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Online retailers should start prepping for Black Friday now

While the Black Friday and festive period offers significant opportunities to online retailers, many organisations are uneasy about the surge in customers and website traffic this calendar moment will bring. 

To ensure eCommerce sites can be set up to thrive, not just survive, this festive period, WordPress technology company WP Engine has shared their latest tips on how retailers can prepare your site for the biggest shopping season of the year.

As Black Friday sales continue to rise year over year, it is evident that more consumers are choosing to hunt for their bargains online and avoid the in-store rush. 

This sudden seasonal increase in digital purchasing makes it crucial for online store owners to prepare early if they want to attract an influx of holiday shoppers. Black Friday can bring significant revenue to businesses, but to tap into this potential, businesses must ensure a smooth online shopping experience for their customers. 

Retailers should start preparations now by focusing on the following five areas.

Scalability: Bring Everyone to the Table
The holidays are all about bringing people together, and as a site owner, you want to ensure every potential customer who lands on your site has a seamless experience from start to finish. 
But that can be harder to implement as more site visitors arrive, all at once, putting added strain on your server. For sites that arent set up to perform well at scale, this could translate into anything from slow-loading pages to all-out downtime. 
To that end, it is important to ensure your site has the needed resources to perform well at scale should you experience a spike in traffic, thus guaranteeing every one of your site visitors has a seat at your digital table.  
To determine where you stand, you can take stock of how your site is performing now and make sure its ready for holiday visitors by testing it for high traffic. 

Load testing
Load testing is something you can do to determine how many visitors your site is prepared to handle at once. 
Proper load testing will help you assess important aspects of site performance like scaling capabilities, lifecycle hooks, security risks, automatic code deployment, health checks, and target tracking, among other factors.
It is important to make sure youre not load testing your live siteinstead, use a separate development environment like Local. Then, you can perform the following types of load tests to make sure your site is ready for Black Friday (and beyond):

Stress testing
Also known as fatigue testing, this test reveals how the system behaves under highly intense loads. You can simulate stress for your site by using a third-party tool to send a set number of concurrent HTTP requests to a website and watch how it responds. 

Spike testing
This type of stress test evaluates how the site performs when theres a sudden increase in traffic, also known as a spike. This will show you how your site would respond if, for instance, a large percentage of your customers navigate to your site simultaneously after receiving a push notification or email about a seasonal sale. Soak testing: This test is all about the endurance of your site. Sometimes called longevity testing, soak testing is similar to stress testing, but focuses more on how the system reacts to a high volume of traffic over an extended period of time.

Experts at BlazeMeter suggest that your site is considered under load when 80% of your server resources are being used and that you should test your site for at least 20% more than the amount of traffic you actually expect.

Searchability: Help Site Visitors Find What They Want
A good search experience is critical to the success of an eCommerce site, as it significantly affects user satisfaction and conversions. 

Consider these key points: 

  • 43% of eCommerce visitors head straight to the search bar.  
  • Visitors who use the search function are more than twice as likely to become customers when they find what theyre looking for.  
  • While WordPress offers basic search capabilities out of the box, enhancing your eCommerce site with optimised search solutions presents a competitive advantage.   
  • WP Engine customers see an increase of 18% in sales simply from improving the search experience with Instant Store Search, a custom implementation of ElasticPress thats included in WP Engines WooCommerce hosting solution.

On the other hand, neglecting search can lead to underwhelming results, as customers expect Google-level search experiences across the web.

During peak seasons like Black Friday, your users will demand more comprehensive search functionality to find specific products, and tools like Instant Store Search can help them find what they need.

Powered by ElasticPress, this powerful search optimisation can be enabled with one click and provides relevant search results and autocomplete suggestions in real time as users type their queries. That means shoppers can quickly find what theyre looking for, add it to their cart, and proceed to checkout.

Instant Store Search is capable of searching large volumes of data quickly and provides scalable search operations for your site, making it especially beneficial during peak shopping seasons when you're seeing an uptick in traffic.

Performance: Clean House and Get Ready for Guests

Cleaning up your site in anticipation of holiday traffic can encompass a lot of different areas, but the first thing site visitors will notice is how well your site performs. 

It is important to optimise your eCommerce site for optimal performance at every stage of the buyers journey, from fast-loading pages that capture browsing shoppers to seamless cart functionality (regardless of concurrent traffic), all the way through to a swift and secure checkout process.

Prune back plugins and unnecessary code

Some plugins can significantly slow down your sites performance. By disabling or removing unnecessary plugins, you can improve the sites speed and performance. Also, getting rid of unused features and trimming down your code can lead to a more streamlined site with faster loading times. 

Disable cart fragments

Many eCommerce sites use cart fragments, which is a bit of code that updates a users cart without refreshing the page. But when that script is present on static posts, pages, custom post types, or feed pages that contain no eCommerce functionality, it can decrease cacheability and slow down your site. By disabling cart fragments and choosing a different tool, like WP Engine Live Cart, you get the functionality of dynamic carts without bogging down site performance.

Focus on cache

Implementing a suitable caching system, like WP Engines EverCache for WooCommerce, can help you maintain impressive site speed. It knows when to ignore the cookies used by WooCommerce, optimises cache delivery for static pages, and automatically bypasses cache when it has the potential to break functionality.

On-page optimisation

From your product descriptions, content, titles, reviews, pricing, links, and all other on-page aspects, every element should be double-checked and optimised to include the keywords your customers may be searching. Check for broken links, outdated pricing, and poor-quality images, and abandonment. You can also compress large media files to keep your site performance high without sacrificing image quality.

A correctly generated site map also ensures easy readability for search engines as they crawl your site for relevancy, and regular backups will ensure any changes made to your site can be reversed if you notice unintended consequences.  

Outreach: Try a New Tradition

The holiday season is often a make-or-break period for many businesses. It is a time when consumer spending increases drastically, and many businesses rely on this heightened traffic to meet their annual sales goals. 

To maximise profits during this time, many companies use the holiday season as a period to try out new sales strategies. Whether its implementing a Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) offer, lowering prices by a certain percentage, or initiating holiday sales early due to anticipated shipping delays, testing these strategies in the weeks leading up to Black Friday can give you invaluable insights into your customers behaviour and preferences.

Because shoppers are already in the buying mindset during this period, they are more receptive to sales and discounts. By trying out different sales strategies to see what resonates with your customers before Black Friday, you are ready to optimise your offerings and maximise your profits when holiday shopping hits.

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