For eCommerce businesses, seasonal peaks provide an opportunity to increase revenue and grow your brand. However, these surges in traffic can put a dramatic strain on your resources. It can be a balancing act to optimise online sales and continually meet your usual high standards of service.

With competition heating up for a piece of the £5 billion opportunity that’s up for grabs on the Black Friday weekend, eCommerce businesses across the UK are laying the foundations to significantly boost their seasonal online revenues.

Preparing your eCommerce checklist

While this short-term demand surge is crucial, it can cause some challenges. For example, delivering optimum website speeds at peak times, maintaining high customer service standards, preventing fraudulent transactions or attracting international customers. Whatever your challenge, we’ve compiled a 4 step eCommerce checklist for preparing your eCommerce website for seasonal success.

1. Can your website handle the increase in traffic?

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Success on Black Friday weekend for an eCommerce business means high web traffic and strong conversion rates. However, as web traffic increases, the performance of that website can be compromised. This can range from a slow webpage load time to a complete website shutdown. According to Radware, 3 seconds is all it takes for a customer to abandon a page if it does not load quickly enough.

Assessing your website’s capability to cope with high traffic is your first priority on your eCommerce checklist for your preparation for Black Friday.

One of the first key steps in assessing the expected risks is understanding what potential traffic you can expect. What marketing or promotional campaigns have you planned and how many customers are likely to land on your website? How do you know if your website can cope with the surge in traffic?

Internet Retailing estimates that 16% of the UK’s Top 100 websites were unresponsive during peak Black Friday eCommerce hours in 2015.

In any situation where your environment is going to be stressed beyond its usual limits, it’s vital that you test under these real conditions. This should include testing for traffic levels as well as the actual workloads that your database will experience.

Action: Start by using tools like WebPagetest to assess your average site load time, but bear in mind that results won’t take into account a surge in traffic. The faster the average load time, the more you can cope with high visitor numbers. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you should start exploring ways to reduce page load time such as removing animation or reducing image sizes.

2. Are you prepared for more customer service queries?

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The next priority on your eCommerce checklist is to prepare for the inevitable increase in pressure on customer services team as a result of seasonal traffic surges on your website. This may have a knock-on effect to meet delivery timelines and respond to customer queries.

In turn, this could have an impact on customer complaints, both direct and through social media. Customers tend not to compromise on customer experience just because they are getting a bargain, so bear in mind that you may need to increase staff resources for this period.

During the short term, increased sales can temporarily boost the bottom line.  To retain that loyalty in the long term, you need to deliver a consistently high customer experience.  The Harvard Business Review estimates that:

  • 23% of customers who had a positive experience told 10+ people about the experience
  • 48% of people who had negative experiences told 10+ people about the experience

Action: Ensure that your team is fully resourced and prepared for the extra demand. Customer service phone tests can prove useful to assess your customer service department’s ability to deliver a consistently high-quality service under increased volume of calls. This test environment provides the perfect sandbox for you to look at areas of weakness and address them in preparation for the real thing.

3. Can you handle more fraudsters?

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Your seasonal eCommerce checklist also needs to involve a change in your fraud prevention techniques. As traffic to your website increases, so does the opportunity for more fraudsters to slip through the cracks of your fraud management strategy.

Customers typically change their spending habits during a sale or seasonal peak, making it even more difficult to differentiate the bad guys from the good.

More traffic will lead to more “Friendly Fraudsters”; legitimate customers who purchase the goods but claim to have never received them. A good way to tackle this is to implement tracking numbers, which can help you contest those customers that abuse chargebacks.

Action: The additional strain on your customer service teams means false positives are going to be more costly than ever. Consider what sort of behavioural changes you might expect to see during your peak in traffic. Does your fraud management strategy need to be adjusted to account for this change in customer behaviour? Do you need to relax some rules? Do some rules need stricter enforcement?

The best strategy here is to test different scenarios and make sure that you’re not negatively impacting the legitimate customer’s journey. But outside of testing specific scenarios, will the sheer number of transactions affect your fraud management processes? It might be worth relaxing rules if it means that you’re only manually reviewing the transactions that really need a closer look.

4. Is your website internationally friendly?

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The final item on your eCommerce checklist is to evaluate your website from an international visitor perspective. Many UK sellers are experiencing an uplift in international demand in recent months, and the upcoming seasonal period is likely to see this trend continue. Garnering the attention of an international audience is one thing, but getting them to convert is quite another.

To maximise online sales from an international audience, you need to ensure every step of your international customers’ engagement is as consistent as it is for a domestic customer.

Action: Tailor your website to an international audience by using localisation services such as Rev.com. You can also easily estimate the cost of international delivery, with shipping calculators such as Borderlinx.

Ahead of the big weekend, it is a good idea to go undercover as an international customer. Go through the user journey from start to finish and consider the following points:

  • Display an icon to show international shipping is available;
  • Show estimated delivery dates where possible;
  • Offer the option of selecting a preferred payment method;
  • Promote the ability to convert pricing into local currency.

Being prepared for Black Friday weekend is your secret weapon for success, and there’s still time to make key enhancements.

Availability: Realex Payments ensures payment data is always protected, always connected and compliant with the latest regulations. We operate at just 10% of our total processing capacity, ensuring that we’re ready for any spikes in transactions. In addition, we have recently invested in our Hosted Payment Solution to reduce the time it takes to load the page by over a third.

Efficiency: Our dedicated User Experience team continually upgrades our transaction management and reporting tools, making them easier to use which frees up time for customer service teams.

Optimisation: Realex Payments’ Fraud Management enables you to automatically hold transactions into a review queue without affecting the customers’ journey on your website. We’ve also added a passive mode, so you can experiment with new rules before implementing them, without affecting your transaction processing.

Internationalisation: Realex Payments’ Hosted Payment Solution instantly adapts to multiple languages and supports Multi-currency, Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and various payment methods, including Paypal.