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Last Minute Holiday Prep for your eCommerce Site

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Well, it’s October, and the craziness of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and Boxing Day is just around the corner! Fortunately for you, there’s still a little bit of time for some last minute holiday prep, so when the busiest shopping days do arrive, the stability of your business won’t be jeopardized. In order to have a successful holiday season, it’s imperative that you not only prepare your site, but your support team as well. This post provides merchants some key last minute do’s and dont’s when preparing for the busiest shopping time of the year.

How soon are the holidays, really?

Let’s start by looking at where are we. Let’s recognize how soon these holidays actually are. There are 51 days until Black Friday and 54 days until Cyber Monday. When you take into account development, testing, feedback, that’s not a lot of time in the world of eCommerce. It’s not too late to plan and be ready, but we’re at the point where you need to realize that in this (short) amount of time, how are you going to get the most out of it?

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1. Marketing Budget

First things, first! How much are you going to be spending this holiday shopping season? When talking about a marketing budget, you’ll need to be able to react quickly to different situations that may or may not come up.

Our favourite expression: Proactively React!

If you’re going to run marketing programs throughout the holidays, be prepared to up your budget or adjust your program, based on the results of what’s happening. By being proactive, and know by how much you are willing to adjust, it gives your team the foresight, and ability to act quickly when something works, or conversely, when something perhaps didn’t work as well as you might have hoped.

For example, if you run a retargeting campaign based off the categories that people will visit on your site, but you realize that certain categories are driving traffic back to your site and certain categories are not. Maybe the way you display those retargeting ads in the categories that aren’t driving traffic might be different, you might show product vs. just text or whatever might be the ultimate test. Having that content ready, in case you decide to adjust your approach is a way that you can proactively react. You can be ready to react to something and not be stuck scrambling for content for when you want to do it. Not to say that you might not change your mind when the time comes, but being “as prepared as you can be”, because you have to recognize that things are always going to be different in time.

2. Marketing Content and SEO

The same goes for content on your site. It’s hard to plan out, especially for retailers, but it’s hard to plan out how all of your marketing will look. Retailers change their minds 24 different times between November and December. However, if you know now what you’re planning on offering for Boxing Day, don’t wait until Mid December to build that content, start building it now. Run it through testing, and see what your teams think of it, and adjust, so you’re ready with that content for when the time comes to put it up. If changes do come down the pipe that might only mean adjusting 10% of what you prepared then you will be ahead of the game. A lot of companies spend time during the holidays planning for marketing and content, and that just takes away from other things they could be doing.

The problem with SEO is that it’s late to be updating your content now (as of Oct), but it’s a good time to review your content in the coming weeks ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to make sure that not just from an SEO standpoint but also from the Marketing side that the most relevant content is available throughout the holiday period. Most consumers are window shopping, and eCommerce makes it easy to do so. If consumers can’t find the content they’re looking for that support the products they want, they’ll go somewhere else (hint: it’s your competitors). Having that content ready gives Search Engines time to pick up on it and rank you accordingly. The sooner you can get your SEO content updated the better.

Final Marketing Tip: plan ahead, but leave room for adjustment! By now, merchants should have their strategy solidified for the holiday season, if not, you should at least already be working on it. With that said, while formulating or looking at your completed strategy, leave room to adjust! Make sure your strategies aren’t air tight, and you can’t modify or change it. Ie. all of a sudden you don’t have a style available, or a product sells out quicker than you thought it would, whatever might come up that could throw something into the gears, have room to adjust. Have backup plans, and contingencies to help smooth our the customer shopping experience.

Customer Service

1. Document and Review Processes

In the world of Customer Service, it’s important to document and review your processes if additional hours, or overnight shifts need to happen, then obviously plan for that. If this isn’t your first holiday season, then there’s a good chance you’ve experienced what can come up. Run your team through scenarios like:

Make sure your team is prepared for all of the possible situations that can occur during the holidays. During this time of year, customers tend to get very antsy, so running through these kinds of situations can help to provide the best shopping experience for them. Make sure your team also knows where to find the information that they would need, i.e. customer profile information, order information, product information etc. Often consumers expect extra service through the holidays, so remind your team to be courteous, and patient with people. Again, it’s the holiday season, so it’s a high stress time for shoppers! Do your best. What’s going to happen is that in the off-season, your customers will remember how you took care of them during the busy season, the life time value of your customer will go way up. Which is your long term goal. This is your to chance to set a good impression, especially if it’s their first time shopping with you, this is your chance to set standards, and shine.

Your customers remember how you treat them during the holidays, and remember this going forward. You remember equally the great service you had, as well as the horrible service. The good, mediocre service you don’t necessarily remember. So if a retailer goes above and beyond for a customer, they will stick with someone longer, and they will be more likely to shop with that retailer again.

2. Reward Your Team

This segways nicely into, “well isn’t my customer service person just someone who answers phones, and isn’t a business owner, so why do they care?”. Why should they care if your business does well 6 months down the road? Well, the truth is, they probably don’t. They are probably just looking for their Christmas Bonus, and want to do their job well, so they can keep their job, whatever it is. But there is something to do with internal moral. Internal moral is very hard to keep up during the holidays because it’s a high stress time. If you have an opportunity to award outstanding talent, and incentivize them to have certain customer feedback or satisfaction, letting them know that this is a stressful time and rewarding them with additional part of a bonus, or a Holiday party, or a bottle of wine etc. If your team knows that they are appreciated for going the extra mile, very much like your customers they will feel intrinsically rewarded and that has a huge positive impact. If someone is spending 5 days a week listening to customer calls all day, but they know that their boss cares about them and appreciates what they’re doing, they’ll have a little more vigour when doing those kinds of tasks.

Final Customer Service Tip: During the holiday season, or during peak promotional seasons, the swiftness in a customer receiving their order, and the information you provide for them while they’re waiting for their order, has a very big impact in their impression of you and your customer service.

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1. Your Team and Orders

How you plan to fulfill additional orders, and how you forecast the order volume coming in has a dual effect of making you operate at the maximize efficiency, while also having an impact on your customer service. People think that ok, I want my warehouse manager to be happy so I need to make this process as efficient as possible, but you don’t realize what impact it has on a customer when things are shipped efficiency, are they getting the right product or is your warehouse staff just concerned with getting orders out as fast as possible? Remember, it’s extremely frustrating for a customer to wait a day, a week or whatever it takes to get their package and then discover that the wrong size or colour was sent, or that it just took longer than was initially promised. While ensuring your shipping processes are efficient, don’t rush your processes, as that can cause some pretty upsetting shopping experiences for your customers.

Notify your customers of what holiday shipping times are like. Set their expectations. Sometimes it’s necessary for merchants to add a few days of lead time, so make sure they’re aware of this given the busier time of year. If you’re a retailer and offer pick-up in-store, or are willing to ship products to a store for someone for ease of use, make sure it’s very well known. Having a positive user experience in the front end is key but you need them to have them an easier time understanding how they’re going to get their product. All of the rules that apply to customer service, still apply to your fulfillment team. Make sure that certain scenarios are practiced. For example, if a member of your warehouse team can’t find something they’re looking for to fulfill. Or if the shipping label doesn’t print, if there’ s a printer jam, or run out of paper. Anything that you may have experienced last holiday season that disrupted your fulfillment process, that’s worth running through with your team. Make sure they recognize how appreciative you are for their hard work this holiday season.

For those of you that don’t have past history because they are new to eCommerce, reach out to your network, reach out to your eCommerce development partner (a company like us) and ask questions! “What should I be expecting?”, “What challenges have you experienced in the past?”, and network out there with people who can forecast. The better you can forecast, the more ready you’ll be!

2. Shipping options

If you were ever going to test offering alternate shipping methods, like ship to a post office here in Canada or expedited shipping, this is the time of year to check it out. Customers love that kind of stuff. The more options you give your customers to receive their package, the better. Pick-up in-store is a fantastic opportunity to further interact with your customers because it allows them to physically walk into your store, where you can up-sell and cross-sell to them.


1. Code Freezes

In our industry we talk a lot about Code Freezes during this time of year. As we get closer to the major shopping season, all sites have to take measures to ensure site stability and health while enjoying (hopefully) higher visitor volume and conversion rates. One of these measures is to put your site into a Code Freeze for the months of November and December.

“Code freeze” is a term given to signify a time period where no major changes get promoted to your website. Every time you touch code on your website during the holidays, even something minor, you exposure yourself and risk its stability. And while the idea of major code changes is slightly ambiguous, there are definite do’s and don’ts to a code freeze!

While code freezes don’t actually hold true for some retailers, as your team will find some last minute changes that will “need to be done” or a modification, or they will find a bug etc. Our recommendation is to weigh the value of what your team wants to do vs the risk destabilizing your site right before the holiday season. If you’re looking to complete some development on your site in early to mid November make sure that it’s worth the risk of having other features be affected by the changes that you’re making.

2. Avoid Huge Server Processes

“Don’t work on an engine of a car that is running a thousand miles a minute as it is.”

During a sale, or during the day of Black Friday or Cyber Monday – don’t be hung up on metrics, just focus on fulfilling orders and getting them out the door. If you do have to run reports, do not run it through your eCommerce platform. Keep track of metrics through Google Analytics, or utilize your integrated ERP system (if applicable). Running reports through your eCommerce platform uses up server processes instead of giving those server processes to your end users who are trying to access your website. Make sure you avoid these kinds of huge server processes during the days of important promotional sales, this includes reindexing data and clearing cache.


1. The Front End

Have your content ready and prepared. Have your products, descriptions, images, catalog etc ready. Everything has to be ready a head of your key promotional days. So even if a product won’t be available online until November 21st, there’s no reason why you can’t prepare the content to support that product early on.

It’s getting a little late in the game to be making UX changes and testing things out, but it’s a great time of year to make sure you’re tracking everything that’s happening. So when January comes and have questions about why certain category didn’t do well, or why a certain category didn’t better than predicted, the ability to look back at your November and December and track user flow through the site, product success, checkout success, customer service feedback – (all of the different things you can track) is very important not to forget. Then, when the holiday season is over, and you want to know as much detail as possible, you can reference all of your data.

It’s not too late to add that tracking to make sure that funnels in Google Analytics are set up for all the different metrics you’re going to want to track and review data for. It’s important to set this up now, as once the season is over it’s too late to go back and start asking for data that was never set up.

Don’t just think about the holidays, think about what you want to know about the holidays.

It’s tight in terms of timing to be talking about User Experience changes. You don’t want to entice people on your team in the middle of October to start requesting UX changes. By now whatever UX changes you haven’t thought of, it’s not worth risking to do them right before key promotional days.

That being said, there are little things that we have noticed in the past that have helped. So if you realize tomorrow, hey you know what instead of saying “Checkout” on the checkout page, saying the words “Secure Checkout” with a little picture of a lock, really makes customers feel a little more comfortable when shopping. If there is time to get that done in terms of other projects going on, then those kinds of things that you can slide in before the holidays may have a bigger impact on conversions. Just remember, it all goes back to weighing risk vs. reward. We don’t want to imply that it’s too late to do anything, but it’s just working in that grey area, so make sure the risk is worth the reward.

What NOT to do during the Holidays

There are things you should be weary of, if you’re thinking of attempting to do any on those key promotional days.
Here are 2 high level things we recommend you stay away from or the DON’Ts during the holiday season:

1. Don’t do anything that has a big weight on your eCommerce system, or would destabilize your site

2. From a marketing standpoint, a big “No-No” is don’t let other sites sway you.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on alternatives and on your competitors, but your program may be the best things for you, your approach, and strategy may be the best for your company. Just because a competitors is doing something different, shouldn’t mean you have to adjust and change your campaign. As it might have a ripple effect, and ruin everything which would ruin the rest of your promotional day. It brings us back to evaluating risk vs reward, but plan ahead and think intelligently to build up your strategy and then be confident in executing it. What your competitors are doing the day of, might seem like a better approach, but you have no idea a) what it costs to do that, and b) what their sales are from that approach. There’s a value in doing a competitive analysis, but there’s also a value in not doing everything your competitor is doing.

Holiday Prep Checklist eBook

Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure where to start before Black Friday and Cyber Monday hits? Check out our free eBook, a Last Minute eCommerce Holiday Checklist. It outlines the key tasks that should and shouldn’t be done before the holidays, while ensuring you’re team and user experience is top of mind. Click the button below to get your free copy now!

Click To Get Our UPDATED 2016 eBook

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