The holiday shopping rush is just around the corner, and retailers across the country are preparing for their post-Thanksgiving promotions. This is especially true of e-commerce businesses, which need to anticipate an influx of website traffic during what's likely to be their biggest sales period of the year.
As a small e-tailer, it's in your best interest to get your website in tip-top shape for the season, to help you keep up with your larger competitors. Frank Yue, director of application delivery solutions at Radware, a provider of application delivery and security solutions, said that if your site slows down, you have a lot to lose — 57 percent of consumers will abandon a site that fails to load after 3 seconds, according to Radware research.
"If the site doesn't respond ... [customers will think] it's not worth it and go to another website to buy [the item] somewhere else," Yue told Business News Daily. "It's not just the [site] outage you have to worry about, but also the degradation of performance and delivery to retain customers."
Yue and Debbi Lechner, vice president of product marketing and management for Web.com, offered the following tips for optimizing your e-commerce website for increased holiday sales. [Holiday Marketing Trends That Will Drive Sales]
Highlight your special offers and discounts. Make sure that your holiday offers are featured prominently on your home page, and update your website's images, keywords and search engine optimization to help shoppers find your business in search results, Lechner said. She also advised frequently posting your special offers to your top social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
"Linking your posts back to your website will promote calls and orders, and drive more traffic to your website," Lechner said. "You will also see increased awareness and followers of your social channels when customers share your offers with their friends."
Make site speed a priority. Many online retailers focus primarily on the design of their website — how pretty the page looks, how big the graphics are, how easy the Buy buttons are to access, etc. The problem, however, is that all those large photos and interactive elements could slow your site down significantly.
"All that effort spent to make a gorgeous [website] could get wasted because the page doesn't load in time for the consumer," said Deborah Szajngarten, director of public relations for Radware.
Although a well-designed home page is important, businesses should also focus on finding Web solutions and hosts that give them the necessary bandwidth and speed to support higher holiday traffic.
"[You need] on-demand resourcing ... to scale the capabilities of your online presence and quickly adjust the number of servers and customers you can support simultaneously [to remain] efficient," Yue said.
Mobile-optimize your site. Lechner reminded businesses that the popularity of mobile commerce is continuing to increase. Be sure to provide your prospects and customers with a good online experience, regardless of whether they are browsing via a smartphone, tablet or PC. If you haven't done so already, be sure to test out your site on a variety of devices and make any necessary fixes to offer a seamless mobile experience.
Prepare for security concerns. It's not just shoppers who ramp up their online activity during the holidays — hackers are waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of the increased number of transactions. Yue recommended educating yourself and your team to recognize such cyberattacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, as well as invest in security solutions to help you handle any potential situations.
"DDoS attacks are a regular occurrence — expect them to step up during the holiday season," Yue said. "They're getting complex. You need [to be able] to mitigate the attack appropriately."
Be ready with your customer support. Holiday shoppers want a positive customer experience, so make your contact details easy to find on all pages of your website in case customers have questions about their orders.
"You may want to consider adding temporary help to answer the additional calls, if you think you will need it," Lechner said. "A simple answering service can ensure you don't miss a call and lets customers know you plan to get back to them quickly."
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated Oct. 15, 2015.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Deborah Szajngarten's title.