Most online stores rely on big promotions and sales, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or holiday shopping, for the majority of their annual revenue. With this in mind, preparing for a big campaign is critical, and knowing what the most common pitfalls are can help give you a leg up against the competition.
Here are seven traps eCommerce sites can fall into—read on so you are not one of them!
1. Not Preparing
There is a popular saying which states “Failing to plan is planning to fail”—or something to that effect.
Don’t get me wrong, I can fully understand the urgency to hit targets and the motivation to launch a promotion with as little delay as possible. However, in doing so you will be hampering your own efforts. Take a breath, work backwards from your goal, and put a timeline in place to make sure that you are ready to launch your campaign logistically, technically, and in terms of content.
Preparation can start with running your site through a speed test to identify areas of opportunity. A free speed test like Google’s Page Speed Insights can measure and report on Core Web Vitals for your eCommerce site.
Core Web Vitals are critical to all web experiences and represent distinct facets of the user experience. These measurements are used by Google and play an important part in your site’s ability to rank in Google Search which can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Understanding your eCommerce site’s user experience will provide clues as to where you should focus your energy before launching a big sale to ensure a great return on investment. Not only will you achieve a better ROI, you will also set yourself up to have a calmer, less stressful campaign launch.
2. Resource Allocation
Allocating the right amount of resources to a campaign launch is integral to its success and part of the planning process. This goes for human resources as well as technical ones, though right now I am more likely to forgive the former than the latter. It’s mind-boggling how often customers go to purchase a product during a big promotion only to find the site stalls during the payment step.
We’ve already mentioned testing your page speed to ensure you have the best Core Web Vitals for ranking on Google. Another important step in gauging your site’s ability to handle an influx of traffic is to load test it. A load test measures how your site performs when it has to load more resources and deal with heightened traffic. It basically simulates demand on a system with the purpose of determining how it will function during a spike in traffic.
Load testing tools can help you determine if you need extra server resources to meet the expected demand of your upcoming event or sale.
Another great tool to leverage is Google Analytics. Most sites use Google Analytics to report on real-time traffic as well as historical data. If your eCommerce site has experienced an annual sale or big event in the past, you can leverage these unique data insights. You’ll be able to review traffic fluctuations down to the number of sessions and visitors during any given timeframe which will help you plan accordingly for the present year.
If you don’t have these historical insights or don’t feel that it is an accurate representation of traffic and sales during a big event, verify that your Google Analytics and Tag Manager are set up correctly to track events and conversions. There are plenty of help documents and videos available to walk you through this verification process.
3. No Disaster Recovery Plan
Most people like to focus on the positives, but if the worst happens, what is your plan B? It’s scary to think, but the reality is that your site could buckle under the pressure due to a spike in traffic during your big event. In the event your server goes down, or if other unexpected issues arise, having backups will limit loss of data.
We recommend having the best infrastructure possible so that a plan B is not necessary. In the event something does go awry, it’s imperative to have recent backups, but having the backups isn’t enough. You need to know how to restore a backup in the event the server goes down and be prepared to switch over to redundancy services as a last resort.
Check with your hosting provider to see if they offer routine backups. Some hosts perform daily backups on specific plans only or offer weekly backups instead. Other hosts may charge extra for backups or require an upgraded plan. Backups exist for all environments on WP Engine by default (Production, Staging, and Development). They are stored offsite and can be easily accessed even if your site or server is down.
4. Going Cheap
This is tied to both a failure to plan and inadequate resources, but choosing the cheap route is also a failure point of its own. We know that every cent counts when it comes to running a business and it would seem like choosing a lower cost budget host is an easy way to save a few bucks. But choosing a lower-cost budget host may put your site at risk with “noisy neighbors” or other sites on your shared server that hog valuable resources.
This can place a limit on your site’s ability to handle traffic spikes, process payments, or deliver search results for inquiring customers. Imagine your site having to compete for server resources with 100 other eCommerce stores each experiencing Black Friday traffic spikes—even the best marketing in the world is not going to move your revenue needle if your site collapses when it is most needed.
It’s best to view your hosting provider as a partner in business that can support your business needs. Check with your host to see if they offer containerized solutions for your site. Containerized servers like those offered by WP Engine can shield your eCommerce site from having to fight for server resources.
Additionally, our eCommerce plans include proprietary features like EverCache® for WooCommerce, Instant Store Search, and the Smart Scale add-on to provide extra resources that WooCommerce sites need to meet demand during planned big events or flash sales.
Take a good hard look at what you are spending money on and where, and ask yourself how much is due to good research and planning ahead versus sunk costs, spreadsheet-thinking, or—worst of all—penny pinching.
There is nothing more expensive than a promotion that damages your brand and the trust your audience has in you, so spending a little extra for premium hosting may actually cost you less in the long run.
5. Launching Too Late
If the first time your prospect hears about your deals is on launch weekend, then you’ve already tied one hand behind your back. Throughout the year, it may be helpful to pause and reflect on:
- How well do your prospects know your products?
- Are they already anticipating purchasing?
- Are there lingering questions that will add friction to the process?
I always tell my clients that people buy with their head before they even reach for their credit card. The more visible a product is ahead of a new campaign or sale, the more ready to buy your customers will be when the time comes. This is why it’s best to bake a warm up period into your launch plan—to increase brand and product awareness.
A great way to begin planting the seed early is by leveraging your social media and email channels. If you’ve built out your timeline and know when your sales will go live, start posting teaser images on your company’s social profile several weeks in advance of a big sale. This can help build awareness and interest while stretching your marketing spend.
Smaller organizations may benefit from creating awareness around certain promotional products 4–6 weeks in advance as a way to generate interest—especially around popular items like footwear and retail. The massive budgets of larger players can make keywords expensive, leaving small and medium businesses unable to compete for these keywords without spending their entire marketing budget with little ROI.
The same awareness and intent play can be done via email although it is more reasonable to start these campaigns 2–3 weeks out to reduce the chance of audience fatigue. Your audience will more than likely be receiving many teasers and advertisements from other companies they follow during big sale events like Black Friday and Cyber Weekend.
You’ll be fighting for attention during these times but have faith in your loyal customers to show up on the big day. Sending a teaser email to your customer base can help excite your loyal customers and ultimately increase LifeTime Value (LTV) once the sale is live.
6. Lack of Follow Through
Similar to starting too late to communicate with your audience, failing to follow up is also a major promotion blunder.
The worst case scenario occurs when a company sends out a single email expecting that one message to carry its promotion across the finish line. People are distracted and they need reminders—they certainly will not thank you if they miss out on something amazing.
With any promotion you need a minimum of three emails, but I prefer to add a couple more:
- Get ready: This is the warm up that tells your audience something cool is coming. The timeframe to send this email varies from business to business, but generally I like to send this out around two weeks before the big promo day. Do keep in mind your email metrics to tune this, especially in a very noisy niche or if your audience will likely also be getting emails from automated follow-up or nurture sequences.
- It’s almost time: It wouldn’t be wise to assume that everyone you sent the “Get ready” email to actually opened it. This email can serve as a reminder to those that did open the first email and another opportunity to reach those that did not. Aim for three days before your promotion.
- We are live: Let your prospects know it’s time to buy!
- Mid-campaign reminder: This is a great time to target those who may be hesitant to buy. You can also let folks know the final deadline is coming soon.
- Last-chance reminder: Time is running out so get your purchase made!
- Final announcement: This email can be timed to send either right before the promotion’s end or could be used to let your audience know the offer is closed after the promotion has ended. If you go with the latter, remind your audience of all the value you provide every day and share what they have to look forward to—give them a reason to stick around!
Part of the planning period should involve setting up a drip campaign with the appropriate tag and trigger actions so you can essentially set it and forget it. You should create unique audience lists and verify your product tags are populating correctly since the dynamic fields help create a personalized customer experience.
Also, be sure to check that your emails pass the Spam Check Test. You don’t want to invest all that sweat equity just to have your emails land in the abyss of the Spam Folder. Setting up your drip campaign with these steps in mind will help reduce the amount of audience fatigue and unsubscribes and ensure that customers get emails about the most relevant products to them.
7. All Or Nothing
The vast majority of your prospects are still not going to buy right when you want them to, but that doesn’t mean you should write them off! What are you going to do for the 90+ percent of your audience who don’t buy right now?
Capturing visitor information can be super beneficial down the road. Ensure your site makes attempts to capture visitor contact information including their email, phone number, and name. Offer incentives for providing that contact information in the form of discounts, special access, or freebies. Tools like OptinMonster can help you place Exit-Intent® popups, banners, and welcome mats to help boost conversions and gain new fans.
The contact information you collect during a high traffic period can convert one-time visitors into loyal customers later on. After the big event or sale is over, you’ll have a plethora of new customer and prospect data which will fuel your future email, advertising, and social campaigns. Make an effort to nurture those contacts that did not purchase during your big event and reward those loyal customers who continue to purchase from your business.
Often, it can take some trial and error before all the elements in your promotions start to gel and run like a well-oiled machine. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as planned, but do try to use these insights to learn from each campaign!
If you conduct some of the tests mentioned above and are concerned about how ready your site is for Cyber Weekend, we’d love to help put your mind at ease. WP Engine’s eCommerce plans for WooCommerce sites are a great way to get and stay prepared for any traffic that comes your way!
Our eCommerce plans have built in features like EverCache® for WooCommerce and Instant Store Search which makes WooCommerce run better during mission critical promotional events while creating and maintaining unique customer experiences while they shop. Migrating is easy and knowing that you have a hosting provider focused on your success will free you up to focus on getting the rest of your Cyber Weekend campaign elements in place.