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akamaiblogAnthony LarkinAKAMAIBLOG:B6B979B4A33B7CEAE18599CA16D15650
HistorySep 12, 2018 - 2:23 p.m.

The holiday shopping surge is going global: How to keep up (and cash in)

Anthony Larkin

Big promotional days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday that got their start in the U.S. are now major online shopping days for consumers around the world. Here are some tips for catering to global shoppers, and preparing for the surge of traffic to retail websites from all sources.

If the 2017 $691.9-billion holiday shopping season is any indicator of what to expect this year, online retailers will have more opportunity than ever to increase sales and grow their customer bases. During this make-or-break shopping season, businesses can earn up to 30 percent of their annual revenue, according to the NRF. Critical to seizing the opportunity that holiday shopping surges bring is understanding not only who your potential customers are, but where they are.

According to Akamai’s State of Online Retail Performance report, Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017 were not just popular holidays for online shopping in the United States, but also internationally. On those two days in 2017, website conversion rate increases were common and significantly higher than the previous year across the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and other countries outside the U.S. In the U.K., for example, year-over-year conversion rates soared with a 42-percent increase on Black Friday and 35-percent increase on Cyber Monday compared to those same shopping days the prior year.

What this data shows is that global shoppers are out there and spending their holiday dollars during critical U.S. retail moments. But the question is: How can you best capitalize on this trend and ready your online business–including web and mobile assets–for global visitors? Let’s explore some key considerations and tips.

Be prepared for bigger-than-ever traffic peaks.

First and foremost, you need to be ready for higher and more dispersed website visitor volume–especially during major moments like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Do you know if your web infrastructure is capable of scaling to handle your biggest traffic spike of the year? Do you know the impact a given increase in traffic will have on your website’s or mobile application’s performance and your shopper experience? What about traffic peaks from different regions across the globe?

If you haven’t yet had conversations with your web and IT teams about testing your web and mobile performance as part of holiday preparations, now is the time to do it. By pushing your web infrastructure and applications to the limit and testing from highly distributed locations to simulate global spikes well in advance of an impending flood of visitor traffic, you can identify and mitigate any challenges before you’re in the thick of the season.

Have a contingency plan.

An online retailer’s worst nightmare during a holiday flash sale or Cyber Monday? Your website goes down. We see the headlines every year. Even if you believe you are fully prepared to scale to meet global peaks, unforeseen complications can always occur, causing major slowdowns and even complete web or app shutdowns. When nearly one-third of your yearly revenue is at stake, retailers literally can’t afford to leave anything to chance.

Having a disaster recovery in place to get your website back online and optimized as quickly and efficiently as possible is critical. If for some reason your site becomes unavailable, you should be prepared with some elegant alternate response for your customers in the form of a “sorry page,” or a static browsable version of your website that has been recently cached. This will bode much better than a standard browser error that can frustrate your customers.

You should also inventory your pages in that cache, starting with the most important. Your number one priority is enabling customers to find and buy your products, so product pages and reviews should be prioritized over your “About Us” section in your plan. It’s a good idea to partner with an organization that offers skilled professional services to assist you in setting up and managing these functions during your peak event.

Emphasize experience--tailored to every user.

Shopper behavior, needs and expected experiences differ based on geography and even culture. Now that more than half of the worldwide population has access to the Internet, you need to be able to meet expectations of virtually any visitor in any location across the globe. From location-based translations to accepting payments in foreign currencies and special shipping pages and rates, to providing a viable shopping destination for international shoppers, you must consider their experiences end to end.

Another key consideration here is the device and platform through which your site is being accessed. For example, there are currently almost as many smartphone users in India as there are people in the United States--and that number is poised for explosive growth over the next few years. If a sizable portion of your global customers are heralding from South Asia. or this is a priority market for you, it’s absolutely critical that your mobile website and applications are optimized and tailored for the best experience for these shoppers.

The devil is in (not having) the (real user) data.

Gone are the days of relying on synthetic visitor monitoring and testing methods that simply emulate user behavior. In order to get a leg up on the competition this holiday season and beyond, online retailers need the ability to monitor, capture and analyze behavioral data from their real users and the devices they use. Having this visibility will allow you to pinpoint the trends and glean actionable insights required to deliver your customers a smooth shopping and purchase experience.

For example, continuous monitoring and analysis may show you that visitors in Germany are abandoning at checkout. Having this information at the ready can arm your web team with the insight needed to investigate and fix the issue causing the abandonment, like failed translations or missing international shipping information caused by a third-party service outage.

As more geographies race to capitalize on online holiday shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers can seize this opportunity to increase their sales and win customers in expanded markets. Preparing your digital business for this tumultuous time may seem daunting at first, but by sticking to key considerations, such as accurately anticipating traffic scaling, developing a disaster recovery plan, understanding different user experiences and leveraging customer data efficiently, you are setting yourself up for success.

Akamai provides content delivery network services to 354 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America.

Article originally appeared on Internet Retailer.