Is Your Website Ready for Cyber Monday?

Is Your Website Ready for Cyber Monday?
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Exactly one month from today is Cyber Monday, a holiday tradition when tech geeks, fashionistas and savvy moms revel in getting fast online deals while avoiding the work that piled up over the Thanksgiving holiday. For any ecommerce business, Cyber Monday is an opportunity you can't afford to botch. Online research firm comScore reports that $1.25 billion was spent during Cyber Monday last year.

Is your website ready for Cyber Monday? This checklist can help you find out.

1. Audit: Take a hard look at your site and ask: What is the user experience like? Is it on brand? How fresh is its content? How does the site stack up to others in your category?

You also need to consider how your site looks on mobile devices. Four of every five smartphone users -- 85.9 million people -- accessed retail content on their device in July 2012, according to comScore's Mobile Metrix 2.0 service. Every online e-commerce platform should be optimized for mobile users.

2. Analytics: Have you embedded Google Analytics code on every page? Do you know where people come from, how long they stay, what they buy and if they buy again?

The right product mix is always important, but never more so than on Cyber Monday. Real-time analysis can help you win the e-business war. If you aren't using Google Analytics, you should start immediately. The standard version of the service is free.

Related: PayPal Lets Small-Merchant Shoppers Buy Now, Pay Later

3. Traffic capacity: Being ready to handle traffic spikes is as important as driving consumers to your site. If potential shoppers have a bad online experience, you've probably lost them forever. And what's worse, an unhappy customer can have a devastating impact on your brand in the social media world.

To handle overflow without making expensive investments in IT infrastructure, consider cloud services, such as Google Compute Engine or Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. They can provide extra computation power to handle whatever traffic comes your way. The Google Compute Engine offers four different hourly models and rates. Amazon EC2 has a pay-as-you-go pricing model.

4. Traffic generation: With your website optimized and a plan in place to handle extra traffic, you need to start attracting buyers. Look at new co-op models for business that use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as a way to drive traffic. Amex Sync, for instance, enables American Express card members to sync their eligible card with Twitter. When they tweet using special hash tags, savings are loaded directly to their synced cards -- no coupons or printouts needed. When card members use their synced card for purchases online or in-store, the savings are automatically delivered via a statement credit within days.

5. Conversation: From tweens to moms, consumers are online telling us what they want to buy. All you need is a way to monitor the conversation. Fortunately, new tools such as Radian6 allow you to monitor conversations, see what's spiking on a daily basis and decide whether to respond. Radian6's pricing starts at $5,000 a month. While Radian6 is used by many communication teams at Fortune 500 firms, a small business with more limited resources can monitor hashtag trends on Twitter.

6. Pricing: Think of it this way: a mother out shopping with her cell phone is with the savviest bargain-hunting friend she has ever had. More shoppers than ever will comparison shop via their mobile device with price comparison apps. First, make sure your prices are clearly displayed. Second, make sure your pricing is competitive.

Related: 5 Ways to Turn Your Website into a Sales Machine

7. Promotion: To persuade people to visit your site, consider offering an incentive that's relevant and highly targeted -- and promote it through social media. Last year, for instance, Wal-Mart gave consumers a chance to buy Cyber Monday sale items a day early. Shipping incentives are popular with many shoppers. According to a recent study in the Journal of Marketing, free return shipping offers can increase online purchases by 357 percent. 

8. Service: What improvements are you making to customer service? Do you have online reps ready to quickly answer questions? Browse through J.Crew's website, for instance, and see how quickly and accurately a "click-to-chat" option pops up. LiveChat has a pro click-to-chat service that starts at $249 a month, while prices at another service called WhosOn start at $39 a month.

9. Loyalty: Your returning customers deserve rewards for their loyalty. And your website should reward them not only for their past purchases but also for their potential future value. What is your policy for preferred customers? Can you offer them a preview sale with a loyalists-only promotional code?

10. Connection: How do you stay in touch with consumers throughout the year? Start by listing all the contact points you have with them: online, in-store, email, traditional CRM (customer relationship management). Then, test to see which customer communication approaches work best for your business and invest accordingly.

You should have data storage capabilities via the cloud to capture customer data and a plan in place for using that data for email marketing and other communications. Cyber Monday will be a prime opportunity to build your database of customers you will talk to throughout the year.

Related: One Ecommerce Tool Makes Doing Business Internationally Easier

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