Website Code Freeze: Why It’s Bad For Future eCommerce [Holiday 2020]
Here come the holidays again–the last chance for merchants to maximize revenue and close the year out strong. But are you really doing all you can to ensure your shoppers get the absolute best experience your site has to offer?
If you’re not constantly testing and experimenting throughout the year, even during the holidays, chances are you’re missing out on massive revenue opportunities for your business throughout this critical period.
The eCommerce landscape is changing rapidly, and with it, what we believe to be true about optimization – this includes testing during the holidays. Much of the risk merchants attribute to this practice doesn’t come from experimentation itself, but from the methods we have used in the past (and in many cases, continue to use).
“A major mistake brands make is letting a code freeze stop their progress.” – Jon MacDonald, Founder & President of The Good
Fortunately, we now have smarter ways to improve the customer experience for the individual user, and the ability to learn what works best for our eCommerce at an exponentially faster rate than ever before.
Last year, we uncovered some insights (which you’ll learn more about in this blog series) during 2019’s round of holiday testing which created new revenue growth for merchants. This year, we’re back to learn even more and access untapped merchant growth through smarter holiday RPV optimization, risk-free.
Why Holiday Optimization is Important
Shying away from testing and optimization during the holidays has been standard practice for years, but it may finally be time to embrace a fresh approach.
The holiday season, specifically the months of November and December in the US and other Westernized nations, is a crucial time for online merchants who sell consumer-type goods. As the world continues to shift into the digital age, we have seen trends that consistently suggest that online consumer spending is on a trajectory of growth with no signs of slowing down.
According to projections compiled by Internet Retailer, U.S. shoppers spent almost $120 billion with online retailers during the two-month holiday period of 2018, which was about 15.5% more than the almost $104 billion estimated to have been spent during the same period of 2017. This growth in eCommerce volume dwarfs the growth of overall retail sales, up by only about 5.5% from $682 billion in 2017 to $719 billion in 2018.
As a share of total retail spending, eCommerce grew by almost 10%, increasing from approximately 15.2% of all spending in 2017 to about 16.7% in 2018. This suggests what we may already intuitively know: shoppers are spending more and more of their holiday dollars online, year over year. For many companies that do business online, the greatest opportunities for high-volume sales will occur during this holiday period.
Challenge the Status Quo
Merchants with retail-centric offerings choose to place all bets on stability and historical success during peak trading times. This is done through what is commonly referred to as a “code freeze”, where businesses will lock in their site’s User Experience (UX) weeks before holiday traffic starts to pick up, blocking any but the most pressing code changes to their site until the traffic dies down in the early New Year.
There have been many good reasons for merchants to do this over the years: regardless of whether the merchant performs testing and optimization on their site outside of the holidays, there are not many obvious indicators suggesting that visitors will desire anything other than the baseline UX during their holiday shopping endeavors.
Most merchants see a lift in overall revenue and traffic during the holidays anyway, and eCommerce teams have little incentive to rock the boat during this crucial trading period, so the “code freeze” strategy has become a widely-accepted status quo for many holiday-sensitive businesses.
Even for the merchants who understand the value of continuous testing and optimization outside of the holidays, the prospect of navigating the high standards of performance with traditional solutions to try a handful of ideas (that may or may not generate additional holiday revenue) is risky at best. With insufficient tools and little external pressure to change, it has been too easy for merchants or service providers to accept the status quo and lock in for the holiday season using the same strategies deployed during the rest of the year.
Understand Customer Behaviors
There’s a very glaring gap in the logic of the status quo approach: we already know that visitor behaviors and preferences can, and often do, shift significantly over time.
Some shifts in preference are very easily measurable, like the gradual shift of time spent on mobile devices that is further and further dwarfing time spent on desktop. It’s a well-established trend, measurable over the long-term, that many industry professionals have also witnessed. A significant challenge, up to this point, has been to uncover more of the short-term shifts in consumer behavior that we may intuitively know to exist.
Right now, every wk is #cyberweek in #ecommerce & #retail is reacting w/ a pseudo Q4 code freeze. But the thaw has begun – innovators want #futureproofing for a world after #COVID19, where ecommerce has leapfrogged to 2025 levels. My thoughts on @Forbes: https://t.co/xzzFNs1pqd pic.twitter.com/k5CfpPs5CI
— Indranil (Indy) Guha (@indyguha) May 28, 2020
Are shoppers less sensitive to distractions during holiday periods? Are shipping and fulfillment increasingly important to them as they make the decision to purchase a product on one site, or another, or not at all? As with any other advancements in human learning, we are now in a position to evolve our methods for testing and optimization, as the tools available at our fingertips have also improved.
Old Problems, New Solutions
Through standardized experiments and a quick-deployment infrastructure, HiConversion has unlocked the ability to uncover findings at a more advanced level.
We’ve been able to leverage data from hundreds of merchants to discover both positive and negative trends on geographical, industry-wide, season-specific, or even community-wide levels.
With these robust advancements in the data and methods we use to analyze, the potential value of applying industry benchmarking to our testing approach, specifically during the holidays, becomes too good to pass up.
We’ll explore this more in the next article of this series.