Code Freeze Already? 4 Ways To Optimize eCommerce Sites For Holiday Success

Code Freeze Already? 4 Ways To Optimize eCommerce Sites For Holiday Success

Code Freeze Already? 4 Ways To Optimize eCommerce Sites For Holiday Success

As September rushes along, the holiday season is fast approaching — and with it, the period known as “code freeze,” when eCommerce merchants avoid launching new features or making fundamental functionality changes that might malfunction and negatively impact the bottom line. But merchants still have the opportunity to make small but mighty changes to optimize sites for peak sales.

The holiday season continues to be crucial for merchants: in 2016, fourth-quarter online sales accounted for close to 32% of eCommerce revenue for the year overall. And with the Web influencing over half of all retail sales both in-stores and online, it’s crucial for retailers and online-only sellers alike to maximize opportunities for engagement and purchasing via their eCommerce sites.

To minimize the risk of glitches during this crucial season, the technological lockdown for the Web site usually begins with the fourth quarter or shortly thereafter — which means that by now, the window of opportunity has shut for merchants to debut major new initiatives. But that doesn’t mean all hope for improvement is lost.

In the first of three clients-only holiday readiness webinars, members of Kibo’s strategy and customer success teams revealed a checklist of tweaks merchants can still undertake to ensure they make the most of holiday site visitors. Among them:

Optimize on-site search for mobile. Given that some 30% of shoppers use on-site search and they’re twice as likely to convert when they do, merchants would do well to vet functionality carefully — and that goes double for mobile. Given that mobile users are more likely to cut to the chase with a keyword search rather than squint their way through drop-down navigation to browse on small screens, sellers should analyze mobile on-site search logs and fine-tune accordingly. Replacing industry jargon with search terms consumers actually use, ensuring terms such as “sale”, “store hours”, and “shipping” shortcut to the relevant categories and customer service information, using predictive search suggestions to highlight relevant items and categories, and creating a rich “zero results” page that doesn’t bounce shoppers off the site are among the fixes merchants can enact now to drive relevance during the peak season.

Keep an eye on picture sizes. It’s an oft-cited statistic: more than half of consumers will abandon Web sites that don’t load within three seconds. But in reality, the expectations are higher still: Google found that when page load time increases from 1 to 3 seconds, the probability that consumers will bounce off the site increases 32%.

While code freeze means that major server overhauls and deployment of content delivery networks are no longer feasible before the holiday rush, merchants can still improve page load times by focusing on individual content assets — starting with photos. Given the outsized importance of visual strategy for brands and the wealth of still and video images generated by sellers and social followers alike, eCommerce sites are increasingly crammed with photos that can make or break site speed.

Accordingly, merchants should vet batch processing routines to ensure images are being sized appropriately, and consider manually reviewing image assets connected with their top 50 products. In addition, they should scrutinize and possibly scrap elements such as photo slideshows, which garner click-through rates of just 2 to 4 percent from the second slide onward, according to the Kibo webinar.

Test the gift card purchase process. The holidays are the year’s top season for gift card purchases: 61% of 2016 holiday shoppers said they hoped to receive gift cards, and as a result, some 33% of the $28 billion in gift cards purchased for others were bought during the Christmas season.

To take advantage of this opportunity, merchants should thoroughly vet their sites for gift-card prominence and ease of use — not only by using the desktop and mobile versions of the site themselves, but by assembling an ad hoc testing team of colleagues, parents, and teens who can step through the gift-card purchase process and uncover stumbling blocks on the path to purchase.

Lay the data groundwork for 2018 now. Hopefully, merchants have used 2016 holiday data and sales as a barometer for 2017 strategy — and they should plan to do the same this year so that next year’s planning is based on solid information, not conjecture.

Any gaps in analytics tracking or customer profiles that were uncovered when 2016 results were analyzed should be rectified now, and tests run to ensure that data is being collected accurately,  including from mobile Web sites and apps. In addition, merchants should optimize their analytics programs in advance by loading in milestones such as promotional campaign start and end dates, scheduled email sends, and key events such as Black Friday; that way, as results roll in, they can be analyzed in the context of the seasonal calendar.

Furthermore, naming conventions for source codes and promo codes should be finalized for consistency and catalogued for future reference, making future results analysis as clear as possible.

Check back for further highlights from Kibo’s holiday readiness series. Want full access? Consider becoming a Kibo client and benefiting from a world-class omnichannel commerce platform paired with expert strategy advice and custom insights during the holidays and year-round.

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