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Beat the Heat of the Holiday Shopping Season by Testing These Ideas Now

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holiday_ideas_660x440Summer has settled into the “dog days”—the several week stretch in late July and early August characterized by high temperatures. It’s a good time to replenish your sunscreen supply, sit by the pool, and polish off some light reading. And because of this, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holiday shopping season that occurs between them. But as strange as it may seem, this is exactly the time to start planning for the high-volume shopping season.

READ MORE: 10 Takeaways From Back to School, Useful for Any Major Shopping Season

Ideally, you would be testing 12 months a year—even in the middle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But the focus of testing, obviously, will shift. While testing during the highest volume periods should focus on refining promotions, solving unexpected problems, and addressing sudden shifts in consumer behavior, testing during the rest of the year focuses on making fundamental improvements to the infrastructure and design of the site. In other words: Though it may seem distant, now is the best time to start preparing for the most important few weeks of the entire year.

To get started, considered these five test ideas: Tweet_this

1. Homepage Personalization

The buzzword of 2015 is, without a doubt, personalization. The promise is great but the reality, for many, remains a bit disappointing. Simply adjusting an experience to suit easily measured preferences, however, can yield huge results—especially when visitors return to a site repeatedly within a short period.

What to test: One test that could help refine this strategy for the holiday period involves a homepage redirect or re-skin. By bucketing returning visitors into affinity groups—men’s shoppers, women’s shoppers, etc.—it’s relatively easy to test whether tailoring the homepage promotions increase engagement with the site and eventual purchase. An even more scalable—and dramatic—approach is to bypass the homepage entirely for these visitors, redirecting them to the appropriate category. Establishing a baseline with regular customers will help prove the value of such an approach during holiday shopping seasons.

2. Site Navigation

Holiday shoppers are an interesting segment—they tend to have high motivation but limited time to make a purchase. Tweet_this To make their path to purchase smoother, it’s important to create clear and relevant navigation.

What to test: If the main navigation on your site relies on a drop-down menu, consider auto-expanding it on the first visit. This will help encourage browsing across categories while simultaneously making it easier for goal-driven shoppers to find specific categories. Try adjusting the order of categories, labels, and the level of detail in a series of tests to optimize the presentation.

3. Price Sensitivity

When you’re doing a lot of shopping in a short period, price becomes an important consideration. Price sensitivity testing can help drive business decisions any time of the year—but in the lead-up to a holiday shopping period it’s important to optimize the presentation of pricing information for those almost guaranteed to be sensitive.

What to test: What communicates a discount most clearly to your customers? Tweet_this For some, a percentage off makes the most sense. For others, it’s a dollar amount. Some shoppers like to see sale prices in red. Others like to see the original price struck out. Determining these subtle presentation details can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of promotions during the holiday periods.

4. Cart Abandonment

Shoppers use the cart to accomplish many tasks—and surprisingly few lead directly to purchase. Obviously, holiday shoppers searching for the perfect gift will be more inclined to use the shopping cart as a research tool—the challenge to transform more of this research into actual sales.

What to test: When shoppers click on the photo or title of an item in the cart, the convention is to take them to the product description page. It’s possible, however, that keeping them focused on the shopping cart could increase the propensity for conversion. Two test variations could alternately remove the linking feature from photos and product titles when in the shopping cart or open a “quick view” pop-up within the cart.

5. Checkout Flow

Once shoppers move toward checkout, they clearly have some intent to make a purchase. Still, small hurdles can divert them, inspiring them to abandon the sale and possibly never return. Removing these hurdles will be essential for improving conversions during the holiday period.

What to test: Almost every ecommerce retailer presents an option for returning customers to sign in alongside an option for guests to checkout without an account. While there is clearly value in creating user accounts, this decision-point can be confusing. This is especially true for holiday shoppers who may make several purchases within a short period but have not created an account. Testing whether a de-emphasis of the sign-in feature dramatically reduces utilization could inform designs that help improve conversion during the holiday period and beyond.

These five test ideas are just the beginning. Any adjustment to your site that makes it easier to browse, compare products, find deals, and complete a checkout could be useful before high-volume shopping periods begin. Uncovering these improvements ahead of time allows testing to focus on low risk, high reward opportunities—like specific promotions testing—during relevant periods.

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Brooks Bell helps top brands profit from A/B testing, through end-to-end testing, personalization, and optimization services. We work with clients to effectively leverage data, creating a better understanding of customer segments and leading to more relevant digital customer experiences while maximizing ROI for optimization programs. Find out more about our services.