This year has been brutal for most retailers, and it is safe to expect that more people will opt to do their holiday shopping online as we all continue to navigate ordinances and safety precautions brought on by COVID-19. A shopping experience that is quick, seamless and provides some “warmth” via personalization is appreciated by customers during these uncertain times.

We compiled some platform-agnostic topics applicable to anyone whose business has a seasonal peak and bucketed them into core areas to help get you started.

Communication planning

No matter how ready you think your website is to handle peak holiday traffic, aligning on an agreed-upon internal and external communication plan is critical.

Several things to consider:

  • Externally, what will be the email cadence for customers? Will you plan for promotions throughout peak season to help massage demand? Is the technical team aware of this schedule and prepared to respond to increased load and click-through rates?
  • Internally, what is the cadence for touchpoints with key stakeholders throughout the holiday season? Will there be daily checkpoint bridges and extended calls for true peak hours? Ongoing update emails every few hours? What will the format be for these communications? Will they include a readout summary of volumes of orders and customers, distilled application monitoring metrics, review and signoff of marketing content?
  • Work with business teams to understand and plot volume projections for revenue, traffic, times, etc. based on analytics team advisement.
  • Hold a kick-off call with all parties involved to review the high-level plan, roles and responsibilities, foster teamwork, and garner excitement for success!

Business strategy

  • Review/develop social media campaigns.
  • No change policy: Will you institute a moratorium for any system updates after a certain date?
  • Content lockdown/approval: When will you finalize content, and what is the process for making updates?
  • Smooth out the demand with targeted timed specials.
  • Evergreen product planning and allocation.
  • Provide personalized shopping: How will you recommend products or serve up customized messaging/ads for your customers?
  • Create an abandoned cart strategy.
  • Optimize site search to help shoppers find what they are looking for.
  • Keep your inventory updated to show only in-stock items.

Client-side tuning/third-party calls

Evaluate your overall page weight and load times. It’s amazing how much you can improve your user experience with some simple optimizations.

  • What pages account for the majority of traffic, and what are their load-times?
  • Are your images optimized?
  • How many JavaScript files does the client need to load?
  • Are they minified? Can they be combined into one call from the browser?
  • Are assets loading in the proper order to speed page rendering?
  • Have you completed a thorough review of all API calls?
  • Are third-party integrations working correctly?

Pay attention to third-party calls that live outside your data center and your operational control. Monitor them so you know what their overall performance impact usually is to the website compared to when they are having problems that could bring your users’ experience to a crawl. Have a way to turn them off or fail gracefully if they are down or experiencing problems. Do you really need a Facebook “like” button? Marketing may say you do, but does it also need to show the number of “likes”? No? Great, turn it off.

Capture what goes well and what didn’t work as well so you can improve for next year. Conduct a post-holiday hindsight and debrief before December ends, while the experience is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Support readiness & structure

  • If something goes wrong, what is your escalation policy? Be sure to include it in a published rotation schedule with a backup and management escalation phone tree.
  • Who needs to be available, and when? Set expectations that ‘on call’ means one should be able to login within five minutes of notice and start troubleshooting immediately.
  • Do you have a list of key contact information for all third-party integration points for your environment so you can contact them at a moment’s notice? This includes fulfillment providers, CDN, networking and infrastructure, hosting providers (as applicable), security team leadership, payment processors, media asset delivery providers, call centers, monitoring teams, application support teams, application vendor and product teams, marketing and merchandising teams, etc.
  • Is your support team well-versed in common scenarios or potential issues with critical pieces of your customers’ journey e.g. checkout and/or payment processing? It may be worthwhile to invest in tabletop exercises or drills for these issues, refresher sessions for top or common pervasive production issues that have defined workarounds and responses, critical system flows, runbook review, and role-plays for a mock system-down situation.
  • Conduct disaster recover/failover in advance
  • Have you tested actually restoring your system from your backups?

Need more assistance preparing for the holidays? Stay tuned for our next blog post for more in-depth tips. Have questions or need a customized plan? Contact us and one of our commerce experts will follow up with you.