5 critical steps to ensure e-commerce sites are Christmas-ready

Charley Thomas, Director of Solutions Engineering, Content Delivery & Cloud Computing Specialist, Edgio

The Christmas gifting season is pivotal for e-commerce businesses as they offer the chance to boost sales, acquire new customers, clear inventory, enhance brand visibility, gather valuable data, foster customer loyalty, and stay competitive in this ever-evolving landscape.

After the popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday, December 24 and 25, are the next crucial dates for e-commerce, with last-minute shopping done on these days. That’s why many online stores have special offers on the same day.

These events have become a cornerstone of the retail calendar, and e-commerce businesses must strategically plan and execute their marketing and sales strategies to capitalize on the opportunities they present. 

Preparing a website for peak traffic involves a combination of technical optimizations, scaling strategies, and contingency plans to ensure the site remains stable and performs well during high-demand periods. A mere one-second delay in page load time can lead to a 7% loss in conversions. Hence, there is clearly no room for complacency.

Here’s 5 crucial steps to prepare for peak times:

1. Performance optimization

Over the years, many techniques were introduced to optimize website speed. And for good reason – site speed improvements have a direct correlation to improved funnel progression, as well as the number of page views, conversion rates, and average order value.

When enhancing web performance, the first thing that companies should consider is content optimization. Data obtained from the HTTP archive indicates that, on average, approximately 75% of a webpage’s total weight comprises unoptimized images, significantly impacting web performance. Optimizing images, scripts, and other resources can help to reduce their size and improve load times – a key component of good e-commerce web design. 

Another pivotal aspect is caching, where browser and server-side caching is employed to store frequently accessed data, reducing server load and accelerating content delivery.

Furthermore, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) proves instrumental by globally distributing content across multiple servers, diminishing latency for users. While only 29% of HTML document requests were served from a CDN in 2022, employing a CDN like Edgio’s offers opportunities for performance optimization and additional savings.

Additional strategies for improvement include minification, eliminating unnecessary characters in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, lazy loading to enhance initial page load times, and compression techniques such as Gzip or Brotli to reduce data transfer size between servers and users’ browsers.

2. Server and hosting optimization

Optimizing servers and hosting infrastructure is vital for delivering a fast, reliable, and secure online experience. It positively impacts user satisfaction, SEO rankings, and overall business performance while helping brands manage costs and mitigate potential risks.

To optimize servers and hosting infrastructure, it’s crucial to assess server resources, ensuring scalability during peak traffic. Consider upgrading CPU and RAM within existing infrastructure or adding servers. Other tactics include implementing load balancing to distribute traffic and prevent server overload, opting for cloud-based hosting for scalability based on demand, as well as optimizing database queries and indexes to enhance data retrieval efficiency.

3. Content Management

Content management also plays a critical role in optimizing a website. Moreover, a well-managed and optimized Content Management System (CMS) ensures that the website not only looks good but also performs efficiently, ultimately benefiting both visitors and business.

There are four key content improvement techniques that can help optimize the site. First, convert dynamic content to static for reduced server load. Second, identify critical areas like product pages and checkout, optimizing them for peak performance. Third, leverage SEO tools in CMSs for features like meta tags and clean URL structures to enhance search engine performance.

And finally, review and optimize plugins within CMS, uninstalling unnecessary ones, updating essential ones, and using caching plugins for improved overall website performance.

4. Testing and Monitoring

To ensure the hard work of improving site speed is maintained, it is essential to stay proactive and continuously monitor the website. As brands prepare for the Christmas selling events, it is crucial to use monitoring tools to track server performance, resource utilization, and response times in real time. Additionally, companies should run pre-event dry runs to identify and address any last-minute issues.

5. Emergency Plans

Last but not least, it is absolutely critical to have an emergency plan in place in case the website goes down during peak sales times. Not only does it protect the brand’s reputation, but it can help minimize customer churn, as well as revenue loss by reducing the duration of downtime. Just going down for a few seconds could cost thousands. Here are a few items to prepare as part of the emergency plan:

  • Prepare a static page to display in case the site experiences technical difficulties.
  • Have a plan in place to communicate with customers through social media, email, or other channels if there are any issues.
  • Set up alerts to receive notifications in case of any abnormal spikes in traffic, server load, or errors.
  • Establish a communication channel with the hosting provider’s support team for immediate assistance if needed.
  • Regularly back up the website and databases to ensure data can be restored quickly in case of emergencies.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan outlining steps to recover the website in case of a major failure.

By implementing these strategies, brands will be well-prepared to handle the increased traffic during peak holiday sales periods, such as Christmas Eve and Day, as well as maintaining a stable and high-performing website all year round.