online store mistakes during holiday traffic surges

The holidays are the most wonderful eCommerce time of the year. They also can be the most stressful if you’re not ready to deal with extra customer traffic to your online store.

Site crashes, unhappy customers, and shipping slowdowns can wreck your holiday revenue projections and thoroughly stress you out.

For a more peaceful and productive holiday sales season no matter how many customers show up, plan now to avoid these common mistakes.

 

Mistake #1: A hosting plan that can’t handle holiday traffic spikes

Even big retailers struggle with crashes when shoppers overwhelm their sites during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. But that doesn’t mean that crashes are inevitable, and they’re certainly not good for business.

Big companies can cope with downtime because they offer deep-discount deals that customers will check back for. But most small online sellers don’t have that kind of drawing power. If your store has an outage on a major sale day, odds are shoppers will just take their money somewhere else.

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Even if your site doesn’t crash, heavy traffic could make it slow to a crawl. When product pages take too long to load (say, longer than five seconds), your customers will likely move on.

Avoid this mistake: Head off crashes and site slowdowns this holiday season by looking over your hosting plan now. Is there a limit to how much bandwidth you can use or the number of site visits you can have in a given month? If so, is your holiday sales traffic likely to exceed those limits?

Talk to your web host about whether you should upgrade to a hosting plan that includes flexible scalability to handle whatever site traffic your sales bring in.

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Mistake #2: No automated site backups

Traffic isn’t the only thing that can take your site offline. Malware that gets past your site’s security measures, updates that go awry, hackers, and user errors can crash your site or cause problems so severe that it’s better to take the site down until you can restore a previous, uncorrupted version.

That’s easy enough to do if a previous, uncorrupted version of your site exists.

If it doesn’t? You could lose a lot of holiday business while you figure out what’s wrong with your site, fix it, and bring it back online.

Avoid this mistake: If your hosting plan doesn’t provide automated site backups, it’s time to switch to one that does. With an auto-backup plan, you don’t have to remember to manually back up your site and you can easily restore previous versions through your hosting dashboard, so you can get your site back online for holiday shoppers.

 

Mistake #3: Not enough protection against hackers and malware

Not every holiday visitor to your site may be there to shop. Malware can come from many sources, and people try to hack all kinds of sites for all types of reasons, from data theft to boredom.

You can and should follow best practices on your end like using strong passwords, being suspicious of strange emails, and keeping your hardware secure and your software up to date and patched. Even so, extra layers of protection can reduce the risk of malicious mischief, even when your store is swarmed with visitors.

Avoid this mistake: Find out what security measures your web host takes to protect your data and keep your site online. Look for features like regular scans to detect and remove malware, free SSL certificates, updated server firewalls, and physical security of server sites. Ask your host about upgrades to make your site more secure.

 

Mistake #4: No extra fraud-screening capacity

Holiday shoppers want their orders approved fast, and there are a lot of orders to approve, especially on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That means the pace of order decisions can be overwhelming, and fraudsters count on that to slip bad orders through.

LexisNexis reported in 2017 that during holiday sales peaks, up to 43% of orders may be attempted fraud. Without advance planning, you may be forced to choose between more fraud losses due to rapid approvals or more lost sales due to slow approval times.

Avoid this mistake: Talk to your fraud prevention team or third-party service now to make a plan. Will you need to hire seasonal analysts and customer service reps? Do you need to update your internal negative and positive files for faster decisions? What will it cost to scale up your fraud screening capacity during the holidays? Find out now.

 

Mistake #5: Not enough customer service options

Online shoppers already expect immediate customer service via live chat, chatbots, social media messaging, or a real person on the phone.

Responsive customer service is important year-round and especially during the holiday shopping season, because customers are often looking for specific items and are in a hurry to move on to the next sale or item on their gift list. Answer their questions in real time and you’re likely to make more sales.

If all you offer is an email address, you may not be able to keep up with inquiries or answer them fast enough, which means you could lose sales to competitors with better support.

Avoid this mistake: Now’s the time to audit your customer service offerings and plan for an increase in demand during holiday sales. If you only have email support, consider adding Facebook Customer Chat (in beta, but there’s already a WordPress plugin) or a chatbot extension tailored to your eCommerce platform to handle common questions.

 

Mistake #6: No plan for handling all those extra orders

Making lots of sales is one of the highlights of the holiday eCommerce season. Getting those purchases out the door can be one of the headaches.

When the orders are pouring in—especially when customers are paying for rush shipping—packing and shipping can become a bottleneck that leads to delayed shipments and unhappy customers. If you want those customers to come back after the holidays, make sure you have a plan to supercharge your normal shipping routine.

Avoid this mistake: Order extra shipping supplies now. Running out of labels, boxes, tape, or ink in the middle of a peak sales period can slow you down and cost you extra if you have to place a rush order of your own so you can get back to work.

 

Fired Up for the Holiday Sales Season?

Use these tips to improve your store before Black Friday shoppers arrive, and get some holiday marketing campaign inspiration.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.