Here’s a quick breakdown of the ideal timeline for peak that will prepare you for success and fewer headaches when peak comes around:
Strategy (July): Identify your biggest areas for improvement
Optimization (July - September): Optimize peak-focused initiatives
Pre-Peak (October - Mid-November): Only minor updates & tweaks now
Peak (Mid-November - January): Freeze all code (frozen enough for hell to freeze over)
If 50%+ of your sales are going to come from two months, it’s okay to focus half the year building up for success. Well, it’s more than okay—it’s downright necessary to maintain your brand experiences that people love and expect to evolve every year.
Let’s break it down by the key areas.
Strategy absolutely should be as early as possible with July being an ideal time to get the game plan started and set it in motion.
Here’s the secret: focus—the companies who come up on top are focused on improving a few key areas. We recommend focusing on initiatives that are almost always surefire ways to improve conversion.
Improve Site Speed. You can’t afford to run a slow site on Black Friday. Do a virtual site speed test across your site on multiple devices, connection speeds, and locations (you can use GA to find most visited devices and locations). The point is to empathize with what your users will go through when they are looking to buy. What are the results? Would you wait that long?
The next step is to map out what you need to fix. This may require assessing plugins and code and determining if there is anything negatively impacting site speed.
Optimize Landing Pages. Are your existing ones still relevant? Are your landing pages consistent with your most important campaigns? Changing dates isn’t what we’re talking about here.
The best bang for your buck will depend on your audience but again, the key is to focus. You could improve design, messaging, speed, form fields, and so on. Create with purpose based on the hypothesis of what you expect to lead to the highest improvement of conversions.
Bolster Data Collection. Spending three months to improve something that users won’t see? Well, this year they might not see it. But next year and every year after, they’ll be thankful for what you did.
If you’re not sure what you should be testing or improving on your landing pages, then this is the exact area you should put the most time in. Our preferred choice is to configure Google Analytics to capture more custom events which will better explain user behavior. You’ll be able to look at your data post-peak and understand what contributed to the success and the biggest areas of improvement for next year.
Optimization (July - September)
By mid-July or late-July (at the latest), you have your areas of focus and your project plan in place. Now it’s all about execution.
Besides your conversion-focused optimization tactics, consider these areas to work on during this time:
Ensure your 3pl provider is ready for peak demand. Have contingency plans in place. Simplify shipping policies and make sure customers are informed on delivery dates (e.g. will it arrive by Christmas?)
Get live chat running, staffed for peak and fully vetted. Customers expect quick and courteous responses and their patience gets shorter every year. Don’t wait for peak to test out the full capabilities of what’s under the hood and if your drivers can handle it.
Pre-Peak (October - Mid-November)
October 1st is a special day, or at least it should be. Get it on the calendar as the last day for any major release or feature.
The rest of the month and half of November can be used for small iterations that are well thought out, completely analyzed by QA, and absolutely necessary to have a productive peak.
Peak (Mid-November - January)
This is where your code freeze, that started during the pre-peak season, solidifies like a glacier during winter (ignore climate change in this analogy).
You shouldn’t be making any changes. But if you are, then stick within this critical bumper lane: Don’t Experiment with UI Changes. Just don’t do it. You and your team are not thinking straight during peak because of stress to have everything up and running. UI is complex and a small oversight can lead to big losses either in sales or time wasted trying to fix something else that broke as a result.
There is a difference between moving quickly and rushing. Take your time to make this peak season count by distilling what you want to accomplish and then executing.