What Does COVID Mean for Holiday Shopping?

A cartoon person shopping online for a holiday gift during COVID

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with David Vogelpuhl of Press This Podcast. We discussed all the effects of COVID on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other holiday shopping days. Ultimately, eCommerce is evolving with the world right now as shoppers are adapting to the convenience of online shopping.

eCommerce has Changed Since March

It usually takes many years to re-shape the way customers shop. However, in less than a year, there have been drastic changes to where and how people are shopping. This major shift in customer shopping habits has forced business to adapt. If you weren’t in the eCommerce space before, you better be now. 

In our current COVID world, customers have been encouraged to spend more time at home and that has led to an increase in online shopping. Those that eschewed online shopping because they didn’t understand how, were worried about security, or who simply preferred face-to-face interactions, found themselves unable to shop as they normally might. While customers quickly adapted to online shopping – recognizing the value and convenience – not all business owners have made the switch to eCommerce. More than ever, it is imperative that businesses move online if they want to survive. As H.G. Wells said, “Adapt, or perish”. 

Customer’s have changed their mindsets about shopping online.

Everyone knows overall shopping online has increased. In a weird way we have been saying this for years. That online shopping trends have been steadily increasing. This year though some more “holdouts” so to speak had to make the transition.  

For some of our clients at Mindsize, where we work on their curbside fulfillment platforms, their online sales basically doubled overnight. I don’t expect that to slow down for these customers or others like them. In my opinion I think these patterns are here to stay. Customers have now been trained and see the convenience online shopping offers. For some stores that still don’t offer online shopping these new behaviors are going to affect them. Even if the world suddenly returns to normal all shoppers have learned new ways of spending money.

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Three Tips to Prepare WooCommerce 

1. Simplify

eCommerce or otherwise, the first step is always to simplify things. Many of the issues my team is brought in to solve would not exist if the original builders approached the build simply. Adding features should not create complexity. On top of that, site builders should not add features just because they sound or look cool. 

A plugin may add a fun feature to the site but it doesn’t mean your audience actually needs that ability. I tell people to stop and ask – are your customers actually going to use that feature? Is it required for you to have that robust affiliate platform? 

At Mindsize we always ask: is this functionality required for your business to function? If it’s not, how does this functionality make you money? If you can’t put a dollar amount directly or indirectly to a piece of functionality on the site, then it should be questioned as to whether it needs to be  included or not. 

2. Reduce

The second step is to reduce, reduce, reduce. Offload as much as you can to other systems. This helps lean the site up so it can handle greater influxes in traffic and sales. By moving things to other systems, we create a leaner and meaner site, meaning it’s better optimized and faster. 

When we look at a site, we load the home page and see how many database queries run. We often see hundreds of queries on a single page. Go with me here – if you have 100 people on your site, each page is running hundreds of queries, your database is ultimately going to slow down. However, if we can reduce those hundreds down to less than 70, we can exponentially scale the site. 

By reducing those queries we are continuing to offload and reduce systems and increase all performance on that site. 

3. Optimize

There are many tools available to help you optimize the site by reducing and simplifying as much as possible. Free plugins, such as the Query Monitor Plugin for WordPress and the Debug Bar, are both great tools. They are easy to install and tell you how many database queries are running on a page or help you monitor performance analytics. Both are important metrics to keep your site lean and optimized. 

These are the steps Mindsize takes each and every time for our clients.

Why Mindsize Focuses on Performance and Scale

Even if a client site has a great customer experience, but is running every plugin known and only gets 100 people to the site a day, then they need to switch priorities. For one, the money they spent on all those plugins could have been used for marketing efforts. Ultimately though, it is a sign that they have overcomplicated their site to the point that it is so slow that it is actually driving customers away. 

Visitors tend to care more about speed than they do about bells-and-whistles on your site. In fact, a one-second delay can decrease your conversion rate by 7%. If your eCommerce site is doing $100,000 in business daily, that decrease in conversion means you’re potentially losing $2.5MM a year in sales – all because your site is running too slow. 

A site built with so much bloat and performance issues means customers are leaving. Our goal at Mindsize is to build sites that create conversions, not repel customers. When a site is faster, customers enjoy shopping. Plus, stores built the right way, can handle lots of traffic and sales. That is what our customers want and it is what we provide. 

This is why we focus on performance. Everything in an eCommerce site is exponential. For every site visitor there are multiple pages views, multiple add-to-cart clicks, and all that data going into the site simultaneously. The more we can reduce all those operations, the better the site runs. We just smooth out this exponential growth and allow it to grow faster with less cost for our clients. This ultimately leads to more sales for them. 

Will 2020 Black Friday and Cyber Monday be the Biggest Ever?

2020 is going to see the largest increase in online shopping ever. First, there are going to be a lot of stores that won’t open brick and mortar locations. For instance, Target will stay closed on Thanksgiving instead of starting their Black Friday deals early. 

Personally, I have family members that make shopping on these days part of their holiday tradition. Finding deals and spending time together makes the season special for them. I think the changes in shopping patterns we’ve experienced this year will be made permanent. Those same family members of mine may now see shopping in stores on those days as an inconvenience. They can still find deals and be together, but do their shopping online. 

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I think this is great news for eCommerce stores. In previous years those shoppers would go to the same stores year after year, now they may find themselves discovering new places to shop online. It doesn’t take near the effort to find new online stores as it does to drive across town. Stores will have new opportunities if they know how to market right AND if they have a website that will perform. 

Advice for Brick and Mortar Stores 

Obviously, I pay a lot of attention to commerce and eCommerce. Right now, I am seeing a lot of stores announce that they will be closed Thanksgiving Day, and some will even stay closed on Black Friday. For some, like REI, being closed on Black Friday is not new – REI has taken a stance against Black Friday shopping for years. 

However, for many retailers, this is a step in a new direction. Some retailers will stay closed as a thank you to the frontline workers stocking their shelves, some may be closed because of local government guidelines. For those that are open, many of them will face capacity restrictions and reduced hours that will have a negative impact on their sales goals. It is going to be a different and slower experience than in previous years.

There’s a possibility some stores will actually just have digital only deals online and not even offer them in the store. Overall, there is a huge push for taking all sales on those days – especially Thanksgiving – online. Stores can be “open” and still capture that revenue – revenue that may have been lost at other times of this year. There are many other reasons they should be pushing customers online as much as possible. 

For owners of brick and mortar stores who haven’t started making their plans for these cyber sales days, they need to begin building out or optimizing their eCommerce sites as soon as possible. Test site speed and do performance testing under load. Prepare as much as you possibly can ahead of time because there are always opportunities for stores, especially new ones, to fail under traffic.

Mindsize can help you ensure that your site is a lean, mean, eCommerce machine ahead of the busy holiday shopping season. Contact us if you have any questions or are interested in optimizing your site. 

Listen to my conversation about this holiday shopping season with David Vogelpuhl of Press This Podcast.