Expert tips for a successful peak season strategy

by Jemma Ferguson and Matthew Briggs, Tryzens
It’s the WrestleMania of retail; the main event of industry. The barometer of a brand’s yearly success heavily depends on fourth quarter performance.

There’s an avalanche of data that pinpoints the importance of the holiday season. Around 40% of total order volume for the year occurs in Q4. Nine-in-ten of the best-selling days for ecommerce retailers come in the same quarter. And one-third of all retail sales happen during the holiday season.

With so much riding on this part of the year, businesses need to be well-equipped to handle spikes in traffic and order volumes.

To help you prepare the groundwork, Tryzens’ experts lay out their strategic insight into making peak season a success:

Preparing for peak

1. Testing

When gearing up for peak, ensure rigorous testing of your content and promotional plans on both test environments and in production well in advance. You don’t want to roll out untested strategies on Black Friday – that is not the time for experimentation!

For digital commerce stores on Salesforce Commerce Cloud, we recommend using staging previews and creating a staff specific customer group to test in production.

For digital commerce stores on Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento), create all promotions in staging and verify they work before repeating the same steps on production.

For digital commerce stores on Shopify, familiarise yourself with Shopify Flow so you can schedule content. We recommend testing on your pre-prod environment to ensure no issues occur on production if you have one. Where a pre-prod environment is not accessible, make all changes in a new theme so that you can thoroughly test. When ready, this can then be published manually or using Flow.

When you’re considering media, be conscious of the size and impact of new content such as large images, GIFs and videos. They are all going to add weight to a page and potentially slow down the user experience. When making updates or changes to media assets, compress wherever possible and test the site speed to avoid bloating your website.

To optimise stock management, conduct reviews of your inventory and work out whether there are likely scenarios of overselling products or underperforming products. Are these levels of risk you’re willing to take as a business?

2. Traffic predictions

Traffic predictions are a critical component of successful peak season preparations for retailers. To facilitate this, work with your hosting provider to ensure that the right server and cloud capacity provisions are in place.

Carry out load testing to prove that the system is able to cope with the predicted traffic and that the load doesn’t overwhelm the system. In ecommerce, speed cannot be overstated. Website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time. If you're well prepared for traffic, your site is more likely to facilitate spikes in user activity smoothly and quickly.

3. Know your weak points

Be proactive in identifying and addressing potentially vulnerable areas to ensure that your business is well-prepared to handle increased demand and visitor traffic.

Review code to understand where there are potential areas that could collapse during times of high traffic. Again, load testing is the best way to understand this. Ask yourself whether these are areas you are willing to have problems with or whether they need resolving.

In particular, check your caching strategy. Effective caching can significantly improve your website’s performance during high traffic periods. When proper caching is in place, a large portion of incoming traffic will be served from cached resources, reducing the load on lower levels of your technology stack and improving page loading times and the overall user experience.

4. Third-party partner support

Review your key third-party contact list and understand their support processes during peak season. It’s key to understand if there are any changes to the support provided by key third-party suppliers during peak season so that you know how to engage them should the need arise.

Gain a clear understanding of how your key third-party partners will be monitoring your website (whether it be the storefront or backend) and establish a well-defined plan for communicating any deviations from expected behaviour as well as the process for responding to these changes.

5. Security

Safeguard your digital storefront by reviewing your security processes.

Cyberattacks tend to be more common during peak periods. Bad actors have more traffic to hide in while resources are stretched to respond to threats.

Retailers should review their security stance to ensure their storefront has no vulnerabilities. This can be achieved through pen testing. In addition, consider automated security code tests as a one-off for peak before including them as part of an ongoing delivery process.

Retailers should also be considering their accessibility stance to ensure customers can easily browse and purchase during peak times. This will act as a deterrent to lawsuits being brought against the retailer, which is a distraction that all digital commerce teams could do without during peak season. This can be achieved through automated accessibility reviews and ensuring storefronts have a clear accessibility statement available.

Ensure that a role-based access control (RBAC) policy is in place for the backend portal of the storefront, with all users having the correct level of permissions according to their role. This isn’t just a consideration for peak season; it’s best practice for business as usual but becomes even more important during the holiday season.

Another security aspect that heightens in importance during peak season is observability. It’s a crucial time to ensure you have visibility of potentially suspicious traffic or requests coming to the storefront. So have a known, documented process in place for responding to anything that may arise.

Finally, retailers should have a content security policy (CSP) implemented that governs the flow of data to and from the storefront – defining a set of rules that specify which sources of content are safe. It’s the only way you can be sure that data is only being shared with known and trusted third parties.

During peak season

In the heart of peak season, among the frantic, fast-paced retail environment, having the right monitoring in place gives retailers the ability to respond to unforeseen challenges while spreading out your email campaign helps to manage traffic surges. Both of these will help to maintain a smooth and positive customer experience throughout the holiday period.

1. Monitoring

It’s key to have the right level of monitoring. Adjust any thresholds to predicted traffic or order levels so that issues are not missed. And make sure that you have monitoring in place for backend activities, too, such as CPU, jobs, and server status.

If you have a digital commerce partner, get clarification on whether they provide heightened support during peak season. For example, Tryzens’ LiveOps specialists analyse actionable insights from the website’s performance, feeds and integrations, security, and trading and accessibility tools on a 24/7 basis. We do this with thresholds and cadence of communication scaled for peak trade.

Monitoring should cover all key areas of the purchase journey and identify anomalies. The key metrics around operational and trading performance should all be readily available during peak to report on performance and to enable you to respond to any situation that may arise.

2. Staggered email campaigns

If there is expected to be a major uplift in traffic following an email send, make sure the key pages have been hit and cached ahead of sending any emails. To limit any surges in traffic, consider staggering emails to flatten the peak of people coming to the site.

Add a layer of personalisation to your email campaign strategy by segmenting your email list, tailing messages to specific customer groups. These email personalised emails can also be spread out across peak season to further flatten high traffic spikes while also delivering enhanced customer experiences.

Originally published on InternetRetailing

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