By Amanda Bayane

For many online merchants, end-of-year holiday sales are a make-or-break period for their bottom line when they generate the lion’s share of their profits. Last year, e-commerce sales rose nearly 10 percent, and many analysts are expecting similar growth rates for the shopping season right around the corner.

For savvy online merchants, now is the time to gear up for the holiday sales season. Many of these retailers have already planned their merchandising strategies and ordered new inventory to meet rising demand. But it’s also vitally important that their websites can drive sales and manage the holiday rush.

Here are three tips that can help you prepare for the holiday season.

  1. Make sure your hosting plan can handle the holiday traffic spike. Do you have sufficient bandwidth to handle holiday shopping? Now is a great time to look at your web hosting infrastructure and evaluate past usage patterns. Insufficient bandwidth can slow down operations, leading to lost sales. If your hosting plan has strict bandwidth limits, you can get hit with significant overage charges, or worse yet, have your site go down altogether. If there’s any question about whether your plan can handle the increased traffic, talk to your hosting provider. Find out the options available to you, and look for a plan that maximizes flexibility.
  2. Review your PCI compliance status. Customer data theft has been in the news all year, starting with the Target hacking incident during last year’s holiday season, and continuing with Home Depot’s recent customer data vulnerability. Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards are updated periodically to ensure online merchants – and others who handle sensitive information – are protecting consumer data. New PCI standards were released late last year. Now is a good time to make sure you’re using the latest best practices for handling consumer information. If you’re unsure, contact your hosting provider to find out more. Some hosting companies provide comprehensive security solutions, which can increase peace of mind – for you and your customers.
  3. Make sure holiday shoppers can find your site. As experienced online retailers know, search engine optimization takes time, so don’t wait until December 1. It’s a good idea to carefully plan your holiday site optimization strategy as part of your overall promotions plan. Think about adding a holiday touch to your website, like seasonal graphics. Design your email marketing strategy, and create a calendar so you can launch each element in an organized fashion. Consider creating a holiday sales splash page. Improve the overall customer experience by providing a way for site visitors to view item stock levels. These measures and others designed to improve usability and visibility can make your site more shopper-friendly.

The holiday shopping season will be here before you know it. That’s why it makes sense to take an in-depth look at your site now to make sure it will be able to handle the load. Consumers won’t shop at your site if they’re worried about identity theft, so make sure you’re using best practices and complying with PCI standards. And you can’t reach your sales goals if potential customers don’t find you, so ensure you’ve optimized your site for holiday shoppers before the rush arrives. By following these tips, you can outperform industry projections and have the merriest holiday sales season ever.

Amanda Bayane is the marketing communications director at Hostway Services, Inc.