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Ecommerce sites: are you ready for Christmas?

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You run an online shop. You’ve been hoarding extra stock for the Christmas shopping rush, or perhaps there’s a backlog of stock you need to move. You’ve been advertising your Christmas sale everywhere you can afford to and you’re eagerly awaiting the rush.

Come Black Friday on 27 November, things are looking up! Your website’s seeing a spike in activity and conversions from paying customers. Things are going well… maybe a little too well. All of a sudden you’re getting complaints that your website’s load times have slowed to a crawl. In no time at all, there’s too much customer activity for your hosting to handle.

Christmas

During peak time on one of the most hectic (and potentially the most profitable) days in the retail calendar, your website crashes. It’s the big day for your business that you’ve had marked in your calendar for months – but instead it sees you losing sales. The Christmas rush has crash landed on your website, and your hosting resources can’t handle it.

But yours wouldn’t be the first site it’s happened to.

Christmas 2014

Tesco, Boots, Argos, Game and PC World all saw their websites crash during Black Friday last year due to the sheer volumes of consumer traffic on their servers. Currys’ site meanwhile asked visitors to join an online queue – with an average 30-minute wait to complete purchases. Cue a lot of highly motivated decision makers (hopefully) upgrading their hosting resources in plenty of time for Christmas 2015.

Other sites were better prepared. Last year Amazon UK reported that Black Friday was its busiest day ever, with over 5.5 million items ordered according to Internet Retailing. The peak time for purchases? 8:29 am. Evidently UK consumers weren’t dissuaded by the morning rush hour or having to start work – clearly deal hunting was top of the nation’s agenda.

According to payments processor Worldpay, ecommerce sales during Black Friday 2014 were up 74% on the previous year. The Guardian reported that shoppers spent an estimated £810m during Black Friday 2014, while IMRG calculated that the UK made 181 million visits to retail websites.

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday after the weekend, Manic Monday (the first Monday of December) and Boxing Day, the Christmas sales have become a very, very big pie – so how do you make sure your site’s ready to take a good slice?

Our web hosting team specialises in Shared and VPS hosting packages which put customer service and performance first

Preparing your website for the Christmas sales

Follow these tips to get your website ready for the festive season.  Also, check out our handy infographic for ease of reference.

  • First of all, it’s worth testing your site as soon as possible to get a clear idea of its speed and the volume of traffic it can handle. The earlier you do this, the sooner you (or we) can implement additional resources or upgrade your hosting before the Christmas rush – minimising the risk of slowdown or crashes.
  • If you aren’t satisfied with your web hosting package, shop around. Our web hosting team specialises in Shared and VPS hosting packages which put customer service and performance first, and with our Managed Dedicated hosting you can let us take care of your resources for you in time for Christmas. Essentially, the more hosting resources you’re prepared to pay for, the lower the risk of your site slowing down or crashing during busy shopping periods such as the Christmas sales.
  • If you pay for Managed Dedicated hosting with another hosting provider, and you’re concerned that your website may slow down or crash this Christmas sale season, the most important precaution you can make is to ask your hosting provider what steps they can take to ramp up your server’s resources – ensuring your site’s hosting is optimised for fast, fluid performance. If you’re not satisfied, why not take a look at our Managed Dedicated hosting options to see what we could do for you?
  • We also offer web hosting which uses solid-state drives (SSDs), which can give your customers faster response times when they use your site. A study by Aberdeen Group found that even a one-second delay in web application response times could have a negative impact on page views by 11%, on conversions by 7% and on customer satisfaction by up to 16% – and this study was carried out back in 2008, so audience expectations for a fast, smooth user experience could be even higher in 2015. Unlike a traditional SATA disk, an SSD offers increased hosting performance because it doesn’t use any moving parts – meaning your website can handle more demands on its data from more customers at any one time, and provide faster response times to help optimise your sales.
  • You could also ask us about hosting your website on a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This option caches your static content such as images, video and HTML, and could reduce the strain of having many visitors on your site by spreading the work of serving your site across a network of servers. This reduces the risk of site slowdown or crashes for your customers.
  • You may also want to audit your website for any plugins or scripts which may be out of date. Making sure these are up to date (or removing them if they’re no longer needed) is another way to minimise the risk of issues arising when loading pages on your website. Up-to-date content may perform better or have better features, and as a rule of thumb you’re going to be reducing the security risks you’re exposing your site to.
  • Don’t let your site’s security endanger your customers’ data – or impact on your sales. Make sure your site’s secured with an SSL. On the practical side, it encrypts your customers’ data to minimise the risk of third parties getting hold of their personal and financial information. (It’s also a requirement for PCI DSS compliance.) From a marketing perspective, consumer trust can have considerable impact on your sales. 53% of consumers recognise that the padlock symbol, achieved using an SSL, means greater safety according to the CA Security Council consumer trust survey. Just 3% of consumers surveyed would give out their credit card details to sites without the padlock symbol, and different SSLs offer different levels of assurance and visual cues. Click here to learn more about our SSLs and what they can do for you.
  • Make sure your site’s ready for customers shopping via mobile devices. During Black Friday many people will be looking to complete purchases during the morning rush hour before work – so they’ll be shopping on their phones. Making sure your site’s designed responsively will allow it to adapt its layout to any size of screen for the best user experience… increasing your chances of making more sales. Unsure about your site’s responsive performance? Just get in touch with our digital agency.
  • Online shoppers move into fast-forward during the Christmas sales. They could be more stressed, more hurried and take less time to buy, and their main priority is getting through the checkout as quickly as possible to make sure someone else doesn’t snap up that perfect deal. Depending on the time and budget you have available, you could remove non-essential steps from your checkout process (steps such as customer signup or feedback forms) to streamline your customer’s journey to the end result: making their purchase.
  • Setting up a dedicated Christmas sale page on your website could give you a great indication of just how busy your site could become over the Christmas shopping period. Currys set up their Black Friday page way back in March, including a signup form to notify their customers by email as soon as their Black Friday deals go live. It’s performing a service to their customers – but it would also allow Currys to gauge customer demand for their Black Friday deals and plan their hosting resources accordingly.
  • Make sure your support team is ready to handle any potential issues that your customers may experience with your site during your Christmas sale. Make your contact details as clear as possible to help minimise customer dissatisfaction if they do experience site slowdown or crashes – and ensure your hosting provider’s support team will be easy to contact on the day if your hosting issue is beyond your control or expertise. Or, if you’re not content with your hosting support, why not take a quick look at what our clients say about ours?

 

With the right preparation, the Christmas sale period could be a fantastic opportunity for your online store. As with your marketing, so too with your web hosting: the more time and money you can invest in your resources, the better your online store’s chances of having a fantastic Christmas 2015.

If your customers experienced site slowdown or crashes during last year’s festive period, or if you think that 2015 could be the year that your website strains under all that lovely customer activity, speak to your hosting provider about upgrading your hosting resources to prepare.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of shopping around for new web hosting in time for Christmas, just get in touch to see what we could do for you.

Stefan

Author Stefan

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