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6 must-dos for online retailers preparing for the last-minute holiday rush

6 must-dos for online retailers preparing for the last-minute holiday rush 

Yes, there have been numerous surveys indicating that Canadians are not great fans of online shopping. Consider the latest one from StatsCan this September which indicates that $389 billion out of the $397 billion in retail sales in Canada for the first nine months of the year came from in-store sales. That means online purchases accounted for only two per cent of the period’s total sales.

However, the lead up to Christmas Day reveals a different trend. A survey by online cash-back shopping pioneer, Ebates Inc., indicate that Canadians may be rapidly developing a penchant for holiday online shopping, The company said its survey found that 67 per cent of Canadians shopped online during this year’s Black Friday, while 89 per cent bought items online on Cyber Monday, leaving Ebates to believe that Canadian online shoppers will be back in strength for Boxing Day.

That means retailers need to make sure their online shopping sites are robust enough to stand up to a surge in traffic.

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“Canadians in general, still embrace shopping in brick-and-mortar stores,” says Michael Murphy, vice-president and country manager for software and cloud computing company CitrixSystems in Canada. “However, there’s a growing shift towards online shopping and the holiday season is definitely not the time you want your e-commerce site to be down.”

Citrix specializes in enabling business mobility and helping organizations secure the delivery of applications and data through multiple devices and networks. Murphy said one of the most common challenges faced by e-commerce sites are the lack of bandwidth and the inability to respond to high volume traffic.

Here are six things e-retailers need to do to ensure their e-commerce site will be in peak performance to provide their company a profitable holiday season:

  1. Stress and load test – This is something that should be done well before the holiday shopping season.  Making sure your site will not crash under extreme activity is a must. Apart from the expiration of a domain or hosting subscription, the most common cause of Web site crash is a sudden surge of online visitors. Web site crashes mean lost revenue.
  2. High-speed connection and managing bandwidth – Murphy warns that most online shoppers abandon Web sites when they find it slow.
  • Some surveys have shown that many online shoppers will leave after waiting for just three seconds.
  • Make sure you’re your high-speed connection, is indeed high-speed.
    •  Bandwidth should be managed well to guarantee that your e-commerce site is operating at top speed.
    •  Have a good backup plan. For example, have more than one ISP provider so that if one fails, your workload can be quickly transferred to the other.
  1. Sharpen your product description and images – This is the time to put your best foot forward, so to speak.
  • Give your shoppers the benefit of the best possible, easy-to-read and understand descriptions of your products. This will help them determine if they are buying the right thing (and hopefully avoid disappointment and product returns).
  • Make sure your product benefits and best features are highlighted. Emphasize clearances sales and special offers. Give adequate information about product return policies and procedures.
  • Think about SEO (search engine optimization) techniques that will help your products and Web site be easily found among the jumble of holiday sales.
  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly
  1. Put a hold altering code – Yes you are sprucing up your site. But don’t overdo it and remember that the holiday rush is not the best time implementing new site features and new page templates if they have not been tested yet. Double check site design for consistency, fix bugs and anomalies but put off backend work until after the holiday season if possible. This will help avoid the possibility of introducing other problems.
  2. Secure your site – Avoid putting a damper on everyone’s Christmas doing your part in preventing data theft and online fraud.
  • It’s the responsibility of every organization handling individual’s personal data to ensure the security of that information.
  • Murphy recommends retailers ensure all hardware and software have the most current patches, and that tech and network gear are properly protected.
  1. Don’t forget analytics – Online shopping produces tons of potentially lucrative data for retailers. Make sure you are lawfully and effectively able to analyze all that information to improve products and services, optimize your abilities to target campaigns and identify other opportunities. Murphy says retailers should shop around for the ideal analytic software for their operations that will help them make sense of the data their e-commerce site is able to collect.

“The online shopping bonanza is not a one-time thing,” said Murphy. “If you are able to use data to evaluate what went wrong and what went right, you can improve your planning and performance for next year.”

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