While some consumers have already begun their holiday shopping, the post-Thanksgiving rush is about to begin, and retailers across the country are preparing for big sales and 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 online retailer, your website needs to be in tip-top shape for the season, to help you keep up with your larger competitors. Frank Yue, director of solution marketing and application delivery at Radware, a provider of DDoS protection services, 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."
Beyond ensuring fast, efficient website performance, there are a few other things you should keep in mind when prepping your e-commerce website for increased holiday traffic. Marketing experts weighed in on how to make your site stand out and drive sales. [See Related Story: Holiday Marketing Trends That Will Drive Sales]
Celebrate the season on your site
Physical retail stores often set up special holiday displays during the shopping season. You can take a similar approach to your website.
"Now is the time to start flipping over creative and make your site more seasonal," said Lisa Graves, senior email marketing strategist at DEG, a full-service digital marketing agency. "Dress up your digital channel just like you do your brick and mortar."
But this doesn't necessarily mean adding Christmas trees and flashing lights to your homepage, said Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications at e-commerce software provider ePages.com.
"Rather, revise your website content and adapt it with encouraging, upbeat content for the most important milestone dates: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and New Year," he said. "Shoppers respond best to content that celebrates the products, ties these to festivities and gives a sense of why the recipient will be delighted with them."
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, said Debbi Lechner, vice president of product marketing and management for Web.com. 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.
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."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.