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by Mark King

Just like any high street store, ecommerce sites need to take significant steps to prepare for a rise in product demand and consumer traffic over the Christmas period. With last year’s figures estimating that £9,722 was spent per minute online during December – a total of £1.64bn – it’s vital to consider how to make the most out of your site during the busiest shopping period of the year.

It may only be the start of October, but Christmas is looming around the corner, with high street stores already promoting Christmas offers and decorations. Similarly online retailers need to start thinking about how to cope with the likely rise in online traffic leading up to and during the festive period.

Consumer buying trends change with each year and retailers should make sure they are aware of what consumers want in order to adapt and develop both their website and operations accordingly. An ‘out of stock’ notice is often one of a consumer’s most dreaded signs when reaching the end of their purchase.

Understanding how and what consumers purchase is essential to the future survival or your retail site. Look at past order histories and attempt to understand how consumers are purchasing on your site and then optimise your site to fit in with these behaviours. This will ensure your site can technically cope with a rise in demand around certain products or promotions.

A website’s homepage should also be seen as the ‘shop storefront’ with the most attractive products being promoted, making it easy for consumers to search and eventually purchase.

Retailers need to ensure they have a consistently strong online infrastructure to allow the platform to scale horizontally to maintain speed, and to prevent the worst possible scenario of downtime. Make sure your hosting provider and IT team understand where and when your peak demand is expected, as well as any changes in online consumer purchase behaviour throughout the festive period. All of this information can inform how you evolve and develop your site, maximising the potential for revenue during the lucrative festive season.

Today’s consumers expect Christmas and New Year promotional activities and online retailers will experience peaks and troughs in website visits, reflecting the promoted product’s popularity. Extreme peaks will occur from late December to the end of January, during the post-Christmas sales, depending on the type of discounts being offered.

However, despite price reductions and offers often being defined as a quick source of income it is essential that you adopt discounts and promotions that relate to the stock available. Offering heavily discounted products will result in an unpredictable amount of traffic and a probable website crash; a tarnished reputation and a disgruntled consumer are also unenviable outcomes.

Key dates to prepare for in the run up to Christmas include December 2, dubbed Cyber Monday by the Americans, the busiest online shopping day in the UK when, according to experts, over £500 million will be spent. It is vital that all adaptations are ready before this date, with Boxing Day and New Year being big festive earners.

High street shoppers will not visit a store where they receive slow service, and the same goes for online consumers. Maintaining a fast website and quick loading times, together with a strong infrastructure, ensures fulfilled purchases and a smaller amount of abandoned shopping carts.

If you have a multi-screen strategy in place, ensure the content being delivered is created uniquely for each screen; as mobile users purchase differently from those who do so on tablets. I have seen examples of content not being published correctly on iPads where you switch from portrait to landscape, affecting the ‘buy it now’ button and causing major issues to conversions.

Your content should be interesting, innovative and relevant, while it’s also important to monitor what consumers are browsing and purchasing. Simple website layouts, purchase routes and sitemaps are all very important when attracting consumers and with millions of online competitors, it is a point worth contemplating in detail.

One minute of downtime online can result in hundreds (if not thousands) of lost orders and irreparable damage to your reputation. These factors are the most important influencers to retail success over the Christmas period and therefore ensure your retail site is working and performing to the highest standard and capabilities possible.

Mark King is EMEA channel lead at PEER 1 Hosting.

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