The Kensium 2020 Holiday Readiness Guide

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The Kensium 2020 Holiday Readiness Guide

24/09/2020 Categories: ARTICLES

If there is one theme to describe the eCommerce industry this year, it is this: The most significant ability is adaptability. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the most disruptive pandemic in 100 years and the first of its kind in the modern era. It stands to reason that the holiday eCommerce season will be affected, and standard strategies are not going to cut it in 2020. Recent data from May 2020 (Bazaarvoice Network Data) shows a year-over-year online commerce growth rate of 83% compared to May 2019: April 2020 saw an order count increase of 96% compared to April 2019: Kensium has written this guide to advise merchants on holiday preparation. It’s based on our experience working with 100's of online businesses – small, medium, and large. It's more important than ever to implement high-impact, cost-effective solutions as we wait to see what tomorrow brings in the era of COVID and post-COVID. This guide will take you through our recommendations on preparing your website for heavy holiday traffic, heightened security threats, customer experience expectations, and holiday marketing opportunities. Use this guide as a launching pad to get ahead of the curve. Let's assume you want the highest possible sales this holiday season (not a very hard assumption to make, we know). Before anything else, you need to ensure that your website will handle a higher concentration of users than it's used to. Preparing Your Website For Heavy Holiday Traffic Heightened convenience means heightened expectations. The reality is that customers demand near-instantaneous load speed, and a slow site can drive them away: That is why you need to do everything in your power to ensure your site does not slow down during a high-traffic period like the holidays. Reliable hosting service and infrastructure are crucial to your site's ability to handle any influx of traffic, whether you expect it or not. Your eCommerce hosting service affects almost everything involved with the online shopping experience, so you need to be confident you're receiving the following benefits from your hosting service: Stellar website speed with the ability to scale according to increasing traffic. A trustworthy payment gateway. Security of customer data and backup. Excellent technical know-how and support from the hosting service. If you feel that your hosting service is not providing these advantages, it's time to work with them on changing that. Otherwise, it's time to start looking for a new hosting service. Finding The Right Host If you believe your hosting needs could be better served with a new provider, we've created a small checklist detailing the most critical factors you should be looking for:    Do You Know the Host's: Yes or No? Uptime Guarantees?   Online Reviews?   Technical Support Services?   Average Server Response Time?   Page Load Time?   Time to First Byte?   Research your own metrics from previous holiday seasons. They can help you project the type of traffic for which you will need to prepare. Look at traffic from the past year and the last three months to evaluate trends using your preferred reporting solution. Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that. Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that. A good rule of thumb is to plan for 30% additional capacity, but it is better to over-prepare than under-prepare if there is more. Going Error Hunting Errors can and do occur on every eCommerce website. They may be inevitable, but you can still minimize their appearance. It's useful to put your website through a little "technological self-reflection" before the holidays. These errors may be negatively impacting conversions and sales more than you think: Error Type: JavaScript errors are prone to occur when customers add something to their cart or during checkout. Since these errors are logged on the client side instead of the server side, they are challenging to monitor and fix. The Fix: Tools like Noibu or Webeyez record JavaScript errors on the site, allowing your developers to fix bugs before you lose any more revenue. Error Type: 404s often occur when pages have been moved or deleted, and linger due to outdated content, server changes, and software upgrades that have occurred over your website's lifetime. The Fix: 404 (page not found) errors are the most well-known among internet users, to the point that you may even use it for lead generation. As for fixing the mistakes themselves, conduct a thorough audit using website crawling software. These web-crawlers review all your pages in real-time and identify broken internal URLs across your website. Error Type: 500 errors are an indication that something has gone wrong on the server side. The server is usually down for one of two reasons: There is a mistake in the code. The server is overloaded and can't handle the number of users trying to access it at one time. The second issue is what you need to look out for when holiday sales start to pick up. An abnormally high rush of activity can even make your entire website crash! The Fix: Be sure you monitor server errors by checking all server logs. Ask your managed hosting provider for a load balancer, which can evenly spread the traffic across multiple web servers, preventing them from being overloaded. Finally, in preparation for a full site crash, be sure to back up your data to an offsite location. Fully updated backups can help get your site back online quickly if a calamity does occur. It's one thing to prepare for internal calamities, but external calamities are a bit more unpredictable. That's why you need to overprepare for the security risks that arrive gift-wrapped along with the holidays. The sheer amount of money exchanged during this peak selling season attracts hackers and scammers like sharks smelling blood in the water. Security Nothing brings down holiday joy like hackers, fraudsters, and scammers: Due to the enormous number of transactions taking place, it's difficult for many companies to detect fraud amongst the order volume. The heightened levels of web traffic also give fraudsters more opportunities, especially when people begin scouring the Internet in search of holiday savings opportunities. COVID-19 will undoubtedly discourage shoppers from going to brick-and-mortar stores and lead them to head online instead, giving scammers more potential targets. Our advice to merchants is to start preparing now. A stellar way to mitigate fraud risks is to put in place an anti-fraud strategy. The lowest hanging fruit is to perform any upgrades on your platforms (eCommerce, hosting, ERP, etc.) because many upgrades include security patches and releases. Take a hard look at your current fraud detection capabilities and ask yourself if it's time for an update there as well. Start with the type of fraud that worries you the most, then research which fraud prevention software may be best suited to address that specific threat. Ultimately, it's best to work with a partner like Kensium to guide you through this. Machine learning-based fraud detection systems analyze customer data to identify unusual user behavior typical with known fraudulent activity. Alerts are shared with the merchant so they can take steps to shut it down. This type of fraud prevention is especially useful when it comes to what we call "friendly fraud." Friendly Fraud Contrary to the name, friendly fraud is decidedly unfriendly. It is the root cause of over 70% of eCommerce fraud losses, according to Chargeback.com. It occurs when a cardholder disputes a legitimate purchase. What becomes tricky is figuring out if it's an innocent mistake or a malicious attempt to steal from your company. One of the most common scams is a buyer falsely claiming with the merchant that their "item was not received" (INR). After making an INR claim, bad buyers are given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a refund or a replacement, effectively gaining a free product or two items for the price of one. Retailers are right to be on their guard during the holiday season. But here's something counterintuitive: While some retailers focus on preventing fraud, their bigger worry should be accidentally declining legitimate orders for fear of fraud. Friendly fraud is one of the trickiest things to prevent against because if you accuse a customer of fraud, and it's just a "false positive" (the customer seems like they are committing fraud, but it's a misunderstanding), you can lose that customer and by extension, your reputation. Detecting Fraudulent vs. Legitimate Purchases During the holidays, it becomes unusually challenging to figure out which purchases are legitimate, and which are fraudulent. Many first-time customers will be buying gifts for others, so billing and delivery addresses often don't match. Even known customers display odd purchasing behavior because they are not buying items for themselves but gifts for others. Cart sizes are often larger than average because customers are spending more than they usually do. All these factors raise red flags when it comes to detecting fraud. Add to that the dramatic spikes in orders that most retailers face in the fourth quarter, and fraud teams are facing a daunting challenge, primarily if they rely heavily on manual review teams. It gets even more complicated. Let's face it, who doesn't do a little last-minute shopping? A higher frequency of overnight shipping and requests raises even more red flags for fraud detectors. Given all the red flags, some retailers become overly conservative and default to declining orders that they're not 100% certain are legitimate. If they review orders manually, they may have added temporary staff who lacks actual fraud expertise. Those workers may lean toward declining legitimate orders rather than face consternation from their bosses for approving orders that turn out to be fraudulent. Retailers might never even discover that the declined order should have shipped. Instead, they'll end up wondering what happened to that customer who was loyal up until last holiday season. Of course, you can always lose a customer's loyalty for a different reason. If you are not offering a customer experience on par with your top competitor, you can lose out on sales very quickly. According to a study by customer experience consulting firm Walker, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of 2020. Adapting To A New Customer Experience Customers want to experience the least amount of hassle in their online shopping as possible – especially around the holidays. Our "New Normal" has caused more customers to shop online than ever before for products they would typically buy in-store. Merchants are now shifting their main selling channel to the Internet, which opens a whole new host of opportunities to deliver a revenue-maximizing customer experience. In the world of eCommerce, the end of summer marks when to start holiday planning. It gives you enough time to find and address any issues. You don’t want to be working on your website during the holidays. A critical first step is to evaluate your site's buying experience.

gift wraps

pandemic in 100 years and the first of its kind in the modern era. It stands to reason that the holiday eCommerce season will be affected, and standard strategies are not going to cut it in 2020. Recent data from May 2020 (Bazaarvoice Network Data) shows a year-over-year online commerce growth rate of 83% compared to May 2019:

holiday blog graphic 1

April 2020 saw an order count increase of 96% compared to April 2019:

Online commerce growth rate 2019-2020

Kensium has written this guide to advise merchants on holiday preparation. It’s based on our experience working with 100's of online businesses – small, medium, and large. It's more important than ever to implement high-impact, cost-effective solutions as we wait to see what tomorrow brings in the era of COVID and post-COVID. This guide will take you through our recommendations on preparing your website for heavy holiday traffic, heightened security threats, customer experience expectations, and holiday marketing opportunities. Use this guide as a launching pad to get ahead of the curve.

Let's assume you want the highest possible sales this holiday season (not a very hard assumption to make, we know). Before anything else, you need to ensure that your website will handle a higher concentration of users than it's used to.

Preparing Your Website For Heavy Holiday Traffic

Heightened convenience means heightened expectations. The reality is that customers demand near-instantaneous load speed, and a slow site can drive them away:

eCommerce load speed

That is why you need to do everything in your power to ensure your site does not slow down during a high-traffic period like the holidays. Reliable hosting service and infrastructure are crucial to your site's ability to handle any influx of traffic, whether you expect it or not. Your eCommerce hosting service affects almost everything involved with the online shopping experience, so you need to be confident you're receiving the following benefits from your hosting service:

  • Stellar website speed with the ability to scale according to increasing traffic.
  • A trustworthy payment gateway.
  • Security of customer data and backup.
  • Excellent technical know-how and support from the hosting service.

If you feel that your hosting service is not providing these advantages, it's time to work with them on changing that. Otherwise, it's time to start looking for a new hosting service.

Finding The Right Host

If you believe your hosting needs could be better served with a new provider, we've created a small checklist detailing the most critical factors you should be looking for:   

Do You Know the Host's: Yes or No?
Uptime Guarantees?  
Online Reviews?  
Technical Support Services?  
Average Server Response Time?  
Page Load Time?  
Time to First Byte?  

Research your own metrics from previous holiday seasons. They can help you project the type of traffic for which you will need to prepare.

  • Look at traffic from the past year and the last three months to evaluate trends using your preferred reporting solution.
  • Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that. Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that.
  • A good rule of thumb is to plan for 30% additional capacity, but it is better to over-prepare than under-prepare if there is more.

Going Error Hunting

Errors can and do occur on every eCommerce website. They may be inevitable, but you can still minimize their appearance. It's useful to put your website through a little "technological self-reflection" before the holidays. These errors may be negatively impacting conversions and sales more than you think:

Error Type: JavaScript errors are prone to occur when customers add something to their cart or during checkout. Since these errors are logged on the client side instead of the server side, they are challenging to monitor and fix.

The Fix: Tools like Noibu or Webeyez record JavaScript errors on the site, allowing your developers to fix bugs before you lose any more revenue.

Error Type: 404s often occur when pages have been moved or deleted, and linger due to outdated content, server changes, and software upgrades that have occurred over your website's lifetime.

The Fix: 404 (page not found) errors are the most well-known among internet users, to the point that you may even use it for lead generation. As for fixing the mistakes themselves, conduct a thorough audit using website crawling software. These web-crawlers review all your pages in real-time and identify broken internal URLs across your website.

Error Type: 500 errors are an indication that something has gone wrong on the server side. The server is usually down for one of two reasons:

  • There is a mistake in the code.
  • The server is overloaded and can't handle the number of users trying to access it at one time.

The second issue is what you need to look out for when holiday sales start to pick up. An abnormally high rush of activity can even make your entire website crash!

The Fix: Be sure you monitor server errors by checking all server logs. Ask your managed hosting provider for a load balancer, which can evenly spread the traffic across multiple web servers, preventing them from being overloaded.

Finally, in preparation for a full site crash, be sure to back up your data to an offsite location. Fully updated backups can help get your site back online quickly if a calamity does occur.

It's one thing to prepare for internal calamities, but external calamities are a bit more unpredictable. That's why you need to overprepare for the security risks that arrive gift-wrapped along with the holidays. The sheer amount of money exchanged during this peak selling season attracts hackers and scammers like sharks smelling blood in the water.

Security

Nothing brings down holiday joy like hackers, fraudsters, and scammers:

holiday potential scams

Due to the enormous number of transactions taking place, it's difficult for many companies to detect fraud amongst the order volume. The heightened levels of web traffic also give fraudsters more opportunities, especially when people begin scouring the Internet in search of holiday savings opportunities. COVID-19 will undoubtedly discourage shoppers from going to brick-and-mortar stores and lead them to head online instead, giving scammers more potential targets.

Our advice to merchants is to start preparing now. A stellar way to mitigate fraud risks is to put in place an anti-fraud strategy.

The lowest hanging fruit is to perform any upgrades on your platforms (eCommerce, hosting, ERP, etc.) because many upgrades include security patches and releases. Take a hard look at your current fraud detection capabilities and ask yourself if it's time for an update there as well. Start with the type of fraud that worries you the most, then research which fraud prevention software may be best suited to address that specific threat. Ultimately, it's best to work with a partner like Kensium to guide you through this.

Machine learning-based fraud detection systems analyze customer data to identify unusual user behavior typical with known fraudulent activity. Alerts are shared with the merchant so they can take steps to shut it down. This type of fraud prevention is especially useful when it comes to what we call "friendly fraud."

Friendly Fraud

friendly fraud

Contrary to the name, friendly fraud is decidedly unfriendly. It is the root cause of over 70% of eCommerce fraud losses, according to Chargeback.com. It occurs when a cardholder disputes a legitimate purchase. What becomes tricky is figuring out if it's an innocent mistake or a malicious attempt to steal from your company.

One of the most common scams is a buyer falsely claiming with the merchant that their "item was not received" (INR). After making an INR claim, bad buyers are given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a refund or a replacement, effectively gaining a free product or two items for the price of one.

Retailers are right to be on their guard during the holiday season. But here's something counterintuitive: While some retailers focus on preventing fraud, their bigger worry should be accidentally declining legitimate orders for fear of fraud.

Friendly fraud is one of the trickiest things to prevent against because if you accuse a customer of fraud, and it's just a "false positive" (the customer seems like they are committing fraud, but it's a misunderstanding), you can lose that customer and by extension, your reputation.

elbow bump

Detecting Fraudulent vs. Legitimate Purchases

During the holidays, it becomes unusually challenging to figure out which purchases are legitimate, and which are fraudulent. Many first-time customers will be buying gifts for others, so billing and delivery addresses often don't match. Even known customers display odd purchasing behavior because they are not buying items for themselves but gifts for others. Cart sizes are often larger than average because customers are spending more than they usually do.

All these factors raise red flags when it comes to detecting fraud. Add to that the dramatic spikes in orders that most retailers face in the fourth quarter, and fraud teams are facing a daunting challenge, primarily if they rely heavily on manual review teams.

It gets even more complicated. Let's face it, who doesn't do a little last-minute shopping?
A higher frequency of overnight shipping and requests raises even more red flags for fraud detectors.

Given all the red flags, some retailers become overly conservative and default to declining orders that they're not 100% certain are legitimate. If they review orders manually, they may have added temporary staff who lacks actual fraud expertise. Those workers may lean toward declining legitimate orders rather than face consternation from their bosses for approving orders that turn out to be fraudulent. Retailers might never even discover that the declined order should have shipped. Instead, they'll end up wondering what happened to that customer who was loyal up until last holiday season.

Of course, you can always lose a customer's loyalty for a different reason. If you are not offering a customer experience on par with your top competitor, you can lose out on sales very quickly. According to a study by customer experience consulting firm Walker, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of 2020.

a new customer experience

Adapting To A New Customer Experience

Customers want to experience the least amount of hassle in their online shopping as possible – especially around the holidays. Our "New Normal" has caused more customers to shop online than ever before for products they would typically buy in-store. Merchants are now shifting their main selling channel to the Internet, which opens a whole new host of opportunities to deliver a revenue-maximizing customer experience.

In the world of eCommerce, the end of summer marks when to start holiday planning. It gives you enough time to find and address any issues. You don’t want to be working on your website during the holidays.

A critical first step is to evaluate your site's buying experience. Customers demand personalized online experiences. How does your site match up to their expectations? Check if your store has the following:

 
Feature Definition Yes or No 
Industry-Standard Uptime 99.9% (Less than 90 secs. of cloud downtime per day).  
Website Page Builder Website content design and creation tool.   
Automated Cart Notifications Automatically informs shoppers of any unfinished purchases.  
Multi-Recipient Functionality Allows the customer to send the same gift to multiple recipients.  
Easy Product Set-Up Functionality Makes it easy to add new products and product data to your website. 

 

If you do not have these features, get them added before the holiday season. 

Prepare Your User Interface Strategy

user interface

There are three big questions you need to address:

What can you offer your customer during their purchase?

Online, it's easier for companies to take a subtler approach to cross-sell opportunities online. The customer is already in a "buying" frame of mind, so providing product suggestions and discount opportunities can be very practical. Here are a few tactics to try out:

  • Offer a discount or free shipping on a minimum order price. For example, a customer could have an opportunity to save 15% on their order if the total cost of the order exceeds 50$. This is almost standard practice at this point, but that's because it gets results.
  • The holidays are the time when people are in a giving mood, so design cross-sells opportunities around that sentiment. A great idea is "stocking stuffers." Recommend cheaper products related to the products in the cart at checkout, and label them as "Extra Gifts" or "Stocking Stuffers" in the product titles.
  • The holidays get people in the mood to splurge: Last year, 60% of overall holiday spend came from those spent more than $2,100 on gifts. However, having to pay a product's full price tag can still turn off even the most motivated buyers. To combat this, you may want to consider "Buy now, pay later" options like Klarna or Afterpay. These services allow your customers to take home an item while only paying a fraction of the total upfront.

How will you display products on your website?

  • Keep your layout and user interface clean and straightforward, much like you'd want to see in a brick-and-mortar store. Your website needs to be set up so customers can find what they’re looking for and pay as fast as possible.
  • Specialized holiday landing pages lead users to specialty holiday products and limited-time offers.
  • Make the process simple for the buyer by categorizing your site with helpful themes like "Top Holiday Sellers," "Gifts for Dad," and "Gifts Under $50."

How are you supporting your customers? 

The cheapest and easiest way to help support your customers is to create a help or FAQ page that offers quick and easy answers to simple questions. 

Next, consider a virtual, AI-based assistant. Chatbots are useful for answering simple "how-to’s" or providing updates on orders. It would help if you also thought about the goods you are selling. If you sell technical components such as computer or automobile parts, then you may want to use in-person support instead of a chatbot. Technical components are highly specific items that work as part of a larger machine, so buyers need to feel 100% certain they are purchasing correct items. Talking to a real person on the phone about these products is a great way to give your customers this peace-of-mind. For simple products and gifts, chatbots may be a little more helpful.

Since there is going to be a lot of increased demand coming up, it's in your best interest to "beef up" your customer support before the season starts. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Review previous years' history to determine staffing needs and hire additional workers as needed.
  • Set clear expectations for customers in terms of support hours, etc.
  • Triage support tickets are based on urgency.
  • Improve FAQs and Knowledgebase on the website to reduce calls.
  • Ensure you have the right tools/CRM to manage these tickets and not lose requests.
  • Build proper workflows based on triggers and automation to keep queues relatively open.

Creating remarkable holiday experiences for your customers will go a long way to improving your sales, customer base, and quantity of repeat customers. Of course, you still need to get the customers on your website in the first place. That means it's time to focus on:

Marketing

marketing calendar

When times are lean, it's standard practice for businesses to cut marketing spend first. However, COVID-19 has exposed the eCommerce businesses that have not embraced online marketing. From analysis by DigitalCommerce360: "Brands that have pulled back on marketing spending (-42% vs. February), whether out of an abundance of caution or necessary cost-cutting in the face of the loss of sales, are seeing their online DTC sales struggle (-40% vs. the same period a year ago).”

From this data, we can infer that marketing should be a priority for most brands looking to get through COVID intact. The trick is to get the most bang for your buck since it also pays to be cautious right now. That's why your company needs to push for referral marketing.

Referral Marketing

If you want to know why referral marketing is something you should know more about, look at these statistics:

referral marketing statistics

In a nutshell, referral marketing is a marketing campaign designed to spark word-of-mouth advertising. Some word-of-mouth happens organically, but you can boost those numbers dramatically by kicking off a referral marketing campaign. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Incentivize: A great way to get referrals is by offering some incentive for referrals. You've probably seen this happen a million times; a service offers a coupon code or discount after you get one of your friends to sign up. The reason you keep seeing this is because it works. Uber is one of the best examples. Their initial referral program surged their sales. Promote your incentive marketing across all social media channels and add additional budget toward the platforms with the most success. Promote your incentive marketing across all social media channels and add additional budget toward the platforms with the most success.
  • Excellent Customer Service = Excellent Reviews: You won't always please everyone, but bad reviews may be fixable with excellent customer service. Get your customer service to a level where happy customers are excited to sing your praises and unhappy customers will think before trashing your company online. People want you to hear them, and they want you to solve their problems. Ensure that your customer support staff is always responsive, authentic, and consistent when communicating with your customers.
  • Create a Brand Built for Influence: Capitalize on trends used by influencers and popular social media accounts. Memes are fun and easily shared but try to think bigger. For example, to capitalize on the "unboxing" YouTube trend, consider creating some special packaging for your product and send samples to key influencers in your industry.

Most of the suggestions above are great ideas that work for the entire year. But it's the holidays soon, and festive times call for festive measures. It's time to get your customers excited about some holiday deals.

gift tag

Our Guide to Holiday Promotions

The industry trend for starting dedicated holiday promotions is three weeks before Thanksgiving.  If your products are expensive and require serious decision-making, then you may want to start your promotions a little earlier. The goal is to have a firm start date for releasing your content.

Next, create a promotional calendar structuring your campaign. Designate when new products will arrive on the website, you should also update your site at least two weeks before your appointed start date, so search engines have enough time to pick up on updated text/offers.

Send out email campaigns to your existing customers to inform them of special offers as the holidays get closer. Use your social channels to build momentum and excitement. Most importantly, do not stop promotions the day after the holiday. Continue for a few more days to catch laggards or people who received gift cards to your store.

To get you started, here are some tried-and-true holiday promotion ideas:

  • Tie in purchases to donations. These promotions improve communities, help people in need, and provide an excellent way for your business to do some real good during the holidays.
  • Giveaways are generally the most common and one of the most effective promotions to use since they create quick brand buzz and grow your email list. Just make sure that entering the giveaway is as easy as possible to attract the most participants.
  • Enact a loyalty program (if you don't have one already) with special holiday offers. This offers something extra for your existing customers and encourages repeat buying.
  • Switch up your keywords for SEO. Look for opportunities to modify your metatags to be more holiday-friendly. Add new product descriptions and keywords that highlight the "holiday" aspect of the product. For example, if a user is searching for cookware right before the holidays, changing the title from "6 pc. Cookware Set" to something like "6 pc. Holiday Party Cookware Set" might make it easier for users to find.

If you need help building and executing promotional campaigns, Kensium offers digital marketing services. Click here to see the Kensium website offerings.

gift bow

Wrap-Up

During a typical year, it would already be imperative for online businesses to prepare for a high-traffic, chaotic holiday season. But it’s 2020, so you need to have started yesterday. If you want to be confident about your preparation for the holiday season, contact Kensium immediately. We have the expertise and know-how to get you and your business ready for whatever the future may hold. Click here to contact Kensium and begin preparing your business for the 2020 holiday season!

Tags

Body

gift wraps

If there is one theme to describe the eCommerce industry this year, it is this: The most significant ability is adaptability. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the most disruptive pandemic in 100 years and the first of its kind in the modern era. It stands to reason that the holiday eCommerce season will be affected, and standard strategies are not going to cut it in 2020. Recent data from May 2020 (Bazaarvoice Network Data) shows a year-over-year online commerce growth rate of 83% compared to May 2019:

holiday blog graphic 1

April 2020 saw an order count increase of 96% compared to April 2019:

Online commerce growth rate 2019-2020

Kensium has written this guide to advise merchants on holiday preparation. It’s based on our experience working with 100's of online businesses – small, medium, and large. It's more important than ever to implement high-impact, cost-effective solutions as we wait to see what tomorrow brings in the era of COVID and post-COVID. This guide will take you through our recommendations on preparing your website for heavy holiday traffic, heightened security threats, customer experience expectations, and holiday marketing opportunities. Use this guide as a launching pad to get ahead of the curve.

Let's assume you want the highest possible sales this holiday season (not a very hard assumption to make, we know). Before anything else, you need to ensure that your website will handle a higher concentration of users than it's used to.

Preparing Your Website For Heavy Holiday Traffic

Heightened convenience means heightened expectations. The reality is that customers demand near-instantaneous load speed, and a slow site can drive them away:

eCommerce load speed

That is why you need to do everything in your power to ensure your site does not slow down during a high-traffic period like the holidays. Reliable hosting service and infrastructure are crucial to your site's ability to handle any influx of traffic, whether you expect it or not. Your eCommerce hosting service affects almost everything involved with the online shopping experience, so you need to be confident you're receiving the following benefits from your hosting service:

  • Stellar website speed with the ability to scale according to increasing traffic.
  • A trustworthy payment gateway.
  • Security of customer data and backup.
  • Excellent technical know-how and support from the hosting service.

If you feel that your hosting service is not providing these advantages, it's time to work with them on changing that. Otherwise, it's time to start looking for a new hosting service.

Finding The Right Host

If you believe your hosting needs could be better served with a new provider, we've created a small checklist detailing the most critical factors you should be looking for:   

Do You Know the Host's: Yes or No?
Uptime Guarantees?  
Online Reviews?  
Technical Support Services?  
Average Server Response Time?  
Page Load Time?  
Time to First Byte?  

Research your own metrics from previous holiday seasons. They can help you project the type of traffic for which you will need to prepare.

  • Look at traffic from the past year and the last three months to evaluate trends using your preferred reporting solution.
  • Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that. Evaluate marketing promotions to see expected traffic and ensure that the server is sized based on that.
  • A good rule of thumb is to plan for 30% additional capacity, but it is better to over-prepare than under-prepare if there is more.

Going Error Hunting

Errors can and do occur on every eCommerce website. They may be inevitable, but you can still minimize their appearance. It's useful to put your website through a little "technological self-reflection" before the holidays. These errors may be negatively impacting conversions and sales more than you think:

Error Type: JavaScript errors are prone to occur when customers add something to their cart or during checkout. Since these errors are logged on the client side instead of the server side, they are challenging to monitor and fix.

The Fix: Tools like Noibu or Webeyez record JavaScript errors on the site, allowing your developers to fix bugs before you lose any more revenue.

Error Type: 404s often occur when pages have been moved or deleted, and linger due to outdated content, server changes, and software upgrades that have occurred over your website's lifetime.

The Fix: 404 (page not found) errors are the most well-known among internet users, to the point that you may even use it for lead generation. As for fixing the mistakes themselves, conduct a thorough audit using website crawling software. These web-crawlers review all your pages in real-time and identify broken internal URLs across your website.

Error Type: 500 errors are an indication that something has gone wrong on the server side. The server is usually down for one of two reasons:

  • There is a mistake in the code.
  • The server is overloaded and can't handle the number of users trying to access it at one time.

The second issue is what you need to look out for when holiday sales start to pick up. An abnormally high rush of activity can even make your entire website crash!

The Fix: Be sure you monitor server errors by checking all server logs. Ask your managed hosting provider for a load balancer, which can evenly spread the traffic across multiple web servers, preventing them from being overloaded.

Finally, in preparation for a full site crash, be sure to back up your data to an offsite location. Fully updated backups can help get your site back online quickly if a calamity does occur.

It's one thing to prepare for internal calamities, but external calamities are a bit more unpredictable. That's why you need to overprepare for the security risks that arrive gift-wrapped along with the holidays. The sheer amount of money exchanged during this peak selling season attracts hackers and scammers like sharks smelling blood in the water.

Security

Nothing brings down holiday joy like hackers, fraudsters, and scammers:

holiday potential scams

Due to the enormous number of transactions taking place, it's difficult for many companies to detect fraud amongst the order volume. The heightened levels of web traffic also give fraudsters more opportunities, especially when people begin scouring the Internet in search of holiday savings opportunities. COVID-19 will undoubtedly discourage shoppers from going to brick-and-mortar stores and lead them to head online instead, giving scammers more potential targets.

Our advice to merchants is to start preparing now. A stellar way to mitigate fraud risks is to put in place an anti-fraud strategy.

The lowest hanging fruit is to perform any upgrades on your platforms (eCommerce, hosting, ERP, etc.) because many upgrades include security patches and releases. Take a hard look at your current fraud detection capabilities and ask yourself if it's time for an update there as well. Start with the type of fraud that worries you the most, then research which fraud prevention software may be best suited to address that specific threat. Ultimately, it's best to work with a partner like Kensium to guide you through this.

Machine learning-based fraud detection systems analyze customer data to identify unusual user behavior typical with known fraudulent activity. Alerts are shared with the merchant so they can take steps to shut it down. This type of fraud prevention is especially useful when it comes to what we call "friendly fraud."

Friendly Fraud

friendly fraud

Contrary to the name, friendly fraud is decidedly unfriendly. It is the root cause of over 70% of eCommerce fraud losses, according to Chargeback.com. It occurs when a cardholder disputes a legitimate purchase. What becomes tricky is figuring out if it's an innocent mistake or a malicious attempt to steal from your company.

One of the most common scams is a buyer falsely claiming with the merchant that their "item was not received" (INR). After making an INR claim, bad buyers are given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a refund or a replacement, effectively gaining a free product or two items for the price of one.

Retailers are right to be on their guard during the holiday season. But here's something counterintuitive: While some retailers focus on preventing fraud, their bigger worry should be accidentally declining legitimate orders for fear of fraud.

Friendly fraud is one of the trickiest things to prevent against because if you accuse a customer of fraud, and it's just a "false positive" (the customer seems like they are committing fraud, but it's a misunderstanding), you can lose that customer and by extension, your reputation.

elbow bump

Detecting Fraudulent vs. Legitimate Purchases

During the holidays, it becomes unusually challenging to figure out which purchases are legitimate, and which are fraudulent. Many first-time customers will be buying gifts for others, so billing and delivery addresses often don't match. Even known customers display odd purchasing behavior because they are not buying items for themselves but gifts for others. Cart sizes are often larger than average because customers are spending more than they usually do.

All these factors raise red flags when it comes to detecting fraud. Add to that the dramatic spikes in orders that most retailers face in the fourth quarter, and fraud teams are facing a daunting challenge, primarily if they rely heavily on manual review teams.

It gets even more complicated. Let's face it, who doesn't do a little last-minute shopping?
A higher frequency of overnight shipping and requests raises even more red flags for fraud detectors.

Given all the red flags, some retailers become overly conservative and default to declining orders that they're not 100% certain are legitimate. If they review orders manually, they may have added temporary staff who lacks actual fraud expertise. Those workers may lean toward declining legitimate orders rather than face consternation from their bosses for approving orders that turn out to be fraudulent. Retailers might never even discover that the declined order should have shipped. Instead, they'll end up wondering what happened to that customer who was loyal up until last holiday season.

Of course, you can always lose a customer's loyalty for a different reason. If you are not offering a customer experience on par with your top competitor, you can lose out on sales very quickly. According to a study by customer experience consulting firm Walker, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of 2020.

a new customer experience

Adapting To A New Customer Experience

Customers want to experience the least amount of hassle in their online shopping as possible – especially around the holidays. Our "New Normal" has caused more customers to shop online than ever before for products they would typically buy in-store. Merchants are now shifting their main selling channel to the Internet, which opens a whole new host of opportunities to deliver a revenue-maximizing customer experience.

In the world of eCommerce, the end of summer marks when to start holiday planning. It gives you enough time to find and address any issues. You don’t want to be working on your website during the holidays.

A critical first step is to evaluate your site's buying experience. Customers demand personalized online experiences. How does your site match up to their expectations? Check if your store has the following:

 
Feature Definition Yes or No 
Industry-Standard Uptime 99.9% (Less than 90 secs. of cloud downtime per day).  
Website Page Builder Website content design and creation tool.   
Automated Cart Notifications Automatically informs shoppers of any unfinished purchases.  
Multi-Recipient Functionality Allows the customer to send the same gift to multiple recipients.  
Easy Product Set-Up Functionality Makes it easy to add new products and product data to your website. 

 

If you do not have these features, get them added before the holiday season. 

Prepare Your User Interface Strategy

user interface

There are three big questions you need to address:

What can you offer your customer during their purchase?

Online, it's easier for companies to take a subtler approach to cross-sell opportunities online. The customer is already in a "buying" frame of mind, so providing product suggestions and discount opportunities can be very practical. Here are a few tactics to try out:

  • Offer a discount or free shipping on a minimum order price. For example, a customer could have an opportunity to save 15% on their order if the total cost of the order exceeds 50$. This is almost standard practice at this point, but that's because it gets results.
  • The holidays are the time when people are in a giving mood, so design cross-sells opportunities around that sentiment. A great idea is "stocking stuffers." Recommend cheaper products related to the products in the cart at checkout, and label them as "Extra Gifts" or "Stocking Stuffers" in the product titles.
  • The holidays get people in the mood to splurge: Last year, 60% of overall holiday spend came from those spent more than $2,100 on gifts. However, having to pay a product's full price tag can still turn off even the most motivated buyers. To combat this, you may want to consider "Buy now, pay later" options like Klarna or Afterpay. These services allow your customers to take home an item while only paying a fraction of the total upfront.

How will you display products on your website?

  • Keep your layout and user interface clean and straightforward, much like you'd want to see in a brick-and-mortar store. Your website needs to be set up so customers can find what they’re looking for and pay as fast as possible.
  • Specialized holiday landing pages lead users to specialty holiday products and limited-time offers.
  • Make the process simple for the buyer by categorizing your site with helpful themes like "Top Holiday Sellers," "Gifts for Dad," and "Gifts Under $50."

How are you supporting your customers? 

The cheapest and easiest way to help support your customers is to create a help or FAQ page that offers quick and easy answers to simple questions. 

Next, consider a virtual, AI-based assistant. Chatbots are useful for answering simple "how-to’s" or providing updates on orders. It would help if you also thought about the goods you are selling. If you sell technical components such as computer or automobile parts, then you may want to use in-person support instead of a chatbot. Technical components are highly specific items that work as part of a larger machine, so buyers need to feel 100% certain they are purchasing correct items. Talking to a real person on the phone about these products is a great way to give your customers this peace-of-mind. For simple products and gifts, chatbots may be a little more helpful.

Since there is going to be a lot of increased demand coming up, it's in your best interest to "beef up" your customer support before the season starts. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Review previous years' history to determine staffing needs and hire additional workers as needed.
  • Set clear expectations for customers in terms of support hours, etc.
  • Triage support tickets are based on urgency.
  • Improve FAQs and Knowledgebase on the website to reduce calls.
  • Ensure you have the right tools/CRM to manage these tickets and not lose requests.
  • Build proper workflows based on triggers and automation to keep queues relatively open.

Creating remarkable holiday experiences for your customers will go a long way to improving your sales, customer base, and quantity of repeat customers. Of course, you still need to get the customers on your website in the first place. That means it's time to focus on:

Marketing

marketing calendar

When times are lean, it's standard practice for businesses to cut marketing spend first. However, COVID-19 has exposed the eCommerce businesses that have not embraced online marketing. From analysis by DigitalCommerce360: "Brands that have pulled back on marketing spending (-42% vs. February), whether out of an abundance of caution or necessary cost-cutting in the face of the loss of sales, are seeing their online DTC sales struggle (-40% vs. the same period a year ago).”

From this data, we can infer that marketing should be a priority for most brands looking to get through COVID intact. The trick is to get the most bang for your buck since it also pays to be cautious right now. That's why your company needs to push for referral marketing.

Referral Marketing

If you want to know why referral marketing is something you should know more about, look at these statistics:

referral marketing statistics

In a nutshell, referral marketing is a marketing campaign designed to spark word-of-mouth advertising. Some word-of-mouth happens organically, but you can boost those numbers dramatically by kicking off a referral marketing campaign. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Incentivize: A great way to get referrals is by offering some incentive for referrals. You've probably seen this happen a million times; a service offers a coupon code or discount after you get one of your friends to sign up. The reason you keep seeing this is because it works. Uber is one of the best examples. Their initial referral program surged their sales. Promote your incentive marketing across all social media channels and add additional budget toward the platforms with the most success. Promote your incentive marketing across all social media channels and add additional budget toward the platforms with the most success.
  • Excellent Customer Service = Excellent Reviews: You won't always please everyone, but bad reviews may be fixable with excellent customer service. Get your customer service to a level where happy customers are excited to sing your praises and unhappy customers will think before trashing your company online. People want you to hear them, and they want you to solve their problems. Ensure that your customer support staff is always responsive, authentic, and consistent when communicating with your customers.
  • Create a Brand Built for Influence: Capitalize on trends used by influencers and popular social media accounts. Memes are fun and easily shared but try to think bigger. For example, to capitalize on the "unboxing" YouTube trend, consider creating some special packaging for your product and send samples to key influencers in your industry.

Most of the suggestions above are great ideas that work for the entire year. But it's the holidays soon, and festive times call for festive measures. It's time to get your customers excited about some holiday deals.

gift tag

Our Guide to Holiday Promotions

The industry trend for starting dedicated holiday promotions is three weeks before Thanksgiving.  If your products are expensive and require serious decision-making, then you may want to start your promotions a little earlier. The goal is to have a firm start date for releasing your content.

Next, create a promotional calendar structuring your campaign. Designate when new products will arrive on the website, you should also update your site at least two weeks before your appointed start date, so search engines have enough time to pick up on updated text/offers.

Send out email campaigns to your existing customers to inform them of special offers as the holidays get closer. Use your social channels to build momentum and excitement. Most importantly, do not stop promotions the day after the holiday. Continue for a few more days to catch laggards or people who received gift cards to your store.

To get you started, here are some tried-and-true holiday promotion ideas:

  • Tie in purchases to donations. These promotions improve communities, help people in need, and provide an excellent way for your business to do some real good during the holidays.
  • Giveaways are generally the most common and one of the most effective promotions to use since they create quick brand buzz and grow your email list. Just make sure that entering the giveaway is as easy as possible to attract the most participants.
  • Enact a loyalty program (if you don't have one already) with special holiday offers. This offers something extra for your existing customers and encourages repeat buying.
  • Switch up your keywords for SEO. Look for opportunities to modify your metatags to be more holiday-friendly. Add new product descriptions and keywords that highlight the "holiday" aspect of the product. For example, if a user is searching for cookware right before the holidays, changing the title from "6 pc. Cookware Set" to something like "6 pc. Holiday Party Cookware Set" might make it easier for users to find.

If you need help building and executing promotional campaigns, Kensium offers digital marketing services. Click here to see the Kensium website offerings.

gift bow

Wrap-Up

During a typical year, it would already be imperative for online businesses to prepare for a high-traffic, chaotic holiday season. But it’s 2020, so you need to have started yesterday. If you want to be confident about your preparation for the holiday season, contact Kensium immediately. We have the expertise and know-how to get you and your business ready for whatever the future may hold. Click here to contact Kensium and begin preparing your business for the 2020 holiday season!