– Efficiently handle dramatic increases in order volumes
– Web, phone and retail orders are all accounted for in the same system
– Storing and processing credit card information is effortless
– Customers are able to find, view and purchase products easier and faster
– Ensures your customers are always protected with secure transactions
….. the list goes on!

If you want to be able to keep up with the surge of customer orders during the busy holiday season, it’s imperative that you integrate your front and back-ends. Not only will this help scale your business for the future but also help prevent some major headaches and unnecessary expenses to fix or update this down the road.

3. Optimize your checkout process

You want the checkout to be the smoothest part of your customer’s experience because it’s also the most important. Customers are already filled with anxiety due to deadlines, budgets and the all-around stress that the holidays can bring. If there are issues with a simple checkout process, you’re either going to lose customers or have some pretty angry ones. Run through test transactions and go through what the customer would see. What do you see? Smooth sailing? Or a bumpy road? Removing obstacles or confusing aspects to your checkout process can help dramatically improve conversion rates.

Related: 5 Critical Elements of Great eCommerce User Experience

4. TEST TEST TEST

Test all processes, features, add-ons, and definitely test for high traffic. Find where your vulnerabilities are and how can you change or improve them. Will your site be able to handle a large spike in traffic? How will your load times be affected? You should also make sure there are no broken links on your site and that all product content is up to date.

The more time you have to test, the better your site will be for customers. This goes back to point #1, plan ahead! If you don’t give yourself time to test your site before launching, your site, sales and reputation will suffer.

5. Think Customer Experience

Do you have your contact information (email, phone, chat) readily available as well as visible, incase one of your customers encounters a problem or has a pressing question? Can they quickly and easily find other pieces of key information such as delivery times, exchange policies? Our friends at Sweet Tooth Rewards just wrote a great guest blog post on this subject, check it out!

Be Prepared not Behind

If you’re just starting to contact eCommerce development companies, or are getting the ball rolling on development, you’re probably not going to have a prepared, tested and robust online store. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be more prepared for next year! Be smart, and be prepared.

If you have questions about the holiday season or about eCommerce in general, give us a shout!