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How to Optimize your eCommerce Store for the Holidays

Here’s one of the paradoxes about the holidays that, if you’re an ecommerce agency, works in your favor: People love to shop during the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s retail extravaganza, but they don’t always love venturing out of their homes to do their shopping. They’re happy to drop a projected $1 trillion+ in the US holiday bazaar. Yet they aren’t thrilled about battling traffic or jostling amid crowds on sidewalks pelted with sleet and rain. Now that the season of the Headless Horseman has passed us by like a midnight blast, brands need to make sure their headless commerce tactics and ecommerce website design can handle the onslaught of digital demand that may wallop them during the happiest time of this year.

With that said, we don’t want to make it seem like no one’s headed out to stores this winter. A lot of us are still pent up during this neverending pandemic—so who isn’t looking forward to sipping a peppermint mocha and strolling round the mall? But COVID-related fears continue to drive ecommerce sales, and COVID-related supply chain disruptions mean that prices will climb and consumers will need more options regarding where to buy gifts and how those gifts can be delivered. Read on for a few strategies that can help you identify new customers and channels, optimize your site for conversions, launch social media campaigns, and entice your audience with promos and (profitable) giveaways over the next few months.

Identify Your Customers and Channels

So many channels exist now that the task before you in the holiday run-up is to figure out which ones you want to advertise on—or whose advertising you want to align with—because you can’t dominate them all. The first step, then, is to analyze the digital traffic that came to your site over the last few holiday seasons so that you can identify your customer groups. Delve into the data until answers to some of these questions bubble up:

  • Who’s your primary audience?
  • What are the channels where you can grab their attention? (Social media, search engines, email marketing, billboard ads?)
  • What do these people want? (Are they looking to spend their end-of-year bonus, or save on discounts? Do personalized offers woo and wow them, or is delivering a heap of presents on their doorstep on time the only thing that matters to them?)

If the answers to any of those questions still elude you, send an email survey to your existing customers and—depending on their feedback—adjust your strategy accordingly. Let’s say that Pinterest was your top-performing channel last year, but your customers are telling you that they can’t wait to buy stuff on Mercado Libre. That switch is probably unlikely, but if it happens, make sure the ecommerce platform you’re using can connect into new marketplaces so you can meet customers where they prefer to shop online.

Get Your Site into Holiday Mode

You know how brick and mortars deck their halls for the holidays—hanging cascades of silver lights from the ceiling, festooning the balustrades with red ribbons, placing a Christmas tree or a turkey in a pilgrim’s hat on a dais in the middle of the floor? Do the same with your web design. Maybe don’t make so many changes that users can’t find their way through all that digital red ribbon, but update the vibe of your site so they feel like they’ve fallen into some cheery online department store. Here are some ideas that can help you achieve that effect:

  • Holiday-ify your landing pages.

Landing pages usually promote campaign-specific offers, making them the perfect lead capture tactic for the holidays. As you’re building your landing pages, keep your copy concise, make your CTAs easy to find, and spruce up your logo so that it feels like you’re gliding through a grove of Santa’s snowy spruce trees. We say “gliding” because that’s your objective here: Clear the clutter. Your users should be able to find your top sales and gift lists with a quick scan of the page. (And, please, no popups or overlays, ever.)

  • Integrate on-site navigation.

Guess what happens when you walk into a store and the shelves runneth over and you can’t find the register and no one’s interested in helping you? You bounce out. Websites work the same way. Without accessible navigation elements, your users may struggle to locate what they want—which is an excellent way of ushering them to the exits. Solution: Build search engine functionality into your site. Enable features that fix misspellings or suggest phrases that your audience might be noodling on as they’re typing. The easier it is for them to find what they’re looking for, the closer you are to finalizing a sale.

  • Make your shipping and billing forms immaculate.

If you thought that landing pages should be uncluttered, you haven’t read our advice on how to make the checkout process easy. This last step, in many ways, is all that matters. Which means that one error—a button that’s grayed out of existence, an autocheck that can’t locate a shipping address, a service message about a delay that gets the month wrong—might freak out your shoppers so much that they jump over to some other ecommerce vendor who offers a cleaner checkout experience. Get your code and copy right, and get out of your customers’ way. You want to make them feel like they can tread the primrose path through your payment gateway whenever they please.

Go Headless

Headless commerce is a way of separating the backend, code-heavy environment of your site from the frontend display that your users see. In traditional ecommerce platforms—and, yes, we are living in a world where “traditional” refers to developments from the bygone era of 2006–2011—the major functionality of a site (subscription features, CMS, checkout cart) are tied together to some extent, so updates to one part of the store can impact all the other parts.

Setting up the products or payment portals in a traditional, monolithic ecommerce platform is fairly easy. But as an out-of-the-box solution, it can also be bulky—causing you headaches in the form of slow load times, visual themes that feel somewhat canned, a diminished ability to scale up with more content. With headless commerce, you can customize the frontend without having to make technical changes to the backend. That design precision comes in handy in the post-Halloween shopping spree, when you need to process all your sales without your site crashing or stalling. To that end, here are two immediate benefits of headless commerce:

  • A faster experience.

One of the goals of headless commerce is to speed up loading times. Yet some businesses also opt to integrate progressive web apps (or PWAs) into their headless commerce platforms to make them run even faster. PWAs—which are web software that behave like a native app—can pull the same volume of information as a regular web page, but when a user clicks a link, the PWA only swaps out the parts of the page that need to change (rather than reload the whole page). The result is speed: The site’s backend isn’t strained with processing a gazillion requests, and the content reloads are more surgical, whisking along the click-click-pay ease with which customers buy from you.

  • Mobile optimization.

Site speed is especially important on mobile, a device where people tend to have even less patience (if that’s possible) than desktop or tablet. Mobile is also becoming our own pocket-sized checkout kiosks, given that analysts predict that mobile commerce will account for 54% of global digital sales in 2021. The rapidity of headless commerce can help you become a mobile-first business—and build a site that’s so intuitive that visitors find it more convenient to click-click-pay with you rather than stand in a line at Macy’s that seems to wind on for miles.

Be More Social

Earlier we suggested identifying your customers and pinpointing which channels they’re on. All those channels are useful, but social media may be especially ecommerce-friendly, since social commerce has become one of the most profitable storefronts on the world wide web.

A few months before the holidays, A/B test different social posts to generate buzz for your store and gauge which ad formats enthrall your customers the most. To build earned media, ask those customers to share photos or videos of them using your products or recommending your services. (And maybe reward them with a discount or rebate for promoting your brand.) But to really slay on social, determine which platform will serve you best:

  • Facebook

Oh, sorry—you probably know this company better as “Meta,” the visionaries who are about to usher all of us into the next phase of human existence. But for this blog, we’ll refer to the Network Formerly Known as Facebook as Facebook, and we mention it in the first place because it gives ecommerce brands a plethora of subchannels through which they can talk to their audiences. Facebook Ads, Stories, Groups, Messenger, Marketplace, Business Page—any of these can command huge reach. To strengthen your own network, post on Facebook consistently, and share or comment on other ecommerce merchants’ posts.

  • Google Ads

Research which terms related to your product and service your audience is likely to be searching for. (If you’re a clothing store: “Best ugly sweaters for the ugly sweater office party.” If you’re a grocery store: “OMG is there a turkey shortage this year?”) Bid on those terms. Target those keywords. Link your ads to the landing pages we’ve talked about and set up conversion tracking so you can pull the numbers on which ads are working well and which, you know … aren’t.

  • Instagram

Especially if you’re a skilled shutterbug, Instagram can be a beautiful outlet for an assortment of product displays across your reels, posts, stories, and so on. Engagement rates are also higher on Instagram than other platforms, and finding ways to collaborate with other influencers is a skill you’ll pick up in no time in the Instaworld.

Promote, Entice, Give

All the strategies that we’ve listed out so far are useful, but any ecommerce brand can do them. What’ll attract a larger clientele to your store, as opposed to someone else’s? In many cases, it’s the cold, hard, Grinchlike numbers that sway people. Even though the holidays are a kind, forgiving, charitable time, shoppers are mostly interested in how much things cost and if you’ve got any deals going on. So tell them. Come correct with promos, discounts, buy-now-pay-later options, and other numbers-based incentives that can apply a balm to the sore wound where they’ll hurt most this season: Their pocketbook.

  • Promotions

With all the ecommerce competition out there, is it any surprise that 49% of customers expect businesses to send them personalized offers or discounts? Cozy people up with freebies—free shipping, free products (with purchases of larger products), or free gift cards in exchange for a certain dollar amount that they spend at your store. Keep in mind, too, that seven in 10 US Americans report that they usually go over budget during the holidays. Letting them choose from a variety of payment options—monthly installments, 0% APR offers, a split-pay setup—may convey a spirit of leniency that could lead to repeat purchases.

  • Enticements

As much as deals lure people in, customers abandon close to 70% of online shopping carts. How do you get them back? Try automated emails that—with some humor—remind them about whatever ’twas they left at the e-register. Also consider starting a loyalty program, creating bundles of products to cross-sell and up-sell for customers who don’t abandon their carts, and marketing to them after New Year’s comes and goes—so they know where to do their shopping for the next holiday binge.

  • Gift Guides

Use your product catalog to put together gift guides for the people who your customers are likely shopping for—“20 Gift Ideas for Your Wife / Boyfriend / Neighbor / Colleague / Manager Who Doesn’t Seem Super-Thrilled With Your Work These Days.” Tier your offerings according to the buyer’s budget. Get specific with demographics. Draw on keyword research. And highlight your inventory—including your clearance section. (Who doesn’t love a bargain?)

Solve Problems

End-of-year festivities bring the promise of new beginnings, slumber and still nights and some time off from school and work. But that sense of calm usually only settles in after it’s all over. In the midst of the spending expeditions, these months can be hectic—for customers and companies alike. If you’re an ecommerce brand, partner with an ecommerce agency to optimize your site for the user’s convenience. Create self-help pages. Staff up your customer service team to handle the inundation of queries and requests and complaints that are gonna roll in (trust us). No amount of fancy design or development can equal the value of de-stressing your buyers over the holidays. Solve their problems, save them a trip through wind and weather, and they’ll be back next year for more.

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