5 Tips to Prepare Your Ecommerce Website for the Holidays

It’s almost 100 degrees in Austin today making it feel a little odd to think and write about holiday shopping. But if your business is like a lot of small retailers, holiday shopping accounts for a large percentage of your income. With less than 11 weeks left before Thanksgiving and the inevitable fights that breakout over who saw the last “it” toy on the shelf first, it’s time to think about getting your business ready.

So I’d like to share 5 tips you can use to prepare your website for the holidays to increase your sales.

Tip 1. Make sure your website is updated and working.

Just because you have an ecommerce plugin (WooCommerce is our favorite) on your website doesn’t mean everything is setup properly. I’ve seen a lot of websites that have a great design but have a ton of broken links. Just because a link is there doesn’t mean it’s going to work so you need to go through each page on your site just like you’re a customer.

When you test, you’ll also want to make sure you’re logged out of your WordPress account. WordPress Admins are able to see Drafts and Private content that your visitors won’t see.

Tip 2. Make sure your site uses encryption and displays a security seal.

Using a Trust Seal to Increase Ecommerce conversion

If you’re selling items online, chances are you collect sensitive information like credit cards. Even if you use a company (like PayPal) to process your credit cards through a secure form on your site, you’ll see more visitors complete a purchase if your site is secure.

And while we’re talking credit cards, make sure that you don’t store them on your server! With billions of dollars spent on credit cards during the holidays, hackers are always on the lookout for a vulnerability. Remember, Target, Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot have all had their credit card networks hacked. They spend more on network security than most small business owners will in a lifetime. Hackers know this and will target small business websites with poor security that store credit card info.

By encrypting your website and displaying a security seal, site visitors know that their information is secure and their level of confidence in your site increases. The most trusted security seal is the Verisign/Norton seal according to a survey conducted by Econsultancy/Toluna. If you would like to learn more about which security seal you should use, checkout this article from analytics company Crazy Egg.

Tip 3. Preventing Abandoned Carts

Prevent Abandoned Shopping Carts

Do you look at the number of site visitors that actually complete a purchase? Chances are you do. But have you ever looked at how many visitors abandon their shopping cart? I bet you haven’t, but getting these visitors to return to your site and complete a purchase is the fastest way to increase revenue. Before we talk about how you can get them to complete a purchase, let’s look at why they abandoned their cart in the first place.

Shipping – if you sell a physical product, you might charge for shipping. When do you tell a customer that they will have to pay for shipping? Today so many large online retailers offer free shipping on almost all of their orders so visitors to your website might not think about how much shipping an item will cost.

If you wait until they’re in the checkout process to show them the shipping price, many of them will abandon their cart rather than pay for shipping. Instead tell them how much shipping will cost on the product listing. This prevents surprises and customers know how much their cart total will be before they go to checkout. It’s better to have a customer decide to spend less money with you than to decide to spend no money. You can also use the shipping cost to increase your average order. Think about how you react when you’re shopping online to the “Spend $50 and get free shipping.” By promoting free shipping with a minimum purchase you can increase your revenue and decrease abandoned carts.

Coupon Codes – Coupons are such a great way to increase sales. By lowering pricing on one item or on a group purchase, you can gain more customers and increase your gross revenue. It’s for this reason that ecommerce and shopping cart platforms include a field for “Coupon Code” at checkout. If you use coupons and they are available easily on the Internet, this can be a great field to give visitors the extra push they need to complete their purchase. But this is also what makes the coupon code slot bad for abandoned carts.

Think about how you shop online. I’ll use an example of a purchase I just made. I was buying a rather expensive book ($184 list price) and had found a website with a gently used version of the book for only $48. Needless to say I was happy to be saving so much money on my book, but when I went to checkout there was a field asking “Do you have a coupon code?” Since I had just stumbled across this website from a link on another website, I didn’t have a coupon at the time. Rather than just ignoring it and completing the checkout, I did a search for “[bookstore name] coupon” on Google and was rewarded with a $5 off+ Free Shipping coupon. Once I found this coupon I went back and purchased the book for $43. But what would have happened if my search didn’t find the coupon?

This is what happens countless times for small businesses who sell online. If you ask a customer if they have a coupon, they’re going to stop the checkout process and go search for a coupon. If they don’t find one, they might come back to your site. But chances are they’re going to continue looking for the same product at a cheaper price. By asking for the coupon code, you’ve told your potential customer that they should pay less.

Asking for too much information – One of my favorite sayings about order forms is “You’re selling a product, not going on a date.” This means, only ask for the information you need and nothing more. Do you need a shipping address? Yes. Do you need a billing address? Probably. But think about asking if the billing/shipping address is the same. Do you need a phone number? It depends on your product and how you provide customer service. Customers are increasingly reluctant to give up their phone numbers. Do you need an email address? Yes. You need some way to communicate with the customers and let them know when their order has shipped or if there are delays. What else do you need?

I’ve shopped on sites before that wanted to know how much money I make, how I found them, which catalogues I would like for free, etc. Whenever sites start asking these questions, I leave. These questions are either completely irrelevant to your business or should be answered by software.

In fact the number of form fields in your checkout process can have a huge impact on your abandoned cart rate. According to the 2014 Form Conversion Report by FormStack, only 6% of users complete checkout forms with 19 fields or more. I don’t find it surprising that only 6% of users complete their checkout, I find it amazing that someone thinks it’s a good idea to have 19 fields on an order checkout form!

Tip 4. Keep Your Customers On Your Site

This can go with reducing abandoned carts, but sometimes visitors don’t even make it to adding a product to their cart before they leave your site.

Answer your visitors questions before they ask – Your product page should answer any question a potential buyer may have about the product and should have reviews from previous buyers. If your potential customer decides to research the product, they may find an alternative product to purchase or find a cheaper price from one of your competitors.

If you’re using an ecommerce platform like WooCommerce, many of these features are available out of the box. By adding reviews to your products, you can persuade potential buyers to complete a transaction based on the reviews of others. This doesn’t mean you should create fake reviews or delete negative reviews. Doing either of these will eventually be uncovered if your site becomes popular and then you will lose credibility with your customers.

Don’t deliver them to your competition – If you are in the drop-ship business it’s even more important that you keep customers on your site as your drop-ship partner supplies hundreds or thousands of your competitors. There will always be someone that is willing to only make $1 per sale just so they get the most sales from bargain shoppers. Since you’re in this to actually make money, your margins are greater and your website needs to deliver enough information and value to justify your higher prices. Plus by giving all of the information a customer might want to see, you eliminate the need for them to research the product on their own.

Let them pay you, not PayPal – If you’re just getting your ecommerce feet wet, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the number of payment processing options and the security requirements some of them require. You probably ended up going with PayPal to handle your online payments. This can be a good move for a new business since PayPal gives you access to online payments without the need to add any code and all ecommerce platforms have PayPal support built in. The problem can come when a customer is ready to checkout, clicks the button to pay and is suddenly taken off of your site to PayPal’s site that looks nothing like your site.

I recently worked with two clients who used PayPal like this and they saw a large number of abandoned carts as a result. To combat this problem we upgraded one client to PayPal Payments Pro and we moved the other client to Stripe. The process to switch their payment processor was made incredibly easy. They were both using WooCommerce and adding either PayPal Pro or Stripe was as easy as installing the appropriate payment gateway add-on, entering in the account information it needs to work, and clicking “Activate.” Done. Within a week of making these changes, they saw an average 20% decrease in abandoned carts.

Tip 5. Maintain Your Website’s Speed

Keep Your Ecommerce Site Fast

A couple of years ago, Google conducted an experiment to determine how important website speed is on user retention. What they found sent shockwaves through the Internet. A delay of 400 to 600 milliseconds saw a user’s engagement drop .2% to .6%. Think about how long 400 milliseconds is. Google also learned that users continued to become less involved as pages took longer to load. This means that if your website averages $10,000 per 100 customers, a 600 millisecond delay will cost you at least $60. The average site takes over 7 seconds to load according to Radware. If your site is in the average, think about how much you can increase your revenue by reducing your load time by 4 seconds or more.

So what can you do to decrease your site’s load time and make sure that it can handle the increased traffic that you want during the holidays?

Your first step should be to use a Content Delivery Network. There are several CDNs that can fit into your IT budget including offerings from Akamai, Amazon, and CloudFlare. I prefer CloudFlare for the majority of our retail clients at Oso Studio. For $20/month you can setup your website with CloudFlare in less than 5 minutes and increase your website speed significantly. Once you setup your site with CloudFlare, your CSS, JavaScript, and images will be saved and cached by CloudFlare’s worldwide system. This reduces your website load time and load on your hosting server.

We use CloudFlare with Oso Studio’s website and noticed a 50% decrease in load time from 1.25 seconds to less than 600 milliseconds.

Once you have your website setup with CloudFlare, you should consider enabling caching via a plugin such as W3 Total Cache. This plugin will create a snapshot of each of your website’s pages. This keeps WordPress from having to constantly search its database to display a page’s content. This combined with CloudFlare will have a huge impact on your website’s speed and your user retention rates.

If you would rather not setup CloudFlare and configure W3 Cache’s settings, you can always opt for a hosting provider that bundles both of these services in with their hosting. Our preferred hosting partner, WP Engine, has built a WordPress optimized hosting platform that provides a CDN and page caching that doesn’t require any setup or configuration on your part. Their plans start at $29/month so they are a little bit more expensive than the hosting companies that advertise everywhere, but their reliability and customer service is definitely worth it.

Conclusion

If you depend on the Post-Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping season for a majority of your business revenue or if you just want to increase your revenue online, it’s time to start preparing now.

By checking each page of your site to insure that all of your links work properly and the checkout process can be completed without issues, you can make sure that customers will be able to find what they’re looking for on your site and complete the checkout process. Since you’ll be taking credit card transactions, you must encrypt your website traffic and by displaying a security seal you can decrease any customer fears and increase purchases.

Abandoned shopping carts are a huge pain for any online retailer. Only 6% of ecommerce carts result in a completed purchase. If you can optimize your checkout process to only collect the information you need, you can get more customers to complete the checkout process. Going hand in hand with reducing abandoned carts is keeping customers on your site by expanding your product descriptions, answering any questions a custom might have, and providing honest reviews from previous customers.

But none of these improvements will help your site to generate more revenue if your website won’t load quickly because of an increased traffic load. By using a reliable hosting provider, Content Delivery Network, and Caching, you can reduce your load time and the demand on your server to keep your site responsive and online through thousands of orders.

Many small and mid-sized businesses are finding increased revenue by selling online. If you are one of these businesses or want to be one, these five tips will help you to deliver an optimized store to your potential customers and increase your revenue.