The ecommerce pro's guide to the 2020 holiday shopping season

In 2019, Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw a combined total of $16.6 billion in online retail sales. $16.6 billion. This year, as COVID-19 keeps people at home and limits stores’ capacities, BFCM (and the weeks leading up to it) is expected to set the tone for what will be a record-shattering holiday season for online shopping.

As an ecommerce pro, you know that prepping for the holidays is a complex process that requires collaboration between marketing, product, engineering, and customer support teams. And this year, it’s more important than ever to plan ahead and make every customer touchpoint count.

This ecommerce holiday preparedness guide is designed to help you assess your strategy’s strengths and weaknesses, and to offer resources for filling in the gaps.

1. Check in on your checkout flow

It’s important to remember that just because a customer has entered your checkout flow doesn’t mean they have high intent to purchase; the smallest inconvenience could cause them to leave for another seller. Your competitors are quite literally a click away, and when a shopper arrives in your checkout process, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to follow through with their purchase.

There are two main areas to focus on when optimizing your checkout process: minimizing friction throughout the flow and reducing cart abandonment. They go hand in hand.

Minimizing friction in the flow:

Identifying and eliminating friction from your checkout flow can help lower the chances that a would-be customer will leave as the result of some minor error or inconvenience. Analyze and address checkout flow friction by:

  • You can create a path analysis in Google Analytics (or your web analytics solution of choice) to visualize user paths with page views and events, in order to understand how users journey through your site and, ultimately, your checkout flow.
  • You can use your digital experience analytics software of choice (we are, of course, partial to FullStory) to visualize the leaky spots in your conversion funnel. Then, use fuctionalities such as session replay and heatmaps to determine what’s actually happening. Are people getting impatient with the length of the checkout process? Are they dead clicking on a product thumbnail? Use this data to prioritize the fixes that are affecting the most people.

Cart abandonment:

According to data from the Baymard Institute, the rate at which customers abandon carts when online shopping is nearly 70 percent That’s high. The good news is that there are steps you can take to a) reduce cart abandonment rates and b) bring back abandoners to complete their purchase. Here are some things you can do to combat cart abandonment on your site or app:

  • The top reason users report abandoning carts? Unexpected shipping costs. Err on the side of clarity and transparency when it comes to shipping, or consider offering free or reduced shipping during the holiday rush.
  • Keep the “back” button fully functional to allow transition between browsing and checkout / cart. If a user feels trapped within a checkout process and can’t easily navigate away from it, they’re more likely to simply close the tab.
  • Test adding a progress indicator bar to your checkout process so that users can understand how close they are to completing their purchase. Progress bars appeal to the idea of “endowed progress”—we are more likely to complete a task, if we are provided with artificial progress towards this task.
  • Make it easy to “save” a shopping cart for a guest to return to later.
  • When possible, follow up on cart abandoners with remarketing efforts in the form of emails and dynamic ads.

Further reading: How to Decrease Ecommerce Cart Abandonment and Improve Your Conversion Rates from BigCommerce

2. Focus on site performance

Online shopping is a competitive landscape, and a slow-loading website is a quick way to lose would-be customers. While measuring site performance is important all year, it’s especially critical during the holiday season when websites and apps experience higher-than-normal traffic.

Why should you care about site performance?

  • According to Unbounce, nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.
  • Google reports that more than half of people bounce if a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
  • Plus, site speed is a factor in Google’s page-ranking algorithm. Slower speed can mean a lower search result ranking.
  • Performance has proven to have a huge effect on ecommerce KPIs: for example, when Tempur-Pedic reduced their site load times by 20%, they saw their average order value increase by 14%.

What should you do?

  • Run a quick speed test for an analysis of your site speed on desktop and mobile.
  • Before heading into the holidays, it’s also a good idea to run load testing on your website with a tool like LoadRunner by Micro Focus or Loader. These tools simulate the traffic of tens of thousands of visitors on your site at once and help you to identify areas where performance suffers, so you can address the issues before the real traffic pours in.
  • You should also consider setting up a site monitoring tool that will send an alert (generally via email, text, phone call or custom integration) if your site goes down—especially when you’re seeing an influx of holiday shoppers. Some tools are more sophisticated than others; a paid subscription will come with more bells and whistles but a basic free tool like Uptime Robot or StatusCake will monitor your site at 5 minute intervals from several locations to make sure it’s behaving properly.
  • Additionally, it’s a good idea to consider installing a solution, like Calibre or Rigor, to monitor your site’s overall performance in an ongoing capacity. Though this type of performance monitoring platform tends to require a higher investment of both time and money than the tools mentioned above, they can help you audit and optimize how your site performs over time.

Further reading: Here are 2 Simple Tips to Speed Up Your Website from FullStory

3. Be proactive with promotions

It’s never too early to start strategizing your holiday promotions (and the sooner, the better). Here are a few tips and resources for running smart campaigns:

Use UTM parameters: UTMs are a simple tagging system that lets your analytics tool measure where your web traffic is coming from, shedding light on the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Use these in your emails and social campaigns leading up to and during BFCM (and throughout your holiday promotions) in order to know what traffic is a direct result of those efforts.

Run A/B tests: Testing is a great way to learn what resonates with your audience and iterate on those insights in future marketing efforts. When it comes to your holiday promotions, any number of tests can be conducted, including:

  • Visual tests such as CTA button color, product image sizes, etc.
  • Content tests such as copy variations, personalization, email “from” name, etc.
  • Timing tests such as time of day and frequency of social posts and email sends

Note: If you’re just getting started with A/B testing, it’s best to keep it simple and start off by testing one or two elements at a time. Make sure to keep track of what you’re learning so that your marketing efforts will become smarter over time—for example, if you notice that Tuesday morning email sends receive higher engagement than Wednesday afternoon email sends, save that information for future campaigns. You should also take into account the risks and rewards of running A/B tests during the holiday season as learnings may not be applicable to future tests during the off-season.

Further reading: A/B Testing During the Holidays from Widerfunnel

Email marketing: Incorporating email into your holiday campaign strategy is a no-brainer: it’s a free way to reach your most engaged customers. But don’t just start blasting off daily emails to your subscriber list; employ some simple strategies to make sure your email marketing counts:

  • Customization is the name of the game. Use the data you have to personalize your marketing emails as much as possible by incorporating your customers’ names, recommendations based on past purchases and relevant special offers.
  • Engage dormant email leads with nurture tracks that aim to wake them up. This might include “we miss you” messaging or limited time offers.

Further reading: A guide to Effective Holiday Email Marketing from BigCommerce

Social media: It’s no surprise that Facebook ad prices skyrocket during the holiday season: customers’ newsfeeds are especially valuable real estate starting as early as September, with cost per click rising nearly $0.15 above the average by December. Make sure you’re maximizing your Facebook ad budget with strategies like additional placements, custom audiences and special offers.

Further reading: Get 10 Facebook Ad Strategies to Maximize Your Holiday Advertising from AdEspresso

Retargeting ads: Retargeting ads are a way to reach people who have already visited your site, and the audience’s familiarity with your brand makes these ads highly effective. Similarly to Facebook, retargeting ad prices rise dramatically near the holidays. Our two main pieces of advice for successful retargeting during the holidays are:

  • Start early so that your ads can gain traction with your audience before the prices increase.
  • Aim to collect email addresses with your early ads; this way you can meet your audience right in their inbox where there’s less competition for their attention.

Further reading: Here are 5 Tips for Remarketing During the Holiday Season from WebMarketing

4. Expect the Unexpected

No matter how excellent your digital holiday strategy is, unexpected issues are still likely to crop up. While you can’t predict exactly what those problems will be, you can outline a response plan for any situation.

Have a two-part communication plan:

  • Internal: Employees tend to be scattered during the holidays, and it can be difficult to keep track of who is on or offline on any given day. This will only be amplified this year, due to predominantly distributed professional spaces. How will you efficiently notify the appropriate person or team if something on your site or app breaks at a critical moment? Your internal communication plan can be as simple as a spreadsheet of on-call employee(s) on days when your office is closed, along with info on what channels they’ll need to monitor during their shift.

  • Customer-facing : The second part of your plan should detail how to communicate with customers in the event of an issue. This might include a pop-up on your site, an email to the affected customers (if possible), and social media updates. Identify who would be responsible for each element of the plan and ensure they know what to do in a time-sensitive situation.

Have a bug identification plan:

Bugs are inevitable. It’s how you handle, track and address them that determines how much or little they impact your customers. For most teams, the key is to unify these processes into a single tracking tool where bugs can be monitored and managed. Once you’ve established what that software will be and have achieved product adoption from the team, you will be able to: identify and define bugs, organize and secure them, and set up processes for tracking bugs.

Help customers help themselves:

The holiday season is already a sprint for your customer support team; lighten their load by giving customers the resources to answer their own questions whenever possible.

  • Ask tenured support team members about the most common customer questions from holiday seasons past, and incorporate these into an easy-to-find FAQ on your website.
  • Consider adding a chat bot to your site that can answer basic questions automatically.
  • Don’t force customers to hunt for shipping and return info; make it prominent on your website.
  • Ensure that your customer support team has the tools and processes they need to be successful.
  • Last but not least, remember that the holidays are a busy, stress-filled season. Take steps to foster an empathetic culture and prevent burnout among your support team members.

Further reading: Introducing The Modern Support Stack from FullStory

5. Mobile matters

If you’re not already convinced of the importance of the mobile shopping experience, this stat should help you get there:

In 2019, 33% of Cyber Monday sales were made via mobile, for a revenue of $3.2 billion.

If your online store isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re very likely to be leaving money on the table this holiday season. Here are two key consideration:

  • Page load speed: According to Google, 53% of mobile users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. There’s no singular quick fix for speeding up your mobile site, but there are a few steps you can take to improve your mobile experience leading up to the holidays.
  • Browsers and screen sizes: To ensure that your site renders correctly across all browsers and devices, you’re going to have to do some grunt work. Use your phone to go through the checkout flow on the top browsers: Safari, Chrome, Firefox, MS Edge and Opera. Do this from an iPhone, an Android, an iPad and a windows tablet. Note and address any issues.

Further reading: Here are 3 Rules for Improving the Mobile E-Commerce Experience from FullStory


This holiday season’s online shopping revenue is expected to outstrip anything we’ve seen before, and the most important action online retailers can take is to offer a seamless, delightful shopping experience for customers. In a time when so many things are unpredictable, create certainty by using this holiday ecommerce guide to outline and implement a thorough strategy for your business this season.

Curious about how you can use FullStory to level up your shoppers’ digital experience this holiday season? Request a demo today.