10 Tips to Prepare Your eCommerce Site for the Holiday Shopping Rush
October 19, 2015

Sven Hammar
Apica

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The holiday shopping rush is soon upon us and the only thing we can be certain of is that online shopping of gifts will continue to increase. But also that many e-customers will be disappointed with their online shopping experiences. Response time is money.

With this in mind, here are my top ten tips for e-commerce success this holiday season:

1. Time is money

Even during periods with high traffic, the response time (i.e. the time it takes for a web page to fully load) should not exceed three seconds. E-shoppers are not the most patient bunch. If the site is slow, the customer will look for the desired product somewehere else: your competitors. A slow response means losing conversions, revenues and Google rankings. Analyze how your e-commerce platform performs compared to the competitors: is it faster or slower? How much money are you losing due to long response times and a corresponding weak conversion rate?

2. Optimize images and videos

High-resolution images and videos might make you think that your website is modern and edgy ... but they increase response times. So put vanity aside and reduce the amount of high-resolution images and videos on your site – for the sake of revenues. If you still want the bulky images, then invest in systems that can handle short response times despite high-resolution content. Use a CDN/accelerator service to speed up the delivery of rich content such as images and videos to customers.

3. Load test your site

Perform load tests to verify the site's performance during various load levels. Measure performance during normal variations in traffic. Test the site frequently before, during and after peak season to ensure the availability of reliable information about the site's normal performance. Testing companies can load test web or mobile applications, simulate peak loads, and validate non-functional demands, such as maximum three second response time for 90 percent of the users during peak load (10,000 users per minute).

4. Damage control: test your peak load

Without tests it is almost imposible to foresee what will happen at peak loads, e.g. Christmas commerce. Components that function flawlessly at regular loads may all of a sudden become bottlenecks. A "damage control" is a test that shows what it takes for the site to crash and what the course of events looks like. A damage control ensures that the website comes up and running again – even at full load. A specialized supplier of testing services can give you advice on how to avoid getting stuck with sites that slow down or crash even if the traffic increases drastically.

5. Cache static content

Cache as much static content as possible in the browser. If the page content does not change, customers will not have to download it again from the network the next time they hit the page. This is a cost-effective way to speed up web traffic and gain performance improvements.

6. Use queuing techniques

Queuing techniques are commonplace in service industries like retail. And it can be used to manage customers in virtual stores as well. Only allow as many customers into your web store that it can safely accommodate (i.e. that it is tested for) and block all traffic above this volume. It not, all users will get poor response times and the site might cease to function for all users. It is better to serve the customers who are already in the virtual store and let the others receive a polite error message or wait a little longer.

7. Be careful with third party content

Sure, it is nice to be able to link Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Many e-traders do it and see it as something completely natural. But third party material is seldom optimized. You lose control over part of your website and take the risk of slowing it down.

8. Develop Campaign sites

Create separate and simpler websites that load quicker for temporary campaigns, events and product launches.

9. Balance the loads

Check that load sharing is working properly. Load sharing distributes loads from different users onto underlying systems in an even way. However, sometimes there might be erros due to reconfigurations et al. Therefore you must verify that the load sharing really functions properly and that the underlying servers receive an even load.

10. Use KPI to manage conversion

Finally: use existing analytical tools to identify which business processes your customers carry out on your website, and optimize them for the best possible performance. With tools like Google Analytics it is possible to see where the visitors start and which routes they take on your website. You can also see when the conversion rate is affected by slow response times. Back to my first tip: time is money and speed is always good – use KPI to manage your efforts for improved conversion and higher revenues.

Sven Hammar is Founder and CEO of Apica.

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