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How to Prepare Your Website for 2020 Holiday Shoppers

The holiday season is probably the busiest time of year for e-commerce businesses.

Just about every online store, regardless of niche or audience, sees much higher demand and traffic than average during these last two months of the year.

The holidays are a welcome boost for many companies. Especially those that have struggled somewhat with unreliable demand through 2020. Higher-than-average demand, however, isn’t a guarantee of success. Without the right web design strategy and marketing techniques, you may earn just a fraction of the total holiday sales you could be capturing.

Web design can majorly influence your success this holiday season. Even small design tweaks can mean the difference between a sale and a customer shopping elsewhere.

These seven tips are some of the best ways to prepare your site for 2020 holiday shoppers:

1. Count Down to Big Events

A few major holidays dominate the season, but they’re not the only events you want to watch out for. Even when you ignore some of the most significant holidays — like Christmas, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving — the end of the year is still packed with shopping holidays and other events.

The holiday season in 2020 started in October this year with Canadian Thanksgiving, which fell on October 12. Site owners may have also already seen a spike in orders or traffic leading up to the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, which is a major gift-giving holiday — both in India and outside the country within the Indian diaspora.

November is a big month for retailers, but aside from Diwali, most major holiday events are tucked into the last week of the month.

These are some of the biggest holidays of the November 2020 holiday season:

  • Diwali — November 14
  • American Thanksgiving — November 26
  • Black Friday — November 27
  • Small Business Saturday — November 28
  • Cyber Monday — November 29

After Cyber Monday, things may calm down a bit for a week or two. However, starting as soon as early-to-mid December, you’ll likely start seeing major growth in sales — mostly due to Hanukkah, several shopping holidays and rapidly approaching Christmas shipping deadlines:

  • Hanukkah — December 10 to 18
  • Green Monday — December 14
  • Free Shipping Day — December 14
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — December 24 and 25
  • Boxing Day — December 26
  • Kwanzaa — December 26 to January 1

There’s also New Year’s Eve — another popular gift-giving holiday that may inspire some purchases toward the end of December.

While planning for these holidays, you may want to consider site features like countdown timers. Countdown timers can add a bit of excitement and an air of exclusivity to the offers you have planned. Customers may be more tempted to jump on a deal if they know it is time-limited or relevant to the moment.

A timer also helps you announce an event and build hype in the days leading up to a big holiday occasion. Customers and visitors aren’t always on your mailing list. They might not know about upcoming sales if you only advertise via email and similar channels. However, they’ll probably notice a countdown timer — and may remember your site has a big sale on the way.

2. Prep for Relevant Shopping Holidays

Some of these secular and shopping holidays may not be right for your business. For example, Boxing Day is only celebrated in Commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. If your audience is primarily American, a Boxing Day sale may fall a little flat.

If you don’t specialize in sustainable or green products, you may also not get a lot of benefit from something like a Green Monday sale.

However, there can be some significant benefits to a sale held on a holiday relevant to your business.

Customers aren’t typically cynics — many like to support companies with values that line up with their own beliefs. If your company is a small, boutique operation, you may have already noticed that customers are willing to pay a premium for items from smaller businesses. Research also shows that customers will accept a significant markup on sustainable goods — meaning Green Monday could be a significant opportunity if you offer eco-friendly products.

Major holidays — like Cyber Monday and Black Friday — probably won’t draw a crowd who’s looking for a specific kind of company to support. The nature of these days will likely mean these shoppers are looking for deals and cheap items.

However, advertising a Black Friday sale or shouting out Cyber Monday on your social media could draw some significant traffic. You may want some sort of sale or event, however, to back up your marketing.

3. Curate Special Holiday Deals and Bundles

One of the best ways to drive additional sales during the holiday season is to create special holiday deals, lists and bundles.

Deals will encourage customers who are looking for low prices. Lists of gift ideas and holiday specials can lend a helping hand to people shopping for friends and family.

Bundles will help you organize your storefront, improve the discoverability of your products and reframe how customers think about your offerings.

Some products in your store may not strike a customer as “gift-worthy.” For example, a cookware retailer may not be able to convince a shopper that a single utensil or tool is a good gift. A bundle, however, that includes some high-cost items — like a set of pots and pans — as well as some low-cost items, like those utensils, show how those things can make a great gift, so long as they’re in the right context.

If you offer specials — like free shipping, extended holiday return windows or special bundles — be sure to advertise them front and center. Depending on how big the deal is, you may want to go as far as using a pop-up on the front page to let visitors know you’re offering special holiday discounts.

4. Stress Test Your Site Before the Holidays

You want to make sure your site is in working order so that, on the day of a big sale, you won’t have to scramble to fix issues that could make ordering more difficult or even impossible.

You can start with a few useful tests and site audits. Testing your site’s search function, for example, can ensure customers can find what they’re looking for. If you’re testing the site yourself, make sure it’s easy to search for items by keyword or filter by categories.

You may also want to test your site’s compatibility with different popular operating systems and browsers. While most modern e-commerce platforms will work fine with Chrome, Safari, Firefox and similar options, some add-ons or custom codes may not function properly on certain OS and browser combinations.

It’s also good practice to ensure product pages are loading and updating correctly — especially if these pages have tech like a dynamic tracker that notes if the item is in-stock, out-of-stock or running low.

If you’re short on time and resources, you should still make sure key information is up to date. For example, if shipping times may be longer during the holidays, you’ll want to provide the latest info on your FAQ or shipping information page. You should also list any relevant shipping deadlines so customers know when they need to order by if they want a gift to arrive in time for a major holiday, like Christmas.

This site testing and proofreading will be especially crucial if you’re offering holiday-specific shipping or checkout options — like gift wrapping. If a new checkout option isn’t working, you or your fulfillment team won’t know, for example, that a certain item needs to be gift wrapped.

You may be using special, branded boxes for a similar purpose during the holidays. Boxes with designs or graphics are often a good way to build extra brand recognition and add some flair to what would typically be a plain cardboard box. However, if your store’s checkout options aren’t working, you’ll have a much harder time knowing which products need specialty packaging.

Even if you can identify which items need branded boxes, you may be unable to fully automate the process — adding a lot of work to your schedule during the busiest time of the year.

5. Check Your Site’s Security

While security oversights probably won’t prevent customers from completing a purchase, these issues definitely can put their data at risk.

Fortunately, basic cybersecurity practices can help keep customer data safe from hackers and cybercriminals.

For example, it’s a good idea to get SSL encryption for your site and use HTTPS, not HTTP. The HTTPS protocol encrypts data that’s sent between customers and your site. This means the protocol will keep customer data, like passwords and credit card info, safe as it travels from their computer to your site’s servers.

Most major e-commerce platforms make it easy to use HTTPS, and some include SSL encryption by default with a subscription.

You may also want to offer security features like two-factor authentication. This feature requires customers to use an additional device — like a cellphone — to verify their identity when logging in or changing account info, like their platform.

6. Automate Wherever You Can

If holiday demand spikes high enough, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the orders you receive.

Automation can help you reduce this extra workload. No matter what you’re trying to manage — from follow-up emails to fulfillment tracking — there’s likely a tool or platform that can help.

Most e-commerce platforms are also designed to interface with these tools. This means it’s usually possible to find an automation solution that can pull information directly from your shop’s platform.

General-purpose workflow automation tools can also help you automate repetitive tasks — like filing away emails or organizing scanned shipping labels.

The right tool can be an incredible advantage, especially for smaller businesses. They don’t always have the cash flow needed to bring on additional team members to handle extra holiday work.

7. Use Analytics to Your Advantage

Modern websites and e-commerce platforms capture massive amounts of consumer data. This information is one of the most valuable resources a site owner or web developer can have.

If you haven’t already, you should prep your site so you can collect this data during the holiday season. This information can help you tweak your website on the fly to smooth out issues.

After the holiday season, you can also use this data to inform how you build your site next year. This will allow you to create an ever smoother online shopping experience.

Gathering some additional qualitative data can help. It never hurts to send an email or two to customers asking for feedback on their experience after a purchase. You may find your customer base has some really valuable recommendations on how you can streamline service.

You might even receive some notes about how elements of your site design were knocking it out of the park without you realizing it.

It’s best to capitalize on these wins and losses and fold that feedback into next year’s site design. This is only if you’re actively collecting and analyzing that customer info.

Prep for 2020 Holiday Shoppers With These Tips

The 2020 holiday season will likely be intense. After a year of uncertain demand, e-commerce businesses will probably see a major spike in sales and visitors.

With the right prep and planning, you can take advantage of the potential gains this holiday season will offer.

Sales, bundles and lists for specific holidays can help draw extra traffic and secure additional sales. Site tests, good security practices and automation can also help reduce the risk of major issues.

You may also want to prepare your analytics tech before the holiday rush begins. The data you can collect through the end of the year will be invaluable in 2021. This will help when you need to get your site ready for the holidays again.

Lexie Lu

Lexie is a digital nomad and graphic designer. When she's not traveling to various parts of the country, you can find her at the local flea markets or hiking with her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and connect with her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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