5 Tips to Prepare Your Website for the Holiday Rush

The holiday shopping season means more traffic and larger sales volumes, but it also heralds in an important, seasonal change in overall shopping patterns taking place on your site and dramatic changes to visitors' interests as they scour the web for holiday gifts. Planning for the online holiday shopping season needs to start now. Here are five tips to help you hit it out of the park this year.
1. Say no to the "winter freeze." Out of fear something might "break" on their websites, too many retailers freeze their site for the last two or three months of the year. While playing it safe might be comforting, it's not conducive to achieving high conversion rates during the holiday season. To address this issue without stepping too far out of your comfort zone, make sure your digital teams are digging deep into website analytics to identify what updates will offer the highest strategic advantage. Then focus on rolling out those updates in a way that will resonate with your customers. Hold off until January on updates that won't move the needle in a big way.
2. Embrace intent-led personalization. Traditional forms of personalization that focus on the individual, social profiles and past purchasing history are going to be substantially less effective during the holiday. This is because people are shopping for their husbands, wives, sons, mothers, friends — often everyone except for themselves. Personalization approaches that take into consideration a site visitor's current intent will be much better suited to the holiday buying environment.
3. Integrate gift selectors to drive conversions. It will come as little surprise that retailers who make it easier for shoppers to find gifts will reap substantial benefits during the holiday season. The key here, however, is relevancy: merely offering up a fixed set of products that aren't great gifts won't get you far. Creating relevancy for customers becomes a crucial balancing act between your interests to move certain products and serving up the products your customers want and need. The savviest retailers will keep this in mind when crafting their sites for the season.
4. Think social. Saying "social is important" is like saying the sky is blue, but it is surprising how many online retailers are still struggling to incorporate social into their businesses and drive sales through it. While some see social as more of an evergreen opportunity, a recent study on customers' online experiences during the last holiday shopping season found that 16% of respondents purchased an additional product based on their Facebook friends "liking" or purchasing a product. This season, ask yourself how you are making it easier for customers to share your products and their purchases online. If you're drawing a blank, you may be missing a big opportunity.
5. Develop a mobile strategy. Like social, mobile is one area that is likely already on your radar and then some — holiday season or not. Looking back at the previously cited study, 13% of respondents said they used their mobile phones to make holiday purchases last year while 18% used them for comparison shopping. While mobile shopping is still emerging into the mainstream, it's certainly becoming an increasingly effective way for retailers to engage with customers. With just months until holiday buying is in full swing, there is not time like the present to get a mobile strategy sorted out. Your digitally savvy customers will thank you.
Bill Hustad is chief customer officer at Baynote.
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