For many, the first signs of Christmas can be seen in the windows of traditional shops, as the Halloween decorations are replaced by the tinsel, red and white of the festive season.
Though it’s less visible to the consumer, online merchants should be just as diligent in their preparation – organising staff, taking stock and especially in making sure that their website is Christmas-ready.
A new Virgin Business survey queried 1,000 Irish shoppers on their Christmas purchasing habits, preferences and bugbears at this time of year. The results confirmed the importance of an efficient, fast and user-friendly site.
The Value of a Smooth Experience
Unsurprisingly, our survey found that online retailers will have a busy season: 7.8% of Irish consumers intend to do all of their Christmas shopping online; 19.8% will be online for more than half of it, while 22.5% will buy half of their gifts there. With just 22.3% of shoppers opting for bricks & mortar only, that means that 77.7% of Irish consumers will be buying at least some of their gifts online.
When it comes to incentives, price came out on top, with 30.8% saying it was the most important factor when shopping online. Previous good experience was next, at 22.1%, highlighting the value of trust and repeat business. Free delivery followed (at 17%), then free returns (10.9%), choice (10%) and surprisingly low in this social media age, word of mouth (8%). (“Other” made for 1.2%.)
Arguably more important, customers told us what causes them to give up on an online purchase: Slow site speed was the biggest turnoff at 36.8%, then lack of product information or reviews (34.5%), checkout errors (30.1%), the site not being mobile-friendly (27.8%), expected delivery date (27.5%) and “other” (1.6%).
A different survey, by Forrester Consulting, found that “47% of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less” and that “57% of visitors will abandon a page that takes 3 seconds or more to load.”
That’s a lot to address, but there’s still time to fix any outstanding issues, so you’re not caught short in the most important shopping months of the year.
A dependable, fast and robust internet service provider is essential for any e-commerce business. But beyond that, there are other, simpler ways to address site speed and create a better user experience.
Firstly, there are online tools available to analyse your site’s speed. Google’s PageSpeed insights provides analysis of your page and suggestions on how to make it faster.
Then take the following easy steps:
1- Optimise Images
Needlessly high-res images can slow down a site’s speed, especially if there are too many on your homepage, and even more so if your logo (which will likely be on every page) takes up too much memory.
Many product images or pictures from stock photography sites are optimised for print, but online doesn’t require anywhere near that definition. There are numerous image optimising plugins available, including EWWW (specifically for WordPress) and Kraken.
2- Declutter Your Pages
On a similar note, many e-commerce sites (especially smaller ones) clutter their pages with too much information, too much video and traffic-clogging data. See how you can streamline this: Trimming unnecessary content will mean faster site-speed, a more aesthetically pleasing site and better user experience (UX). Win-win-win.
3- Switch off Unnecessary Plugins
You might need to talk to your IT people about this – but essentially, many sites have extensions or plugins (in other words unseen functions and features) that aren’t in use. Carry out an audit to ensure they aren’t there, unknowingly slowing your site.
4- Enable Caching
Simply put, this is a tool for storing data for returning visitors, accelerating the load time. Think of it like a good bartender knowing a steady customer’s favourite drink!
Fixing that Checkout
Along with product information, price and site speed, the checkout experience was hugely important to shoppers who took our survey. Shopping cart abandonment is especially harmful for online vendors – a lost sale that takes place at exactly the point when they should be closing.
Here are some relatively easy ways to optimise that checkout:
1- Optimise for Mobile
More and more shopping is done online via mobile: In the US alone it’s jumped by almost ⅓ in 4 years, and in this country 30% of shoppers expect to do most of their shopping on mobile in the near future. With 4G expanding (and 5G on the way) expect that percentage to climb. It’s the height of convenience for shoppers, but not if the site isn’t mobile optimised.
A mobile optimised site has images that aren’t too small when the site is reconfigured for phone use; the text is still visible; buttons (especially “buy” buttons!) are clear and easy to use and the site maintains its aesthetic.
2- Keep the Customer Informed
A “progress indicator” tells a customer how much is left in the order process, either by a reverse countdown or a little bar across the screen. Waiting is hardest when you don’t know how long you’ll be (ask any passenger sitting on a runway!). So this simple step is one worth investing in.
3- Keep it Clear
Maintaining a simple, usable checkout means less room for error, less frustration and less admin. As much as possible – while maintaining security – try to keep the form-filling to a minimum.
4- Stress Test
Have your IT specialist check for bugs, investigate past complaints (to reverse engineer and make repairs) and carry out rigorous tests. This is the time to find out when, how and if your checkout can crash…not a week before Christmas!
A key reason for the explosion of online shopping is that it’s convenient. When customers don’t get what they’ve been trained to expect, it’s understandable when they drift away. Thankfully, we live in an age of peak resources and information – it’s never been easier to address speed, checkout and UX issues on your e-commerce site.
While a knowledge of how websites and e-commerce work is essential, there’s a lot to be said for traditional disciplines like diligence, attention to detail and seeing things from the customer’s perspective.
Through surveys like ours, customers have told vendors what they want. Before site demands spike, before sales panic sets in, and before your competitors start slashing prices, now is the time to listen.
To keep your e-commerce website running smoothly over the Christmas period, investing in high-speed business broadband is essential. Click here to learn about our award-winning business broadband.