November and December are the two busiest months of the year for the majority of online retailers.
These ‘peak months’ also take in Black Friday and Cyber Monday, typically the two biggest online shopping days of the year.
For ecommerce sites, this means increased traffic volumes and lots of opportunities to drive sales. It also contains potential banana skins for retailers, as poor site performance and a frustrating user experience can deter shoppers.
Good UX matters at any time of year, but when shoppers are looking for Black Friday bargains and Christmas presents, a smooth user experience and easy purchase process can really pay off.
If they’re comparing prices and products between sites, and your site is faster and smoother, this can make the difference.
Here are a few key areas to consider during the holiday season…
During busy periods, ecommerce sites need to be able to handle many times the normal volumes of traffic.
Some of the biggest names in online retail have been unable to deal with traffic volumes in the past, with sites crashing and slowing down.
The cost of this can be a huge loss of potential sales, as visitors head for competitors instead.
Load testing can help you anticipate issues caused by heavy traffic. Do this in the run up to big sales events and you’ll have time to fix any issues that arise.
Site speed should be a general consideration anyway, as a slow site detracts from the user experience.
Gift finder tools should make it easier for shoppers to identify the right gift for friends and relatives, helping them to narrow the options and speed up the selection process.
Some gift finders can look like an afterthought or just a marketing gimmick, but the best will genuinely help users, providing useful ideas for presents.
Having enough filters to provide a decent but manageable number of product recommendations is key.
Here, Firebox allows users to filter by gender, price, recipient’s interests and more. It also helps to show the number of matching products in each filter, as this helps the user to narrow the results, and to avoid searches returning no results at all.
What's next for retail UX?
Many retailers have sales events in November and December, and it’s important to consider UX here.
In the past, some retailers have placed sales in separate section of the site, without the same functionality and navigation as ‘normal’ product categories, such as filters or search.
Next, for example, has a clearance section with a different experience than the rest of the site. There are filters, but it shows a limited amount of product information, and the product imagery is basic, with just one small image for each product.
Some shoppers may battle through this inferior user experience for the bargains, but it limits the ability for shoppers to find the right information to decide on a purchase.
Instead, while a distinct sales category can help users who just want to see reduced items, it should offer the same UX and information as the rest of the site. It also pays to include sales items in normal product navigation.
During Christmas shopping periods, information on delivery and returns is even more important than usual.
The nearer it gets to Christmas, the more delivery timescales become a factor when shoppers are deciding whether to make a purchase. For this reason, it’s vital to provide clear information on whether you can deliver in time, taking account of potential bad weather delays. Letting customers down at this time of year is not a good idea.
This information should be clear before checkout, as the purchase often hinges upon the ability to deliver in time. Closer to Christmas, it pays to make this as clear as possible with site-wide and homepage messaging.
The same principles also apply to returns. People are buying gifts, which are more likely to be returned, so shoppers need the reassurance of easy returns if needed.
Most retailers will extend their returns period for items bought in November and December. Last year for example M&S allowed returns up to January 28 for Christmas purchases.
Again, for details like this which affect purchase decisions, it’s important to make this information clear and easy to find.
Good customer support can add to the site experience by ensuring that customers can easily find help at the point where it’s needed.
If shoppers can find help, whether through contact numbers or live chat, you can quickly resolve any issues and keep them from abandoning potential purchases.
Great user experience can help encourage people to spend more with you simply because the site is easier and more enjoyable to use.
Retailers can also help to give customers reasons to spend more with smart product recommendations and relevant extras.
For example, product bundles can encourage customers to add more items to their carts, when the extra products are useful and relevant.
Extras like gift wrapping at this time of year offer added convenience for users, and persuade them to spend a little more than they planned.
Checkout performance can make or break your company’s performance in a busy retail season, so it can pay to review your checkout, looking for improvements in advance of the Christmas shopping season.
Carry out some user testing, review your analytics and any customer feedback, to identify any key areas for improvement. Even at a relatively late stage, there’s still time to gather insights and make changes to improve performance.
For example, the addition of microcopy can help to make form fields clearer.
With every major shopping season, we see more and more traffic coming from mobile devices, so it’s important that checkout works well on mobile.
At this late stage, faster payment options, such as the addition of PayPal or mobile specific methods like Apple and Google Pay can do a lot to streamline mobile checkout.
Good UX during the Christmas shopping period is more or less the same as any time of year. If users can find the products they want and checkout without major hassle, you’ll sell more.
The one difference at this time of year is that some key information is more important (delivery and returns for example) but the main difference is that sites with a smooth user experience can be more effective than the rest when more people are online looking to buy.