3 Holiday Website Challenges for eCommerce Stores (and How to Solve Them)

The holidays are so close we can almost see them from here—and that means your new eCommerce store should be almost ready to rock the holiday season. In our series to help your shop prepare, we’ve looked at everything from planning holiday promotions to the payment types you need to offer

Now it’s time for a final check to make sure your eCommerce store is ready to handle more customer traffic and more orders without having a holiday meltdown. 

More traffic and more orders are a good thing, but they can stress your website and order approval process during sales peaks—times when the amount of traffic and purchases on your site spikes. This can lead to technical trouble if you’re not prepared, but we’re going to help you get prepared right now.

Holiday eCommerce challenge #1: Your website slows down or crashes

In normal years, website traffic increases dramatically on sales holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and even on Thanksgiving. That may not be the case this year, as retailers like Home Depot shift to offering online deals throughout November and December. 

But if your store is having a great holiday sale, you’ve got a sought-after gift item in stock, or one of your social posts goes viral, you could run into the monthly traffic limits set by your web hosting plan. If that happens, your site could slow waaaay down. Slow page loads frustrate customers and drive them away.

Hitting your traffic limit could also cause your site to crash. This happens every holiday season, like clockwork, to some high-profile retailer. 

tweet about costco website being down during black friday holiday traffic

For example, Costco’s website was down for more than 16 hours on Thanksgiving—a near-eternity in eCommerce holiday time. Industry watchers estimate the store lost almost $11 million in sales during that time. Yikes.

The solution: Check and maybe upgrade your hosting plan

Smaller store outages don’t make headlines, but they do cause trouble. How can you avoid this? Check your hosting plan now to see if you have monthly traffic limits and find out if you can scale up your traffic capacity in real time. 

If you’re stuck with a hard limit and you think you may hit it during the holidays, now’s the time to upgrade your hosting for more bandwidth—ideally to a plan that scales with your traffic, so you always have what you need and only pay for the extra capacity you use.

Find more ways to protect your store from slow load times and crashes in this post. 

Holiday eCommerce challenge #2: Sold-out items look like they’re in stock

If you’ve shopped for any basics online this year, like hand sanitizer, canned beans and paper towels, you probably know just how frustrating it is to find what you’re looking for, add it to your cart and order it—only to learn after that the product was actually out of stock

This is a quick way to tick off your customers, and it seems like it should be easy to prevent. After all, your stock tracking software should show you exactly what’s in stock, right? 

Maybe. If you only have one online store and you don’t sell anywhere else—through marketplaces like Amazon, through social media posts or in a physical store—your eCommerce platform’s basic inventory management tools should have you covered.

However, if you sell through any channel in addition to your website, you probably need more powerful stock tracking tools. That’s because if you sell your last handmade soap gift basket on Etsy just as someone on your website is adding it to their cart, someone’s going to be disappointed, unless you have a way to track your inventory across all your platforms and update that in-cart item to out of stock. (And no, manually updating stock levels is not a workable solution, especially during the holiday rush.)

If you rely on drop shippers to fulfill your orders, you also need stepped-up inventory management that factors in their stock levels. As Magento’s Inventory Management Guide shows, things can get complicated fast if you have more than one source and one sales channel.

inventory management chart for multiple channels and retailers

The solution: Sync your stock with a plugin for your eCommerce platform

When your stock is synced in across all your sources and stores, you’re less likely to disappoint a customer with an after-purchase out-of-stock notification. 

The exact inventory management tools you need will depend on how complex your setup is, the eCommerce platform you use, and your budget for inventory management. If your store uses Magento (Open Source or Commerce v2.3), the built-in inventory management tools can help you track stock from multiple sources through more than one website.

A couple of plugins to consider if you have more than one stores running on WordPress are:

Holiday eCommerce challenge #3: Blocking malicious hackers and thieves

No store owner wants their holiday joy wrecked by a ransomware attack, data breach or payment fraud. So, your final step before the holidays is to make sure your site and your checkout are secure. 

The solution: Level up your site security and fraud prevention

Use our site security checklist to see how you can protect your online shop from hackers, bad bots and fraudsters. And be sure to review our post on how to ace fraud prevention during your store’s first holiday season. Because order approval can become a bottleneck during sales peaks, now is a good time to think about outsourcing some or all of your fraud prevention activities during the holiday season.

Solve eCommerce website challenges before they happen this holiday season

Feeling festive and fully prepared for holiday shoppers? Great!

In our next (and final) post in this series, we’ll show you how to do a post-holiday review so you can see what worked, what could have done better and how to use that information to plan an even better holiday season next year. 

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention