Retailers warned of Christmas Day spike on sites

15 Dec 2008

As the last morsels of the Christmas Day dinner are consumed, online retailers have been warned to prepare for a spike in traffic, as people either redeem gift vouchers or query the value of presents they’ve received online.

“Last year we found that the second-biggest day of the year for online traffic was actually Christmas Day,” said Damian Saunders of Citrix. “It is the one day that online retailers have an advantage over high-street retailers because, increasingly, gift vouchers are a popular gift.”

But despite it being the season of goodwill, there are other factors at play too. “We have a suspicion that people are actually checking out the value of the presents they’ve received to see just how generous their friends or relatives are.

“Another factor is last-minute shopping for gift vouchers on sites such as for people who may have been inadvertently excluded by a mortified friend or relative.”

Saunders said businesses must be doing all they can to ensure their websites can handle a major spike in traffic during the third week of December, peaking around the 17th as people shop or check their order status ahead of the final days for guaranteed delivery.

“Websites that take too long to load pages, or don’t load at all, will drive shoppers elsewhere. Shoppers raised on broadband have very little patience for slow websites. And if businesses fail customers in their hour of need, then they may not return next year.”

As such, businesses need to effectively assess how their websites work, and plan for the areas that need the greatest capacity. Check-out and payment pages, for example, need to be more robust than any other part of the site.

“Losing a customer with a full shopping basket, simply because the check-out was too slow, would be unforgivable. When customers come to enter their credit-card details, they need 100pc confidence the site isn’t going to hang or fail.”

Saunders warned that missing out on Christmas sales in the current climate could even prove fatal for some hard-hit retailers.

Basically, online retailers can’t afford to risk putting their feet up, even as Santy is doing his rounds. “There are a number of spikes over Christmas that are critical in maintaining customer loyalty, one of which falls every year on Christmas Day. This is due to a combination of factors and can prove problematic,” said Saunders.

“It might not be as big as earlier spikes, but it is one that falls on a day when companies have a skeleton IT staff manning their website. The spike is due to many things, from shoppers buying gifts for people they’d forgotten, to researching how much money was spent on them via checking returns polices or buying what they really wanted.

“Then there’s the new laptop brigade, all looking to put their latest toy to the test on the web, or simply to escape online from the relatives. And even before the turkey has settled, many people will go online to start researching whose sales begin on St Stephen’s Day and which shops are open. If retailers fail to provide that information quickly and effectively, it will mean they start the January sales at a disadvantage.

Saunders advised that businesses would do well to get their planning done now. “The last thing the IT team will want is a phone call on Christmas morning when they’ve got a mince pie in their mouth,” he added.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years