The ease, convenience and speed of buying online meant that ecommerce was already on a roll long before the Covid-19 pandemic happened. But now, it looks as if lockdowns have accelerated this evolution: with ecommerce bridging the gap between consumption and safety.
Some sectors have reported record sales in spite of the pandemic. Publisher Bloomsbury (best known for the Harry Potter series) reported record sales of £100.7m in its August 2021 half year results. Its CEO attributed it partly to continued lockdown reading habits and the “phenomenal” impact of TikTok.
Even items previously regarded as being for “instore purchase only” are now routinely bought online. Research by industry-watcher Retail Economics indicates that 45% of consumers are now prepared to shop online for big-ticket items such as furniture.
At Christmas 2020 Royal Mail announced it was recruiting around 33,000 temporary staff (two-thirds more than usual) to handle the elevated parcel volumes expected due to an increase in online shopping.
These trends along with the increasing number of busy periods on the retail calendar means your website and apps have to be ready for periodic
spikes in traffic.
It’s not just about retail high days and holidays either. Any seasonal business has to cope with busy periods. When lockdown closures of garden centres in March 2020 coincided with the start of the growing season, horticultural company Suttons Seeds had to introduce a queuing system for entry onto its website.
Ad hoc events such as the sudden onset of adverse weather, or a consumer’s partner becoming absorbed in an important sporting fixture, can also spark an increase in online shopping.
Meanwhile, the rise in mobile commerce (m-commerce) is adding a new dimension, and extra pressure, to ecommerce operations.
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, 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 testing for functionality and usability is best practice. It will check how the end-to-end user journey behaves and highlight where it’s not as joined-up as it should be.
Functional testing will check your website or app across a broad range of devices, browsers and operating systems (there are at least 63,000 combinations of them according to Browserstack) to ensure that it provides the optimum user experience.
As there is an overwhelming combination of screen sizes, devices and operating systems to consider, we recommend testing on as many
device variations as possible to cover the largest proportion of users.
Ride the wave of m-commerce
Offer all ways to pay
Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal and Paypal Credit, Amazon Pay, Klarna… there’s been a revolution in payment platforms, many coming with their own ‘wallets’. This is on top of all the traditional payment methods, such as numerous credit/debit card options.
Your website or app must accept all the most popular online payment platforms, otherwise, in a changing payment landscape, you’ll lose conversions just as customers are ready to press the ‘buy now’ button. There will be countless other retailers out there who can accommodate your prospects’ preferences.
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
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.