The surge of ecommerce

The landscape of ecommerce has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, propelled by the convergence of technological advancements and shifting consumer behaviours. The ease, convenience, and speed of online purchasing were already gaining momentum well before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the global health crisis served as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of ecommerce as a primary mode of shopping for millions worldwide.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, numerous sectors have witnessed unprecedented growth in online sales. Publishers like Bloomsbury, renowned for iconic series such as Harry Potter, have reported staggering figures, with a notable portion attributed to the sustained demand for digital content during prolonged periods of lockdowns. The emergence of social media platforms like TikTok has further fuelled consumer engagement and purchase decisions.

What’s more, the boundaries between traditional in-store purchases and online shopping have become increasingly blurred. Items once considered exclusive to physical retail environments, such as furniture, appliances and cars are now routinely sought and purchased online. Research conducted by industry observers highlights a significant shift in consumer behaviour, with a substantial portion—approximately 45%—opting for online channels even for high-ticket items.

The holiday seasons have become synonymous with heightened ecommerce activities, with logistics giants like Royal Mail strategizing to manage unprecedented parcel volumes. However, it’s essential to recognise that the demand spikes extend beyond traditional peak periods. Seasonal businesses, faced with unforeseen circumstances such as weather disruptions or cultural events, must also be prepared for sudden surges in online traffic.

Moreover, the advent of mobile commerce (m-commerce) has introduced new dimensions and complexities to ecommerce operations. With the proliferation of smartphones and improved connectivity, consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices to browse, compare, and make purchases on the go. As such, optimising digital platforms for seamless mobile experiences has become imperative for businesses aiming to stay competitive in today’s market.

Online shopping has surged, fuelled by a post-pandemic tech explosion. Trends like hyper-personalisation, accessible design, voice commerce, AI-driven customer service, immersive technologies, and in-store apps have revolutionised the online shopping experience, driving unprecedented growth. From tailored shopping experiences to seamless navigation and instant assistance, these advancements have accelerated consumer adoption of online retail, making it more accessible, interactive, and engaging than ever before.

In essence, while the initial impetus for ecommerce growth may have been accelerated by external factors such as the pandemic, its enduring prominence underscores a fundamental shift in consumer preferences and shopping habits. The ability to adapt to evolving trends and technologies remains paramount for businesses seeking to thrive during the busiest times of the ecommerce year.

Ecommerce isn’t a walk in the park

Clearly, current market conditions present any business in the ecommerce space with a huge opportunity. But it would be misleading to suggest that the unremitting rise in online spending makes ecommerce a walk in the park. Consumers are intent on bagging a bargain and getting the best possible deal in terms of service.

Furthermore, while online sales have skyrocketed, many online retailers aren’t equipped to handle sudden increases in traffic and sales during peak periods in the ecommerce calendar, making common mistakes that damage their brand and put off shoppers for life.

Here are our recommendations for any ecommerce business preparing for a busy period.

Provide a seamless customer journey on all devices, browsers and operating systems

Your website or app may start out as a pillar of stability and usability, but it’s not preserved in aspic! Development tends to be an organic process, with new features and functionality being released throughout the year, often at speed.

If your website and or app becomes plagued with issues under the strain of maintaining frequent releases, you miss your selling window and simply drive shoppers to other online retailers. They may even take to the airwaves and voice their opinions publicly on social media or review websites such as Trustpilot, which could risk your brand reputation.

Regular User Acceptance Testing (UAT) for functionality and usability is best practice. This comprehensive approach ensures that your website or app undergoes thorough scrutiny to assess its functionality and user experience across various devices, browsers, and operating systems. By conducting usability testing alongside functional testing, you can identify and address any issues that may impede the end-to-end user journey, ensuring that your platform delivers the optimum customer experience. Given the multitude of screen sizes, devices, and operating systems to consider, it’s essential to test on as many configurations as possible to cater to diverse user preferences and usage scenarios.

Ride the wave of m-commerce

The mechanics of buying online have rapidly evolved, especially with the rise of mobile commerce (m-commerce). In the United Kingdom, m-commerce has become a dominant force in online shopping dynamics. By 2025, retail sales from m-commerce in the UK are projected to surpass £100 billion, reflecting the significant impact of mobile devices on consumer behaviour.

Mobile seems to be the preferred channel for online shopping in the UK, with smartphones playing a central role in pre-purchase browsing and conversions. They account for nearly 80 percent of online visits to retail websites and are used for over 70 percent of orders. Despite this, around eight in ten shopping carts initiated on mobile devices do not result in completed orders! Nevertheless, smartphones remain the favoured shopping device for nearly seven in ten British online shoppers, indicating the enduring popularity of mobile commerce.

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Offer all ways to pay

The landscape of online payments has seen a revolution with the advent of digital wallets, making them the new normal for consumers in the UK. While mobile shopping continues to thrive, smartphones also serve as a crucial link between online and in-store purchases and payments. Many UK consumers prefer the convenience of digital wallets for both scenarios.

Digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayPal have become popular options for UK shoppers. Nearly 40 percent of consumers use Apple Pay for online shopping, while approximately 70 percent utilise it for in-store payments. Similarly, Google Pay and PayPal’s mobile wallets have garnered significant adoption among UK consumers, offering seamless and secure payment options for both online and offline transactions.

Your website or app must integrate all the popular online payment platforms to keep pace with the evolving payment landscape. Failing to do so may result in lost conversions at the crucial moment when customers are poised to complete their purchases. With numerous retailers offering diverse payment options, it’s essential to cater to your customers’ preferences to maximise sales and enhance the overall shopping experience.

Build in ample scalability

You’ll need to test that your systems can take heightened pressure during the busy times. Where are the weak points? Will your website slow down or, even worse, crash completely under the strain?

Do a load test, and extrapolate from that to assess the impact of a larger load and how your systems would perform in the face of explosive demand.

Don’t overpromise

Whether it’s the opening minutes of Black Friday or the launch of a new product, it’s likely that your ecommerce operation will experience a ‘power hour’ when traffic on your website or app will be at its peak. For example, the Xbox Series X preorders sold out in hours! In some cases, we’re

talking about ‘power seconds’, with demand being completely frontloaded.

How do you ensure your website or app can cope with being hammered during this short, sharp surge in traffic? You may have planned in extra cloud capacity that can flex with demand, but will all your functionality and features behave as expected when they’re being hit by thousands, or millions, of customers simultaneously?

In the millisecond between a customer viewing an item marked as being in stock and adding it to their basket, a product may disappear from the shelves. You’ve raised hopes only to dash them.

And how do you offer a graceful solution if the customer misses the boat? Again, testing the customer journey helps in formulating alternatives: offering the ability to pre-order and be first in line when new stock comes in perhaps, or suggesting sensible alternatives.

A leading toy company experienced 50,000 hits in the first 20 seconds of launching the latest must-have action figure.

Digivante helped them to manage the customer journey to avoid disappointing customers and their offspring! No payments were taken until it could be categorically confirmed that the toy was indeed still available to buy.

Minimise changes to your website or app

To maintain stability during major online shopping events, it’s advisable to implement a code freeze well in advance. This precautionary measure prevents last-minute code changes that could introduce defects, compromising the user experience website or app. The danger is that if you release new code during the countdown, this introduces defects, which then require a patch even closer to the “Big Day”. All this impacts the stability of your website or app when it’s under pressure.

Working backwards, draw a line in the sand, after which only “must-have priority #1 changes” are made to the live production environment. Your app or website can then be tested post-implementation to check that the last release is sound and will perform well when you need it to. Some of our clients code freeze as early as the August before Black Friday. At the very latest we’d advise a code freeze two weeks before Black Friday in preparation for the peak shopping period. Any other releases should then be confined to the test environment for the duration.

Plan for the worst

What happens if, despite all your best efforts, your website or app crashes? It’s not only sales on the day that suffer; your reputation could be permanently tarnished, with a knock-on effect on future sales. Consumers are not a very forgiving bunch: in its future of CX report, PwC surveyed 15,000 consumers and found that 1 in 3 customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience. A proactive strategy is essential to mitigate these risks and maintain customer trust.

What’s your strategy for averting disaster?

Ask yourself:

  • Do we have a backup and recovery protocol with defined service level agreements?
  • Have we modelled what disaster looks like, with different worst-case scenarios?
  • Have we scheduled key people to be available during the expected spike in demand to react quickly to problems as they start to emerge?
  • Do we have support mechanisms in place for frustrated customers (such as FAQs or a chatbot) or do we leave them to work out for themselves that there’s a problem?
  • Is our communication strategy and social media response prepped and ready to go if a significant problem occurs?

For instance, a few years ago, Currys PC World faced a Black Friday blackout due to website crashes and long loading times, leading to customer dissatisfaction. By implementing robust disaster recovery measures and proactive communication, such incidents can be mitigated, preserving customer loyalty and brand reputation.

Early prep is key

Preparation is paramount for navigating peak periods successfully. By following these recommended steps and implementing a comprehensive service recovery plan, you can ensure resilience and minimise disruptions to the customer experience.

Ensure, also, that you send out timely restock alerts and keep customers informed throughout. It’s the not knowing that customers find unacceptable.

If something stops the conversion, make sure you have abandoned basket trigger emails at the ready for when normal service is resumed, with a possible discount for any inconvenience. Activate a queuing system if your site cannot cope with load and have your customer service team standing by. Users will expect to enjoy a streamlined CX whatever device or browser they’re using, whatever their level of technical competence and confidence in purchasing online.

Failure to adequately prepare for peak periods can result in significant financial losses and reputational damage. To avoid such pitfalls, it’s essential to prioritise customer experience and leverage User Acceptance Testing services, like those offered by Digivante, to optimise ecommerce experiences and drive online sales. Contact us to find out more.

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