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Considerations for Handling Increased Traffic and Changing Consumer Preferences this Holiday Season

Online shopping has grown year-after-year while becoming an increasingly important portion of total Q4 retail sales. Last Cyber Monday online spending in the U.S. alone exceeded $1.4 billion while the share of Black Friday sales occurring online has increased from 3.5 to nearly 7 percent since 2005. Online and multichannel merchants must make many preparations for the holiday sales rush in terms of being able to meet customer expectations, keeping their sites and mobile apps functioning properly, and defending against fraud and attacks.

When it comes to meeting customer expectations, this is on several different fronts. On the one hand this means having the types of products and inventory to meet consumer demand, but this also means being able to offer the payment methods consumers want to use and being able to support sales in the channels they want to use. A trend expected to carry over from last year is that more consumers want to be able to shop from their mobile devices, which means merchants need to have a mobile optimized version of their website, a mobile app or both, as well as optimized ways of taking payments via the mobile channel. According to the mobile commerce service provider Branding Brand, 21 percent of eCommerce traffic during the 2012 holiday season came from smartphones while an additional 12 percent was from tablets. They also found that visits to m-commerce websites more than doubled in 2012 from 2011 while sales on mobile sites grew 171 percent. Merchants will want to offer mobile optimized sites and apps to offer a better mobile experience and encourage more purchases, but it is also important to offer payment methods or features that make submitting payment information from a mobile device as easy and convenient as possible, such as using stored billing and shipping information or a feature like Facebook’s Autofill if possible.

For both traditional eCommerce and mobile optimized websites, merchants need to ensure the pages can function properly. This includes being able to handle the increased volume as well as making sure pages load quickly for both computers and mobile devices. The National Retail Federation estimated that nearly 140 million consumers shopped eCommerce sites over the four days from Thanksgiving to the following Sunday in 2012. Keep in mind this excludes Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day of the year. Organizations need to ensure they can handle the increased traffic over these times of peak volume or otherwise risk missing out on potential sales. This can include reviewing seasonal forecasts to ensure sites will be able to meet the bandwidth and capacity needs, and possibly renting additional servers.

Not only must web pages be able to handle the increased traffic and function properly, but pages must load quickly as well. Consumers have high expectations when it comes to the time it should take for web pages to load, and not meeting these expectations can result in the consumer shopping with a competitor. According to recent poll from Harris Interactive, 44 percent of online shoppers would cancel their transaction during the checkout process due to website delays.

Not only should organizations ensure the web pages can handle the increased traffic, they need to be sure they are prepared to deal with any cyber-attacks. A technique used by fraudsters is to coordinate DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks to overload servers and divert attention while attempting fraudulent transactions. Organizations need to be ready to handle these types of attacks as well as an overall increase in fraud attempts. Most merchants hire seasonal help to take on the increased number of transactions that require manual review. In addition to more review agents, there are a handful of fraud prevention tools and services that can be implemented quickly and improve manual review efficiency. Also, seasonal hires can be brought up to speed more quickly with the eCommerce Fraud Agent training and certification program, intended for personnel who will be performing manual reviews.

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