Preparing Your Store Before the Holiday Season Begins
I know the holiday shopping season still seems pretty far away, but it’s quickly approaching and now is a great time to start planning. That being said, every great plan starts with a goal. What goals should your online store have this holiday season? Businesses with traditional storefront locations typically have goals to increase revenue by getting more people in the door. Similarly, eCommerce merchants should aim to increase sales by increasing traffic to their website. A physical store might also plan to meet their goals by hiring more employees, increasing inventory, running sales and extending store hours. Being an online store, you can increase your selling potential with website development and marketing. Your goals will be to streamline, optimize, and put solid strategies into place that will build up your online presence.
Having a poor online presence around the holidays, will result in missing out on valuable sales. However, an strong online presence and strategic planning gives your business a big advantage over your competitors. More and more people are shopping online every year. Let’s take a moment to consider these statistics.
- In 2016, holiday online spending reached $63.1 billion
- 2017 holiday sales represented nearly 20% of total retail industry sales
- Mobile sales during the 2017 holiday season reached $35.9 billion
- Mobile sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday alone reached $7 billion in 2017
August may seem a little early to talk about the holidays; but, after listening to those statistics, you can’t afford to wait.
If you have been making many of the common web development mistakes that I will be covering, then you’re probably only currently earning a fraction of your sales potential! After applying these next steps to your website, you could end up dominating your field in the coming months.
The first thing to do before the holiday rush is to get onboard with your website security. Most checkouts are usually secure, but sometimes store pages or informational pages aren’t.
How do you know if your pages are secure? To find that out, you’re going to want to look at the URL of your site, which is in the address bar of your browser. HTTP or HTTPS will be just left of the URL. If those letters sound familiar to you, it’s because you’ve probably seen addresses that start with HTTP a thousand times. It represents the protocol that sends data between the website and your browser. Adding an “S” to the end means secure. Therefore, secure websites start with HTTPS.
In order to get HTTPS, you need an SSL certificate. There is a growing number of providers that offer free SSL certificates. For example, hosting companies like SiteGround let you install a free certificate called “Let’s Encrypt”. If you have a Yahoo store, you actually already have a secure checkout page. As far as the rest of your site goes, Yahoo allows most stores activate that for free too; but you have to activate it yourself. Some hosting providers and platforms do charge for SSL certificates, so make sure you do some research before you buy anything.
Another thing to be aware of is that there are 3 different types of SSL certificates. Most sites use a standard domain validated certificate. Which is enough to be confident that the info being sent back and forth is encrypted. The two higher level SSLs require more verification, which in turn provides users with more trust in your actual company. While they can give your customers more peace of mind, be aware that they take much longer to get certified and will definitely cost you more money.
Cyber security is a growing concern on everyone’s radar, right now. For this reason, browsers are becoming more active in warning their users of risky sites. Let’s take Chrome for example; users see a bold “NOT SECURE” warning in their address bar on every HTTP website. On the other hand, an HTTPS site that is fully secure will read “SECURE” and display a green lock icon. When clicked, that lock shows users safety information about your site. Obviously this icon will instill safety into the minds of users, making them much more likely to fill up their shopping cart.
Keep in mind, though, that even if you have an SSL certificate, there’s still a chance you won’t be HTTPS on all of your pages. Once you’ve installed the SSL certificate, check every page on your website to ensure that there is no content giving a page a security error. If there is, it would make the whole page insecure, which means no green lock. That green lock is worth its weight in gold. Research shows that 84% of users would stop shopping if they saw the page was insecure. That’s way too much to risk for your bottom line.
Without HTTPS certification, websites are much more vulnerable to attack; but your customer’s safety is just one out of the many ways HTTPS can increase your sales this holiday season. Google’s goal is for all websites to be secure by default and has actually been using security as a factor in search engine rankings for years. This could mean a direct impact for your traffic, but has indirect benefits as well. For instance HTTPS is also a requirement for many new technologies, including some very important ones regarding page speed optimization.
*** Update: In the Chrome v69 update, Google has changed the HTTPS lock icon to black / dark gray and will no longer display the word “secure”.
Page Speed Optimization
This leads to the next item on our checklist: Page Speed Optimization. It directly correlates to the time users spend on your website and has a wide reach, impacting everything from user experience to search engine ranking.
Everyone can relate to frustration as a site is taking forever to load. The last thing you want is for your shoppers to have to experience that too.
When it comes down to it, there is a small window for your website to convince the visitor that they want to buy from your store. Take these statistics from section.io:
- 6% of users leave a site after two seconds loading
- 1% leave after 4 seconds
- 3% leave after seven seconds.
That is way too many lost customers for such an avoidable problem. However, many people don’t realize that with just a few simple steps, they can optimize their site to decrease loading speed and increase conversions.
The first step is test your pages to see if they are at a good speed already. I suggest a site like webpagetest.org which tells you your loading time from all over the world, and even breaks down into percentages how many bytes your code or images take up. Next, you need to do a little image compression. If you have a couple banners and some product photos on your site, open them in an image editing software, like Microsoft Paint or something more professional, to scale down the image. Then, upload the image to a site called tinypng.com which filters out unnecessary bytes in the image without losing definition. This alone could shrink the file to about half the size it was previously. Lastly, make sure the website is has clean code. Out of date code also slows loading speeds and in turn could ruin your rankings on Google. Another update was just pushed out last month by Google to penalize websites with extreme load times. Before the holidays begin, ask your developer or reach out to your hosting provider to inquire about other ways to optimize your page speed.
On a day like Cyber Monday, a shopper is jumping from site to site to find the best deals. While they are doing that, they are gaining expectations of what they want, whether they realize it or not. When they finally reach your store, it is going to have meet their expectations before they buy anything. But don’t just try to to meet their expectations. To truly make an impression, you have to exceed their expectations. That’s how you get returning customers who will shop at your store even beyond New Years. This is where the user experience comes in. Your store design needs to offer them something both unique and functional that successfully guides shoppers through the buying process and toward the checkout page.
Every design feature in your store needs to be there for a reason. Try to keep your design clean and simple, that way you can add and take away features easily. A simple design also allows you to add festive graphics promoting sales without your site seeming to busy or having Christmas colors clashing. Your design should allow you to add seasonal customizations while maintaining a strong base. Take these coming months as an opportunity to declutter and streamline your site before implementing your holiday material.
“Every design feature in your store needs to be there for a reason”
After your overall design is established, it is ready to house banners and other promotional material. Don’t have call-to-actions, have call-to-values that give a strong incentive to take advantage of deals and promotions. I’m talking about graphics that are literally step-by-step guides on how to save on your great deals, making it as easy as possible for the shopper.
The best banners should be made up of attractive graphics, urgent buttons, and maybe even a few clever animations. Compel users to act fast on your sales by using urgent wording or timers that countdown to when your sale ends.
Pop-ups can help with conversions too; but only when they are done well. For instance, let’s take a site that blasts you with a pop up right after the site loads. That can scare off visitors. Time your popups to appear when the user has exit intent or after the client has been on your site long enough to have an idea of what you sell and if they’re interested. Also, on these pop ups, offer exclusive deals or ask them to sign up for an email subscription to get a discount, anything that will actually be worth interrupting them and not backfire.
A general principle in psychology is that the more you make someone laugh the more comfortable and trusting they are; so give your website some life by adding fun graphics and text with personality. During Christmas you could add a little snow that has collected on your logo or a picture of a puppy with a Santa Claus hat on its head or maybe even a meme, as long as you bear in mind the amount seasonal colors that are already flashed at them throughout the day and the level of casual your audience might be comfortable with. For example, don’t put a new trending meme on a site for wheelchairs and walkers. Know your demographic and use that to gauge the type of fun to add. These design features will make your site stand out and will loosen up the user to feel more relaxed and ready to make purchases.
But you can’t buy something you can’t find. The easier it is for the user to find what they’re looking for, the more likely they will buy it; therefore, your navigation menu, search bar, and on page navigation needs to be practical and efficient. When designing your navigation menu, anticipate the user’s intentions. Most people will have a product that they came specifically to your site to buy. Your goal is to show them that you have the desired product, it’s competitively priced, and you’re an expert on that product.
Take it a step further by showing them other personalized recommendations that will capture their interest. Optimize your navigation menu to get to interior categories and products quickly. Make sure your main menu is clear and concise. Try to use very general terms that people will easily understand. If you have multiple tiers of navigation, make sure you use mega menus on desktop and accordions on mobile that create easy to digest snippets of navigation instead of long overflowing drop downs.
A well-organized navigation menu is a blessing, but it’s also like guacamole. 🥑 Usually, half the room loves it and half the room hates it. Not everyone prefers to shop via menu. Don’t design for just a navigation menu and then forget to optimize your search function, or vice versa. That’s a great way to lose half of your customers.
Every online store needs a quality search bar because it allows those “search bar customers” that know what they want, to quickly find it. Use an autofill feature to give them suggestions. This makes the search process even quicker by not making them type everything out. Secondly, make the search bar large and have it stand out with bold colors and centralized placement to help users find it easily. Equally as important, make sure your search results are great. If your search functionality isn’t up to par or if your store has complicated search needs, consider upgrading your search or replacing it altogether with a 3rd party option from a company that specializing in search optimization.
If you have on page navigation, use filtering to guide the user to their product. The different categories on your filter could be anything from color, size, genre, etc… depending on your industry. Give the user price options like “price from lowest to highest,” or have them narrow down a price range.
Essentially, make the customer’s searching experience seem less like a hunt and more like a journey that guides them to their desired product, while promoting other unexpected purchases along the way. These tools loosely serve as a virtual replacement for having a sales associate on the floor in your store to help. If you want the real deal, try adding live chat to your store to really start closing deals and increasing conversions.
The next thing to check off your “holiday to do list” is making your website mobile friendly. According to statista, 52.2% of the entire world’s traffic is through a mobile device in 2018. This number has been steadily rising as smart phones become more and more sophisticated. Meaning that if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you might be cutting half of your potential sales, not to mention the loss of exposure from SEO. Similar to HTTPS, having a mobile friendly website also gains Google’s favor. Google recently rolled out a “Mobile First” initiative that changed the way they index sites on Google searches. As this initiative continues to roll out, they will be solely looking at your store on mobile to decide how high to rank your site, as opposed to your desktop site.
This means that If you’re not mobile-friendly, forget milking the holidays for a large boost in sales. You won’t even be meeting your regular sales potential. To truly compete in your market, your online store needs to not only be exceptional on desktop, but even better mobile. Don’t neglect either one. Even though Google will put the most priority on your mobile site, don’t forget that many people shop on their mobile devices then make the actual purchase on their desktop.
There are two forms your website can take to be considered “mobile friendly”: Adaptive or Responsive.
An adaptive website has different versions; for example: a set of mobile files and a set of desktop files. The server detects what device you are on and serves you a different copy of the page you want based on your device. Whereas, a responsive design is built to rearrange a single page depending on the screen resolution of the viewer. Simply put, adaptive is based on the device you are using while responsive is based on your screen size.
You can usually tell the difference between an adaptive and responsive website by looking at the way the layout of the site will change as your browser changes. If you resize the browser window on a desktop computer down to phone size, you won’t see a change on an adaptive site at all. However, if you viewed that site on a phone, you would see a completely different version of the website.
On the other hand a site with a responsive design will change shape as you resize your browser window. It will rearranging itself as the viewport gets smaller. Content on the responsive site will move and change organically, which is, for the most part, better. It also trumps adaptive because Google says so; and, kind of like Santa Claus, they decide what’s naughty and nice. Check your website to see if it’s up to their standards by using their tool “Mobile-Friendly Test.” If your website is not responsive, then talk to your developer on how they can get it prepped before the holidays.
HTTPS, Page Speed, Mobile-Friendliness and all the other things we talked about will increase your favor with Google; but this holiday season, you will need more than good rankings on Google. You’ll even need more than a great website! To truly increase your revenue, you’re going to need to get people to the website (aka Marketing).
Now that your website is on the nice list and ready for the holiday sales rush, it’s time to work on your marketing strategy. The ultimate goal during the holiday season is to increase conversions, and ultimately revenue. More people shop online than in physical stores every year, so it’s important to make sure your marketing is consistent. The most powerful campaigns represent company branding and values..
“The most powerful campaigns represent company branding and values”
One of the best ways to build brand recognition and keep everything consistent is by using similar graphics that follow a theme. Create these graphics ahead of time so that you’re prepared when it comes time to post them. By creating them early, you can also make sure that all your graphics look similar in style, making it easier for your potential customers to recognize that it’s your store or sale. Your company might not be as large as Coca-Cola, but having a marketing campaign as memorable to your customers as the Coca-Cola Polar Bears is within reach.
Another great idea is to create holiday themed landing pages on your website to be used for promotions and unique holiday shopping. Landing pages take advantage of streamlining very specific goals and are great for things like email marketing and pay-per-click ads. Incorporate your graphics theme onto these pages to keep your marketing consistent. These pages can include gift guides, popular holiday products, promotions, and more. Ultimately, these pages should tell customers why they should shop with you over your competitors and compel your customers to purchase.
Countdowns are another great way to get people interested. A countdown to the last day or time to place an order so that it will arrive before Christmas lets your customers know that they will get their package on time. You’re putting valuable information right in your customer’s face and building trust by reassuring them their gifts will arrive on time. This strategy also creates a sense of urgency and encourages people to order sooner rather than later.
Three of the best ways to advertise to potential customers are through email marketing, social media marketing, and paid advertising.
Let’s start with email marketing, which has a lot of great benefits. Email marketing is the most effective marketing strategy for the holidays because your list includes people who are already interested in your business. Email marketing also boasts the highest return on investment rate out of any other marketing strategy. There are many great email marketing platforms out there, but one of our favorites is Remarkety because it integrates well with most eCommerce platforms, including Yahoo stores. Remarkety also offers the ability to create custom campaigns with advanced segmentation, giving you an edge on personalization and allowing you to tracking performance.
You can refine your email marketing strategy around the holidays by offering promotional deals, sending more frequently, and taking advantage of segmentation and personalization.
Promotional deals are a great way to wow your subscribers. Offer exclusive, email-only deals centered around your holiday theme. This will not only allow you to track how effective your email marketing really is, but it will also make people want to be on your list so they know they are getting the best holiday deals. For example, you can create an email campaign that counts down to Christmas and include a unique coupon specific for this email campaign. The countdown will remind customers to buy soon, and the coupon will add that little extra incentive to buy. This also creates a great campaign that can be sent out more frequently.
Don’t be afraid to increase the number of emails you’re sending out during the holiday shopping season. Increasing your email frequency is more accepted during this time because people tend to be more willing to look at what deals you have to offer. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing too. As an added bonus, appearing more often in a customer’s inbox builds brand recognition and loyalty.
It’s not enough to just appear in a customer’s inbox, you want to let them know that something of value is inside that email. This is where you should take advantage of the segmenting and personalization options your email marketing platform has to offer. Segmenting your email list allows you to send more relevant emails and narrow down your target audience to those who would be more interested in certain products, categories or promotional deals. For example, you can segment your emails to only send to customers who have bought from the women’s clothing category, and recommend your newest shirts to them. These customers have already shown interest, so they are more likely to buy those new shirts than other customers who bought other items. This method of personalization is the future of email marketing. Start personalizing your emails now to get ahead of your competition.
Every email marketing platform has different abilities and the strategy that works for another store may not work for you. Explore what your platform has to offer, then test out some different strategies to find what works best for you. You can always reach out to a professional if you have any questions or for advice on how to improve.
Social Media Marketing
Next we have social media marketing, which is another great way to advertise to potential customers. Social media marketing allows you to connect with both new and repeat customers. Posting regularly is a great way to stay in the forefront of your customer’s minds, and that’s something you can start doing now to build your brand image and following before the holidays start. Don’t forget to mirror your holiday theme by incorporating those graphics across all platforms, to help with your brand recognition. You can also boost your reach through paid ads on popular platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The more people see your posts, the more likely they are to remember your business when they start their shopping, especially if you have a really good reason they should shop with you. Incorporate a good mix of sales and non sales focused posts. The posts that are not focused around sales could be a good mix of company fun, news, values and more. By promoting your company values, such as community involvement or volunteer work, you show your customers that you’re so much more than just products for sale. This leaves a lasting memory and a great impression of your business.
Social media giveaways are another idea to boost your exposure and get people interested. Get creative with your giveaways. For example, you could do a giveaway with a 12 Days of Christmas theme. Ask people to name how many times turtle doves and gold rings are mentioned in the original song. Those who comment with the right answer, that turtle doves are mentioned 11 times and gold rings are mentioned 8 times, will be entered into a drawing to win.
You can make your audience even more jolly by including gift guides or ideas into your posts. People love to share Christmas tips and ideas. You can get a discussion going by asking a question such as “what is your favorite stocking stuffer,” or “what tasty treats do you like to make (or eat) for Thanksgiving.” These discussions will boost your reach and help to engage with your followers.
Keep an eye on social hashtags that are trending during the holiday season and try to incorporate those into your own posts as much as possible. You can even consider starting your own hashtag. Be sure to incorporate this into your marketing and encourage your followers and customers to use the hashtag. For example, you can encourage customers to post a photo with their new product or who they gifted it to and use that hashtag.
Email marketing and social media marketing both have their advantages, but another great way to advertise to potential customers is through Google.
Running ads through Google Ads (previously Google AdWords) has many benefits, especially around the holidays. The biggest benefit over all is that a well optimized Ads campaign works much faster than SEO, which can give you more bang for your buck. Ads are faster and more effective because they allow you to focus on multiple keywords at a time and turn campaigns on and off. This method of driving leads instantly is great around the holiday season because you can take advantage of using seasonal long-tail keywords such as “gifts for mom” or “holiday meal ideas”. You can also run ads that reflect any promotions you would like to highlight. Google Ads also allows you to run remarketing campaigns.
If you aren’t already remarketing, you should be! Remarketing gives you the opportunity to win back customers by reminding them what they’re missing out on. Customers make decisions faster during their holiday shopping, so when looking at your remarketing strategy it may be a good idea to decrease the amount of time users are on your list. This will ensure that these potential customers are seeing your ads more frequently and faster, when you’re still fresh in their minds.
A physical store goes through countless hours of preparation to get ready for the holidays. It’s just as important for an eCommerce store to prepare for the holiday sales rush through website development and marketing strategy. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional during this time if you need help, advice or just don’t have the time to devote. We can help get you on the nice list this year if you get stuck!