The latest retail sales bulletin from the UK’s office for National Statistics confirms that at the end of last year, online sales as a proportion of all retail sales exceeded 20% for the first time. This increase is mainly evident in the non-food sales category, which has seen online sales in the UK continue to deliver growth.
As with most sectors, technology, particularly mobile, has had a significant impact on the retail industry. An interesting fact though is that the average consumer doesn’t necessarily prefer digital over physical, or the other way around. But, retailers who focus on giving customers a seamless experience between both, and who leverage technology to do that, certainly do stand to benefit the most.
Of course, the easiest place to begin leveraging technology is with your ecommerce site. The recent holiday season presented a huge sales opportunity, one that continues well into the New Year thanks to January sales, which encourage a fresh flurry of online shopping. However, if your ecommerce website is not ready to manage a surge in online traffic, it could well be an opportunity missed. Slow load times, broken links, and a poor user experience are unacceptable to shoppers expecting to find greater convenience and selection by going online. Considering that the festive season shopping enthusiasm has eased, now is the ideal time to evaluate your website, determine any potential weak spots, and take the necessary steps to strengthen and enhance these.
Optimising your website to accommodate more customer traffic is a sound goal for both the short and long term – your business will tap into not just seasonal online shopping spikes, but the overall growth that the online shopping space is currently experiencing.
While probably common knowledge for many, these three simple yet solid strategies are always good to keep in mind, whether you’re preparing or simply refreshing your website to maximise ecommerce success:
Fast-track website load times
Research reveals that today’s web users expect a website to load within two seconds, and tend to abandon a site after waiting just three seconds. Of those who find load times lagging, 79% will avoid returning to the site, and 44% will warn off a friend.
E-commerce websites must load quickly, but they must also direct traffic – especially mobile traffic – to the information users are looking for as efficiently as possible. Tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix test the speed of a site, offer an empirical score, and provide tips for accelerating load times for your website, so it’s a good idea to rely on these objective evaluations rather than assuming your site is fast enough.
Shield your website from downtime
Sites that run off a shared server are notoriously vulnerable to both contention and security issues, and it’s therefore critically important to pay attention to these, particularly during this busy season. When every website is overstretched, sites that are tapping into the same collection of resources quickly drain that pool dry. Additionally, even if your website is doing everything right, it could still be compromised by issues affecting another website on the server.
Paying a little extra for a dedicated server is a sound investment if you know how much extra traffic your website needs to handle. If your requirements are more fluid, cloud hosting is a smart solution. Using this option enables you to customise available resources based on your needs and make sure your website’s performance remains at its peak, because scalability is nearly limitless. Instead of dealing with downtime, your website can effortlessly accommodate spikes in traffic.
A content delivery network (CDN) is a highly beneficial tool to include in your strategy for handling peak traffic. By investing in a CDN service, your website can benefit from huge increases in speed, scalability, resilience and security, as well as take advantage of significant savings on bandwidth cost, and reduced load on your web server.
Good security builds trust
With so many competing options available online, consumers will search for an alternative if they believe it’s unsafe to shop on a specific website. Considering the multitude of recent high-profile data breaches, the price break offered by any retailer is outweighed by the security concerns raised by the retailer’s website.
Switching your site to HTTPS is a relatively easy and low-cost solution. Unlike traditional HTTP sites, information routed through HTTPS is encrypted. Moving to a more protected platform reassures customers, encourages more conversions, and helps prevent the catastrophic consequences of a data breach over the festive season. In addition, having a HTTPS ensures your website is ranked higher than HTTP-only sites in Google and other search engines.
Justifying website upgrades is a relatively easy equation. Simply calculate the cost of any new hardware, software, or services that you plan to put in place, then compare that to the cost of 1,000, 100, or even just 10 lost sales. It quickly becomes clear that accommodating seasonal consumer traffic, and provisioning for the best possible experience you can offer your online customer audience, makes sound financial sense. To this end always remember the fundamentals of a good ecommerce site, and stay informed about new trends and technologies that may be good to consider.