So online retailers, what’s it going to be this holiday season? Another year panicking from November to January over a possible overload of website traffic? Or are you going to get it right and seize your share of the $457 billion worth of retail sales up for grabs this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation?
The stakes are high. According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 40 percent of online consumers will abandon transactions entirely or turn to competitors upon experiencing problems.
First to-do item: Online retailers should prepare their systems for a 25 percent increase in traffic over last year’s, according to Rajib Das, vice president of business development for SkillNet, a retail industry technology consultancy. SkillNet recommends that online retailers conduct a website performance audit to see if the site can handle going from, say, 100,000 visitors a day to 135,000, and to see if the e-commerce applications and back-end interfaces (CRM, inventory, order management) hold on through the spike.
Next up: Das says that while many of the better retailers measure conversion rates (what percentage of consumers who come to a site actually become a customer), as a practice, it has not reached the vast majority of them. More retailers need to focus on improving their conversion rates, he says. Because the “act of getting people to your site is a costly affair,” Das says, “even if you can do it a little better, it can make a humongous change [in increased revenue].”
Another wrinkle is that while newer customer service technologies are enabling more flexible customer experiences (for example, buy online, pick up in the store), the pressure on the back-end IT systems to get this right is even higher. “In a sense, the website is a faceless operation, so customer service is even more of an important factor,” Das says.