Business Strategy

How retailers should prepare for online holiday sales

It’s the holiday season and the busiest time of the year for most retailers. For many businesses, this means carefully scheduling employees based on the highest traffic hours to keep shoppers happy and building tempting product displays with the most popular items. As consumers change their buying habits from in-store shopping to online buying, it’s important to remember the role your online store plays in holiday sales.

The first step to assessing your e-commerce site is to have Google Analytics set up. That will track your shoppers’ behavior and allow you to find strengths and weaknesses. If you’re just now setting up analytics, you’ll need to let traffic flow for a while to gather data before making any assessments.

Once your analytics are in place, it’s time to measure the effectiveness of your site in these four areas.


A conversion happens when a visitor completes a desired action on your site, such as completing checkout. Smaller conversions can certainly include things such as putting items in a cart or signing up for an account, but let’s focus on buying right now.

  • How many carts with items actually complete checkout?
  • What items are the best indicators of the shopper making a purchase?
  • Where in the checkout process does cart abandonment happen?
  • How many abandoned carts have shoppers return later to complete a purchase?

Based on your answers to those questions, you can discover where you need to focus your energy to drive more sales. Some products you’ll find pretty much sell themselves, and others will require more work. Look for trends to understand why your shoppers don’t decide to checkout and ways to overcome it. If conversions drop off after shipping is calculated, perhaps you need to be more transparent upfront about shipping charges. If people are more likely to checkout with an item on sale – but not clearance – in their cart, focus on ways to get shoppers to pick up a sale item.


Direct traffic is anyone who types your URL directly into the address bar, while referrals come to your site through a link from another page. Just knowing where traffic comes from is only half of the information, though.

  • What referral source has the most conversions?
  • What referral source routinely causes cart abandonments?
  • What referral source leads to the highest priced conversions?

These referrals give you great information about where to spend your advertising dollars. If you see that visitors who arrive from Facebook rarely buy but visitors from Pinterest enthusiastically buy, you’re likely to see a better return on a Pinterest ad campaign. It can also help you review and improve how your business is portrayed on third party sites by finding the referral sources that cause bounces (visitors immediately leaving your site upon arriving) or cart abandonments.


Along with knowing what visitors are doing on your site, it’s important to know how long they’re there.

  • How long do visitors spend on your site before checking out?
  • How long do shoppers look at an item before adding it to the cart?
  • How long do visitors view an item before navigating to a new item without putting it in the cart?
  • How many times does a visitor have to come to your site before they buy?

Try not to silo the answers to these questions because there are many variables that can explain time spent on a page. Extremely brief pageviews can be from a visitor searching for an exact item they need and can become a fast conversion, but short visits on pages can also indicate that a shopper wasn’t interested. It requires combining information on conversions with time spent to arrive at the correct conclusion. Pages that shoppers navigate away from rapidly are worth studying for opportunities for improvement.


The flow of your site refers to how shoppers move from page to page. It looks at the entry page, pages visited in a session, and the exit page. These tell a story about how the visitor experienced your site and can highlight pain points.

  • What pages see the highest number of visitors?
  • What pages have the shortest average view time?
  • What pages are frequently the last page visitors view?
  • What entry pages are more likely to result in a conversion?

Combine your referral data with your site flow for an even better analysis of what is going through your shoppers’ minds. Pages that frequently cause visitors to exit your site should be considered for revision. Pages that garner longer viewing likely have content that is highly desirable to visitors. Promote popular pages to bring in new traffic and drive sales.

So, now what?

Now that you have data, analyze it. Find trends. Make marketing decisions based on it.

If all of this sounds overwhelming, we can help. We are big believers in making data-driven decisions, and we would love to help you improve your company’s e-commerce solution. Drop us a note!

By Emily Hart