Guest Post: 3 Ways to Optimize Your Retail Website for the Holiday Season
For online retailers, Cyber Mondayis no longer the starting gun for the crucial holiday shopping season. Black Friday is now one of the busiest shopping days of the year online, as well as in stores. As soon as the sun sets on Thanksgiving night, your website has to be ready. Can your website handle the coming rush? It's never too early to bolster your website's ecommerce fundamentals.
Bitcoin: The Future of Money May Not Be in Money At All
One of the smartest and coolest long-term investments you can make for both your wallet and your brand identity is to accept bitcoin. Although accepting bitcoin payments may not make or break you this holiday season, it will position you as an early innovator when bitcoin takes off.
Bitcoin is a new kind of "money" that isn't really money at all. In case you’re not up to snuff, bitcoin is a P2P currency that you can use to buy things, but that isn't managed or authorized by third-party entities like governments or banks. It is open-source, its design is public and nobody owns or controls it. The fact that it is private and untraceable makes it popular, exciting and controversial.
Bitcoin is not yet mainstream, but there is too much money and intellect behind it to ignore. The Winklevoss twins — yes, the same fabulously wealthy brothers who feuded with Mark Zuckerberg over the founding of Facebook — currently have a bitcoin ETF working its way through the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Unlike credit-card processing, bitcoin comes with few or often no fees at all, which enables you to pass savings on to your customers. Since bitcoins are inherently secure, you can accept them without worrying about fraud or chargebacks. Even international payments can be transferred in minutes with no delays or charges, and PCI compliance regulations are a thing of the past.
Perhaps most importantly, you will be recognized as a forward-thinking eCommerce entrepreneur who had the acumen and savvy to recognize a social and economic wave before it crested.
Shopping Cart Optimization and Payment Processing
Bitcoin has extraordinary potential, but the meat of your sales will still be through your traditional shopping cart. There are literally dozens of steps you can take to optimize your shopping cart before the busy season. Don't ask too much of your customers. Remove unnecessary steps standing in the way of payment, such as making them register for an account before checkout.
Make it obvious what to do next with the installation of almost comically large "CHECK OUT" or "BUY NOW" buttons. Make your site navigable and allow them to chart their shopping journey with the installation of a progress bar.
Make your customers feel secure with a credit card payment processing system that advertises its fraud-protection capabilities. There shouldn't be any processing or waiting times, and chargebacks should be automatic. Your online credit card processing should benefit your customers with ease of use and security, and benefit you by making accounting and record keeping simple. A system with low transaction and interchange fees will ensure this is a cost effective process for your company.
Hybrid Retailers Must Go Mobile
If you do some of your business online and some face-to-face, you must accept credit cards. If you accept credit cards, you may as well go all the way with mobile credit card processing. Mobile card readers plug into the 1/8" input jack found on every smartphone. You plug the reader into your phone, your customer swipes their credit card, and voila! The transaction is complete and they get a receipt via email.
It's faster and sleeker than the clunky old, shoebox-sized reader that's next to the cash register in the deli. Although it's not a new technology, the novelty hasn't worn completely off, so the "wow" factor still exists. This helps to enhance your brand as a modern, cutting edge business.
Other benefits are much more tangible.
The fees are generally lower, but perhaps more importantly, your customer's information is automatically synced with the reader's complementary software. This reduces paperwork, integrates your physical sales with your online transactions and reduces all kinds of headaches during accounting and at tax time.
Enhance Usability Through Third-Party Payment, Mobile Design and Chat
With news of the latest digital fraud never far away, buying online still makes some customers uneasy. This is especially true when they have to turn their credit-card information over to you — an anonymous, nameless online merchant who they'll never meet and have no reason to trust. Enable the use familiar, third-party payment processors such as PayPal for those who choose.
A few years ago, mobile was the wave of the future. Now, it's the wave of right this moment. If you're an online retailer who isn't thinking of his or her mobile customers, what are you waiting for — for mobile devices to surpass PCs in e-retail? Well, that already happened just before the holiday season last year.
There is no credible study that doesn't clearly show that mobile purchasing increases every year and is poised to continue doing so into the foreseeable future. Make sure your website is mobile friendly through the use of responsive web design or some other platform that ensures your fabulous website translates correctly onto smartphones and tablets.
Enable live chat capabilities on your website. Customer service is more important during the holidays than at any other time of year. Live chat gives your customers an instant reply to questions and concerns without having to wait for an email response. It has the familiarity of text messaging without the intimacy of a phone call. It's convenient, cheap, it boosts sales and it improves analytics.One quick note: Though it may seem like a no brainer, make sure you clearly list your Live Chat hours of operation and time zone to prevent customers from attempting to use the service outside of operation hours and causing further frustration.
The holiday season can make or break your entire year. Of course your website needs to process payments securely, but consider extras such as bitcoin that will provide a foundation for the future. Focus on intuitive usability and customer service. Remember that mobile is dominating online retail and, most importantly, don't wait too long to get your website in shape — the time is now!
Guest Blogger: Owen Andrew
Owen Andrew is an eCommerce and tech journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @owenandrew7.