THE BLOG
11/25/2014 12:12 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

8 Challenges Facing Ecommerce Retailers This Christmas

With the festive season fast approaching, ecommerce retailers are busy setting up and preparing their online shops for the Christmas blitz. With the increase in the amount of consumers completing their Christmas purchases online, this has presented multiple challenges for online retailers and other stakeholders involved in the logistics of purchasing online.

Below are the top 8 challenges faced by online retailers and how to prepare your ecommerce website for them this festive season.

1. Increased Website Traffic

Almost all ecommerce websites get a surge in traffic during the Christmas period. This is obviously great but it can be unpredictable and the last thing you want during this period is to have your website go off line because you have exceeded your traffic limits.

A way to overcome surges in traffic is to co-ordinate any promotions with your hosting company to ensure your disc space and bandwidth are increased intermittently. If you're expecting a more sustained and long term increase in traffic it may be advisable to look into a more complex server environment with proxies and load balancers set up.

2. Last Minute Promotions

Many online retailers will offer a Christmas promotion. Apart from increasing potential sales, promotions also allow retailers to clear stock before the New Year's sales period. However, promotions and coupon codes can require a lot of testing to ensure they are working as expected.

The trick is to set up a promotion in advance and to launch during office hours to ensure you have access to your website or software support team. Although tempting, avoid setting up a discount code or spur of the moment promotion if you're not 100% confident with how it works or experienced in running a similar promotion in the past.

3. Bad User Experience

As more and more consumers become savvy online shoppers, their expectations of how easy a website is to use is growing. User experience, or UX, is something which is fundamental to increasing conversion rate and reducing cart abandonment.

Often, with a lot of consumers now browsing on mobiles, having a mobile optimised website is essential to ensuring the success of your website and an increase in sales over the Christmas period. According to a study by Accenture, 75% of respondents 'show-roomed' a product, meaning they would view the product in store and then search for the best deal online before purchasing. Show-rooming is almost exclusively done using a mobile device.

Making sure your ecommerce website is optimised for mobile, easy to navigate and loads quickly are key measures you need to put in place for success this festive season. The best place to start with making your website mobile friendly and improving your website's UX, is to discuss this further with your website developer or design company.

4. Offering Gift Certificates

Online gift certificates are a growing trend and great addition to the product range for online retailers. Often your ecommerce platform will have an out of the box gift certificate template, but be aware that the design of this is often not very flexible.

So if you have plans to offer a Christmas themed gift certificate, be mindful to set aside a budget for extra graphic design and development, as well as 2-3 weeks to finalise this. Also be sure to test that the reference codes and checkout payment works well, as you don't want to have a poor user experience or an increase in complaints when you're busy fulfilling Christmas orders.

5. Strain On Customer Service Resources

Hopefully the Christmas period will be one of your busiest times of the year, but with this brings added demand on other resources such as postage, order fulfilment and returns. Not only this, but as there is a deadline of December 25th, often customers will expect increased response times in order to resolve any issues and receive their gifts on time.

Just as bricks and mortar stores do, consider hiring Christmas casuals to help with menial tasks that will free you up for more important things. Be sure to have a solid plan in place and communicate things like response times, returns policy and common postage queries with your customers clearly and easily on your website.

6. Keeping Customer Loyalty

As other ecommerce websites step up their game over the Christmas season, this is also a time where they are competing for your most loyal of customers. Your existing database of customers is a leverage tool for our business to provide exclusive offers, gift ideas, convenient shipping or other things that will remind them why they choose to shop with your business.

By being proactive and creative with your communication and offers, even months in advance, will mean your clients have less reason to shop around and potentially leave you for a competitor.

7. Stock Control and Inventory

With all this promotion and emphasis on shifting stock before the New Year, along with the added strain on back office resources, retailers can often lose focus of stock control and inventory. This can mean that retailers sell out of most popular items in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Although this is a classic supply chain issue, your ecommerce website has measures in place to help you manage your stock levels before you sell out. Pull a report on your best selling items in the last few months to ensure you've ordered the appropriate stock levels in time for Christmas.

Also when you do sell out, make it easy for customers to know when it may be back in stock, by either communicating a date, or allowing them to leave their email address to be notified when the item becomes available.

8. Holiday Shipping Demands

One of the biggest fears customers have when shopping online is that they won't receive their product in time for Christmas, according to eConsultancy "59% of consumers say they would abandon a retailer which failed to meet its delivery promises." Not only this, but with the added pressure on postal services during this time, delays are sometimes inevitable.

There are always going to be last minute shoppers who will base their purchasing decision on the ability of the retailer to deliver the goods on time. According to a recent study a significant amount of consumers are willing to pay a premium for speedier and more convenient delivery options.

This highlights a requirement that online retailers have to cater for in the shipping methods they offer. Make sure to edit your website's shipping methods to include things like 'express shipping', 'same day courier' or even 'click and collect' if you have the ability to offer these. Not only will you increase last minute Christmas sales, but you'll also position yourself positively in the minds of new customers as an easy to use and reliable ecommerce retailer for future purchases.

By being aware of the challenges that you are likely to face as an ecommerce retailer during the Christmas period, you'll be in a better place to adequately prepare and put effective measures in place. Although a time of added pressure to meet deadlines and keep up with increased demand, the festive season is also a huge opportunity to win over new customers and increase profits.

If you want to make sure you are handling all the ecommerce fundamentals, this ecommerce websites checklist is a great resource. And for more valuable tips and information about ecommerce, web design and online marketing visit the Magicdust blog.