Any retailer will tell you the year-end holiday season is crunch time, with sky-high stakes.

For e-commerce retailers, daily revenues during this season are often 50 to 100 percent greater than in non-holiday periods, with the weeks from Black Friday to Christmas accounting for about 20 percent of annual sales on average, and up to 24 percent for apparel, accessories, computers and electronics.

Whenever your peak season is, you probably plan for your high-volume seasons by optimizing customer journeys and stress-testing your site, then following up after the season with deep analyses.

Aim for Site Stability

But during peak sales times, what’s most important is to keep your virtual registers ringing. During this time, it’s absolutely critical that nothing interferes with your customers’ seamless progress through your site - both on desktop and mobile.

In preparation for the holiday season, the objective is to make your e-commerce business as stable as possible. Any known issues should obviously be fixed ahead of the peak season and tested rigorously so that every transaction for your customers will be frictionless.

To achieve this, major online retailers often introduce a “code freeze,” a period during which no new non-essential code changes are introduced. One of my clients explained it this way: “stability is our plan right now.” This is a very critical time to introduce changes.

How To Run Your Holiday Situation Room

1. If you don’t already have a holiday situation room, get one now

Many e-commerce retailers deploy situation rooms during this busy season to catch any technology issues and ensure that sites keep operating at peak performance throughout the holidays. But forward-thinking businesses know that monitoring the customer experience is just as essential, both to keep customers buying and to raise red flags on hard-to-notice technical issues.

Using an experience analytics solution in your situation room enables you to rapidly detect, diagnose and address any issues interfering with conversion. Moreover, it often provides the hard data for making those tough decisions during crunch time, such as whether something needs immediate repair, even if it means overriding a holiday code freeze.

2. Grasp the significance of customer feedback when it’s still just a whisper

In the situation room, using a Voice of Customer solution — where visitors can provide feedback — is critical. But how can you tell whether a complaint is coming from a one-time occurrence for one user, or if it’s something that’s happening to 10 percent of all your visitors?

During peak seasons, waiting for feedback patterns to emerge puts sales at risk until they do. Precious hours tick by before important complaints coalesce into a pattern, and much more time before the trigger, root cause, scope and remedy for the issue can be determined.

By viewing the behavior that’s led customers to provide feedback, you can quickly determine what they were trying to do when things went awry. Anonymous session replays are a great tool to diagnose the source of the problem, the circumstances in which it occurred, and finally, to quantify its impact. Within a short time, you’ll be able to determine the gravity of the issues raised by the feedback, and craft a suitable response.

3. Discover what’s causing analytics red flags

Imagine it’s just past midnight on Cyber Monday and you’re manning the situation room of a huge online retailer. Sales seem to be humming along, when suddenly your analytics tool indicates a drop in conversions and an increase in abandonment from specific product details pages.

Straightforward analytics won’t provide insight into why the drop is happening, or how extensive the issue may be — it will simply show that there is a drop.

Yet imagine being able to separate out a segment of your customers based on an event or behavior – in this case, customers who drop off the site after pausing on a product page. Your experience analytics solution could determine what distinguishes this segment from other visitors, giving granular details into the customer journey and anything that led it off-track.

Learning Opportunities

For example, in one specific case that I came across, a retailer discovered that the “Add to Cart” button on a number of product pages, in specific situations, had vanished.

Visitors were baffled, with the session replays showing them scrolling and clicking, with unsuccessful efforts to purchase. Many left the site altogether without purchasing the items they wanted.

Fortunately, some of the visitors left feedback for the retailer via the Voice of Customer button, which flagged the issue, and then they were able to determine the source of the problem by watching session replays of the visitors’ actual experience. Once the retailer’s situation room picked up on the problem it was able to resolve the issue quickly.

4. Does a code freeze make sense?

As I mentioned, a code freeze is a period of time in which no code can be edited or modified. Typically imposed during high-pressure, promotional periods starting with Thanksgiving weekend, it’s designed to prevent unanticipated glitches associated with new code.

While no e-commerce site wants code that interferes with or prevents customers from purchasing, sometimes a quick decision may have to be made to override a code freeze.

In my work as a customer experience consultant, I once had a situation where our client wanted to understand the magnitude of how often a particular event — in this case a call-to-action button that wasn’t working — was occurring.

With experience analytics, I could see that this problem was occurring hundreds of times. We were able to show the financial impact associated with the particular event, which was significant, and the client was able to remedy the situation swiftly, in this case by making a change in the code.

By tracking the details of every instance in which an error occurs, retailers can calculate the precise sums that are left on the table due to each error.

Equally important, IT can quickly and accurately identify root causes of problems, based on precise triggers revealed in actual customer journeys. Hard data about the frequency and costs of site issues enables retailers to carefully weigh benefits of correcting serious issues against the risks of overriding holiday code freeze.

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