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Comment: Forget the fancy decorations - sort the online Christmas basics now

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As the festive period fast approaches, retailers are already starting to prepare their decorations and over-the-top grottos for the expected rise in footfall. Much like their brick and mortar counterparts, online retailers need to make significant changes to their site if they are to cope with the rise in online traffic and product demand.

With figures from research firm Verdict predicting that Christmas spending will reach levels not seen since before the recession, online retailers need to understand where demand is expected if they are to make the most out of the busiest shopping period of the year.

Consumer buying trends change dramatically each year and online retailers should understand how and what consumers are purchasing on their sites in order to adapt and develop their eCommerce operations accordingly. The homepage should be seen as the ‘storefront’, with the most attractive products and promotions taking precedence, making it easy for consumers to navigate and subsequently purchase.

With recent figures revealing that 72% of UK adults buy their goods online, it’s vital that eCommerce sites can technically cope with an influx in traffic around certain products and during promotional periods. Any downtime experienced will cause irreparable reputational damage as well as a probable decline in sales – a nightmare to any retailer.

Looking at past order histories will help establish consumer trends and online behaviours which can then be used to optimise an eCommerce site in the run-up to the holidays, ensuring it can technically cope with a significant demand increase.

Key dates to prepare for include the aptly named ‘Mega Monday’ – the first Monday in December – the biggest day of the year in terms of online trading, with Visa predicting £10,000 will be spent by consumers online, per second. This year’s Mega Monday predictions have already succeeded that of 2012, with research blaming the dramatic rise to consumers purchasing on mobile devices.

A successful multi-screen strategy ensures that the content being delivered is created uniquely for each screen to fit in with buyer behaviour across devices; for example consumers purchase differently on mobiles than those that do on tablets. Content should be innovative and relevant with interactive functions and simple routes to purchase implemented; this will also assist when monitoring what consumers are browsing and purchasing.

Boxing Day and New Year are also examples of when a high level of traffic is expected, largely due to the post Christmas promotions and sales; online retailers can expect to see dramatic peaks and troughs during this period.

One thing consumers expect is a good deal and despite the temptation to use dramatic discounts to entice visitors, it is essential that retailers adopt promotions and offers that relate to the stock available, as well at the website’s ability to handle the rise in traffic. Offering heavily discounted products will result in an unpredictable amount of traffic; a tarnished brand and a disgruntled consumer are also unenviable outcomes.

Logistically, retailers need to ensure they have a strong online infrastructure to prevent slow page loading times, navigational issues or the worst possible scenario, a full blown website crash. This is achieved through strong relationships with the hosting provider and IT management team. Make sure everyone understands where and when the peak demand is expected, as well as any changes in online consumer purchase behaviour throughout the festive period. All of this information can assist in future business growth and revenue predictions.

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; simple steps to ensure business success during the holiday season.

One minute of downtime online can result in hundreds (if not thousands) of lost orders and irreparable damage to any business. These factors are the most important influencers to retail success over the Christmas period, ensuring eCommerce sites are consistently performing to the highest standards 24/7.

Published on Thursday 24 October by Editorial Assistant

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