Holiday Ideas & Strategies

The Ecommerce Holiday Readiness Checklist: Mobile Optimization, Checkout CRO & The 11th Hour

Tracey Wallace / 10 min read

Consumer spending is up. Unemployment is at near historic lows.

It’s a good time to be selling online – especially leading up to the holidays.

In 2017, holiday season sales accounted for more than one-quarter of total annual retail sales, rising 5.5% over 2016 to $691.9 billion.

The story is even better news for ecommerce. Online sales increased 11.5% over 2016 to $138.4 billion.

November was the month that drove the highest YoY growth, likely during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday rush.

Those numbers blew predictions out of the water.

In 2018, holiday sales predictions from the National Retail Federation are at an increase over 2017 of 3.3% to 4.4%.

Considering Amazon’s Prime Day saw a 69% increase in sales in the first 12 hours YoY, I’d say that a 3.3% to 4.4% holiday retail sales increase is again conservative.

The point for retailers though is to nab as much as possible of that increase – ideally increasing their own YoY sales far past single-digit percentages.

So, how does an online store prepare for the barrage of traffic, the increase in advertising costs, and the technology industry updates playing out in full view of everyone (think Facebook’s data updates, Google’s mobile update and Amazon’s new ad marketplace)?

Here is your 2018 holiday readiness checklist to make sure you drive traffic, convert new customers, rengage existing buyers and do it all with a beautiful ecommerce site that never goes down.

Optimize for Mobile: The Fastest Growing in Holiday Sales

In July of this year, Google changed the way it ranks websites.

Now, how quickly your site loads on mobile affects your search rankings across Google, including desktop.

This means it isn’t enough anymore to have a mobile-optimized or mobile-first site, especially if that site is still takings a dozen seconds to load.

Beyond driving traffic in search, however, sites that load quickly on mobile also see higher mobile sales.

And, mobile sales are on the rise.

In Q4 2017, mobile commerce saw a 40% increase in sales YoY.

“Mobile is the key driver of digital retail growth,” said Ryan Williams, head of client insights, retail, travel and CPG at comScore last year.

Both desktop’s 15% growth and mobile’s 40% year-over-year growth rate surpass brick-and-mortar’s Q4 growth of 7% year over year, according to comScore.

Here are a few ways to both drive traffic and convert shoppers via mobile optimization this holiday season:

  • Implement AMP: AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. It is a Google-backed project designed with open standard to have pages load quickly on mobile devices. Although not a direct ranking factor, AMP improves user experience and page speed for mobile users –– ideally increasing user engagement with your site. All BigCommerce Stencil themes have AMP built right in.
  • Launch a service like Akamai to optimize image size across devices: One of the biggest factors slowing down site load time is image size. On bigger screens, bigger pictures work best to portray the true quality. On smaller screens, a tool like Akamai working in the background will optimize images for the device, speeding up page load speed and helping you to rank higher, faster. All BigCommerce stores automatically have Akamai working in the background.
  • Use digital wallets at checkout: Digital wallets remove the frustrations of mobile checkout, and they help speed up desktop conversions, too.
  • Customize and optimize every inch of checkout: From charitable givings to a completely unique checkout experience, use BigCommerce to customize every single pixel at checkout exactly how you want the experience to be.
  • Optimize product pages for long tail search terms (think voice commerce): Beyond mobile text SEO, make sure to optimize your product pages for longer tail questions rather than keywords. This will help you to rank for voice search queries.

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Update SEO: More Traffic for Less Ad Spend

Often, the success of search engine optimization takes weeks to months to see. That’s why you should get started right now on optimizing your site for holiday SEO.

As more brands gear up to spend on PPC, Facebook Advertising and more – costs will go up.

Keep yours down by organically ranking for target keywords and phrases.

Here’s where you can begin:

  • Analyze keywords that drove success last year: Optimize for those terms, creating more in-depth product page content (including video) and earning more backlinks from your affiliates, partners and community.
  • Factor in the surge in voice-related searches: Modify your SEO to incorporate your highest value question phrases, including searches for brick and mortar store information.
  • Create sneak peek or “coming soon” pages: These are perfect for when you are planning your gift guide and help to provide a nice boost to your SEO rankings. Plus, exclusivity always helps to drive conversion.
  • Get a head start on indexing holiday-specific queries: Begin to use holiday-specific keywords and phrases in the page metadata and copy. For instance, start writing blog posts, building your sneak peek pages and researching up-and-coming industry trends (you can use Google Trends for this) as well as those on your site to see what people are searching for, and then making it easier for them to find the item that fills that need.

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Campaigns and Promotions: Closing the Deal with Higher AOV

Most shoppers buy their holiday gifts during Black Friday and Cyber Monday when there is an onslaught of retailer discounts and promotions.

Beyond those two days though, there is a lot you can do with seasonal promotional activities and campaigns to seal the deal and convert customers.

Here is where to start and how to get organized:

  • Create your holiday promotions and communications calendar. Use a tool like Trello or Google Sheets and share this out with the team. Integrated marketing campaigns have the highest return on investment. Make sure all team members know what is going live and when, and what their role is in each campaign’s success.
  • Map out an email strategy to ensure the right segmentation and frequency of messages. Keep in mind that more messages are opened on mobile devices and that using emoticons and emojis in the subject lines drive open rates. Using more conversational messages is helpful as well. Include images of you and your team. Let your customers and newsletter lists get to know the real you, and they will be more likely to buy. Hot Tip: Don’t forget about Facebook Messenger. Use a bot like Maisie to help.
  • Build a page to clearly communicate delivery dates for the holiday season. Include on this page “purchase to get by XYZ holiday” drop dead dates, as well as your return policy. Push this out through social media and email. Be sure to have a plan for the final days to promote how much time folks have left to buy something.
  • Experiment with tiered promotions to help drive AOV and customer engagement. For example, “buy more, get more.” Or, “Free Shipping with a $50 purchase.”
  • Communicate urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out). Use terms such as “online only,” “limited quantities,” and “ends tonight!”
  • Offer a “gift with purchase” promotion. This has proven to be highly successful and it gets additional product of yours in front of net new customers.
  • Use customer groups to offer holiday previews to your most loyal customers.
  • Post top holiday products to Facebook and Instagram to drive deep links and consumers to your site.
  • Investigate potential tie-ins with charities for a “Giving Tuesday” promotion. Also, think through your Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday promotions and campaigns. Can you tie them all back to a key message? Or use each day to target a different, relevant audience? Small Business saturday, for instance, may be the best time to target your local community through Facebook ads or promotions – including Buy Online, Pick Up In Store.

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Update Your Merchandising Strategy

Online content is just as important as in-store merchandising.

When that is lacking, your shelves might as well be empty.

That’s why the two points in this merchandising strategy section are about creating guides and bundles – i.e. content experiences – that tell a story and help online visitors find the items they want to buy.

  • Launch a Holiday Gift Guide. Make gift guides targeted to a theme (beach bum, jewelry lover, stocking stuffers, etc.) and by price. Update consistently, feature them in emails and create “quick navigation” paths so shoppers can easily find and shop the guide.
  • Create recommended and frequently bought together bundles and upsell opportunities. Adding multiple products to your shopping cart from one page increases your AOV. Feature these sets in your content, navigation, social campaigns and email campaigns.

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Tune Site Search Results

Similar to the SEO work you do to rank well on Google (or on Amazon), you can use search data to optimize your own search engine.

That is, the one on your site.

While merchandising and promotions will help to get folks to your site and browsing with your content, fine-tuning your site search results will help those dedicated shoppers who know exactly what they are looking for to find that thing.

Here’s your checklist:

  • Add the most common misspellings to your dictionaries. Review weekly, beginning now. Keep an eye out for low-converting terms that display results. Are the correct items being returned? Also, offer autocomplete functionality to help deviate folks from wrong spellings.
  • Create dedicated landing pages for “holiday gifts,” “stocking stuffers,” “gift ideas,” and other popular search terms. Consider using redirects for holiday-curated categories. Make sure these landing pages show up in search results –– even if folks aren’t searching for them.
  • Avoid the dreaded “no results found” experience. Even misspellings should take your shoppers to their destination so there is no money left on the table. Remember the Amazon Prime Day puppies? Make sure you don’t have any puppies – but that there are results and options there in product form. For instance, you can update content on your “no results” page to feature holiday gift guides.

Post-Checkout: Fulfillment, Shipping & Delivery

Getting folks to the site and buying your item are only steps 1 and 2 in the ecommerce game.

Now you need to get the item to the customer – on time and in pristine condition.

This means you need to double check inventory (and preorder more), make sure the right inventory is in the right warehouses, set minimum thresholds to remove products with low inventory, sync your channels to make sure inventory is updated in near real-time across the board, and offer a variety of shipping options including pick up in store.

  • Beef up inventory: You know better than anyone else about lead times, especially for items coming from overseas. Place your orders now, so you’re well stocked for the holiday rush in your fulfilment center. Also make sure that each of your warehouses are appropriately stocked, or that you have shipping and fulfillment rules in place to switch warehouses if a minimum threshold is hit.
  • Set minimum in-stock number thresholds: Once those thresholds are hit, have the systems automatically remove the product from the purchase queue. In other words, show it out of stock, even if you have 5 left. This will give you space as your other channels catch up and you call in additional inventory.
  • Sync in-store, online and marketplace sales: Make sure you have a single source of truth for all of your sales channels including you web store, your brick and mortar, your Amazon products and wherever else you sell. You can use BigCommerce and Square for this, an ERP of your choice, a PIM or a channel manager. It’s up to you, but make sure what you have in place is what works.
  • Offer a variety of shipping options: 2-day, free, pick up in store, etc. Make sure customers have options –– and that you do, too.

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Site Readiness: The Technical Bits

Just like any brick-and-mortar store, your website must be ready to shepherd a crowd of shoppers through your front door, down the aisles and to the register.

For a website, that means quickly loading pages, intuitive navigation and a secure checkout.

It also means making sure that your integrations and data are syncing across your organization as planned, and that your site is cleaned up of any blemishes before the crowd arrives.

Here are a few items to check off your site readiness list.

  • Test your infrastructure: Do a round of load testing to ensure servers can handle increases in traffic and transactions. Reach out to your technology provider like BigCommerce. These companies can help you perform load testing to determine visit numbers and traffic patterns.
  • Keep a clean house: Do a survey of your website to ensure there are no broken images or hyperlinks. Purge old data, set object retentions, and be cognizant of system quotas. Check the health of your site and review 404 errors in webmaster tools. Use 301s to redirect any 404s.
  • Add trusted payment methods: Make sure your PayPal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay and any other payment options are functional and working properly across your funnel.
  • Test your third-party integrations: Test them, make sure they can handle the load and then don’t add any others. Additional or last minute app add-ons can break aspects of your flow or slow down your site. Unless something is broken, put a “code freeze” in place a few weeks before Thanksgiving.

Think Globally

“It’s a small world after all” has never been more relevant than it is today.

By leveraging free online tools and research on global trends, businesses of all sizes can find success selling internationally.

  • Do more homework: Learn the customs, duties, taxes and regulatory requirements of your targeted sales regions, which can allow you to position your products effectively and appropriately. Plus, stay on top of the product categories and brands that are hot overseas.
  • Keep shipping costs low: 47% of all online shoppers say that free shipping would make them more likely to purchase from another country. Consider the trade off between incurring shipping costs and the lifetime value of a new customer.
  • Consider how customers want to pay: Research local buyers’ preferred payment methods, which vary significantly depending on the country. If you can’t offer payment in local currency, at least provide a currency converter.

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Post Cyber Five: How to Sell in the 11th Hour

Most of the emphasis of the holiday season is put toward Cyber Five. But there are a lot of last minute shoppers out there.

Here are 11th-hour tips you can use all the way up to your drop dead delivery date.

  • Put together a “12 deals of Christmas” offer: Offer a new deal each day leading up to shipping cut-off. Reveal one deal each day to drive repeat visits. Schedule content in advance to relieve the burden of daily content slot swaps.
  • Prep for last minute holiday shopping. Call out available shipping upgrades, extended shipping deadlines, etc. Push these through affiliates and social media. Create a sense of urgency with “only three days left” or “there is still time!”
  • After the shipping drop dead date: Push gift cards after the holiday shipping cutoffs, including redirecting key site search queries. Make sure your returns portal is set up and ready.

Turning Holiday Sales into Lifetime Loyalty

Finally, after the holiday selling season is over, it’s time to turn those new customers into repeat buyers with brand affinity.

  • Show some personality: Say thank you via email and your social channels, and wish folks a happy new year. Let people see the people behind the brand, and the gratitude for a great holiday season.
  • Encourage the use of holiday gift certificates: Set up email campaigns to get folks to the store to use their gift.
  • Make sure your returns portal is set up and provides a hassle-free process: A returned item isn’t necessarily a lost customer. A bad experience is.
  • Keep the campaigns coming: Use content and promotions long into the new year, letting folks know of new product launches, discounts for the winter season and more. Communication doesn’t stop after the holidays.
  • Do some digging: Look in to what really worked for you this holiday season, and then double down! Using holiday data to uncover trends within your segment can help set your brand up for 2019 success.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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The 2018 Holiday Readiness Report & Checklist

Your manual to maximizing holiday success and minimizing loss.