The holiday season is always a busy time for retailers. Whether operating solely online, or between their Web-based and brick-and-mortar locations, companies are always looking for ways to better prepare themselves for the end-of-the-year rush.
Although last year's holiday shopping season was no doubt a bustle of customer activity, this year promises to be even bigger. According to Forrester Research forecasts, a total of $290 billion in revenues will come from online sales alone, and an additional $1.412 billion will be generated by offline sales influenced by Web-based resources. Furthermore, Forrester predicts that these levels will only grow in the coming years, reaching $317 billion in online sales by 2017, as well as $1.796 billion in Web-influenced offline sales.
Website performance is a must
An increase in online and Web-influenced shopping, compounded by the fact that more users are leveraging their mobile devices to make purchases, makes the performance of a company's website during the holiday season all the more critical. In fact, if a platform doesn't perform, chances are good that the business will see a loss in sales as well as customers.
Recent statistics show that 40 percent of shoppers will abandon a website if it takes over three seconds to load. In addition, nearly 80 percent of consumers that have a dissatisfying experience with a retailer's website performance are much less likely to return to the site to make another purchase afterward. All told, if a business's e-commerce site generates $10,000 in sales each day, even a 1 second delay could be incredibly harmful, causing the brand to lose $250,000 every year.
Keeping all this in mind, it is absolutely critical that retail organizations prepare ahead of time for the influx of customers and purchases that come with the holiday season. It's never too early to begin this process, which should consist of four main elements: infrastructure and application, monitoring, load testing and marketing.
1) Infrastructure and application
This part of the preparations should include the following steps:
- Assess the current infrastructure – Gauge performance and capacity levels by examining the server hardware, the current storage system, the databases and applications being used and the overall network. Assessment efforts should help the business determine how many users can be on the site at one time, and must also include an emergency capacity plan and communications with the company's vendor for capacity planning.
- Secure the environment – As part of this step, administrators need to make sure that the digital environment is up to date with all upgrades and security patches. In addition, an emergency patch and security plan should be created, and access to the system should be limited to only essential personnel. Supervisors should also run a vulnerability scan and test the Denial of Service response approach currently in place.
- Tune the app and/or website – This process should include the optimization of queries, session limits and search results, as well as the use of a content delivery network to ensure reliable transmission. Developers can also improve the application's capacity by adjusting caching and 'type ahead' search components, and by removing or changing the 'view all' options.
Monitoring efforts connected with holiday preparations should include the measurement and analysis of the overall performance of the application, as well as traffic levels and the end-user experience. Managers should specifically examine the upstream connections like the payment gateway, shipping and fulfillment fields to ensure their functionality.
3) Load testing
Modern load testing processes enable organizations to understand their real users, and prevent them from having to guess what to test. Load testing efforts should encompass:
- Testing for spikes with the cloud – Cloud technology can help provide a detailed and authentic look at actual user behavior, allowing for meaningful scaling and appropriate concurrency.
- Test continually overlooked items – Don't let anything fall through the cracks. Test even what's usually forgotten, including failover scenarios, success disasters and the complete end-to-end system.
- Overall, load testing should be centered around measuring, testing and acting in real time. The team also shouldn't put this process off until the end: Continuous testing is the best way to gauge performance throughout development and the entire lifecycle of the app or site.
Marketing efforts are different around the holiday season, and should include:
- Effective campaign management – Remain in connection with stakeholders and create an overarching policy to govern any changes made to the existing campaign plan. Administrators should also establish a freeze on any adjustments to the application or infrastructuring during this period, and limit any changes to catalog and publishing.
- Remember email best practices – These include breaking client lists into small groups, trickling email messages and prioritizing management of all media content.
- Promotions and discounts – Special holiday deals don't need to be overly extravagant. Employees should utilize previously established discount structures and be sure to create test cases for all discount codes.
Keeping all these points in mind in connection with a company's infrastructure and application, monitoring, load testing and marketing processes will help ensure a streamlined, successful holiday season. Remember, don't wait, start preparing now!
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