It’s that time of year again, the holidays are upon us. For many, it’s a time of joy and excess cooking eating, but for those of us in the ecommerce and retail world, we know it’s crunch time. The sales are on, the code must be in check, and when the floodgates open everything needs to be working perfectly. In most cases, there are always going to be little tweaks and changes that you wish made it to the site before the holiday season officially opens, but is it worth the risk?
To get a better understanding of the state of code freezes, and what, if any changes can be made during this time, we interviewed our Director of Client Success, Dan Forno, to get some insight from him and his experience working with our clients.
Meet Dan Forno, Blue Acorn iCi’s Director of Client Success
Dan Forno is Blue Acorn iCi’s Director of Client Success and has more than 16 years of experience building and operating custom D2C and B2B ecommerce solutions. Across that time Forno has worked with brands such as Coca-Cola, S.C. Johnson, KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Casio, YETI, Pepsi Co/Frito Lay, Clif Bar, and more.
Forno specializes in Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) and Magento, with a focus on delivering world-class consumer experiences across all screens and from any location.
Interview: The Happenings During a Code Freeze
As the holidays rapidly approach, many brands are preparing their sites for a code freeze. In an effort to better understand what can and can’t be done during this period, we spoke to Dan about his experience in this particular area.
Q: Let’s start simple: how would you define a code freeze?
A: A code freeze would be locking down the core code of the site including integrations, functionality, improvements, and even bug fixes. This is usually done during times when you’d expect high traffic.
Q: Leading up to a code freeze, how do brands typically ensure their site is working in the best possible way before locking it in?
A: What you want to do is test all of your shipping methods, discounting/promotions, reporting, and then run some load testing. Some do this via marketing, some via third-party load testing options.
Test your site to ensure that everything that needs to work properly during the period is working as it should now, especially pricing, inventory, integrations, and shipping methods. You don’t want to be touching any of that during a code freeze.
Q: Are code freezes necessary, and to what extent should they be enacted?
A: Yes, it is absolutely 100 percent necessary. It’s a time for brands and retailers to focus on their customers, and it’s a time when a small minor update to the site will not add a lot of value, but can take down the site and cause a significant loss of revenue and the trust of the customer.
It’s risky for almost any project you could be working on to implement during this time. Additionally, if you self-distribute, you don’t want to change any of your systems that could impact delivery. Even internal processes shouldn’t be changed during this window. You don’t want to change or add new internal processes as you are going into code freezes due to their untested nature. Brand and retailers are typically increasing staffing levels across all centers and distribution centers and implementing new systems or processes at the same time can cause major failures. , It’s a great time to shift your focus to the customer experience and to open a dialogue with the customers as well.
Q: Code changes are out, what about testing?
A: If you have site testing software in place, it’s a great time to use it. For example, if you have an A/B testing solution you can leverage it to make rapid front end changes to the site without touching the code.
When it comes to segmentation, you’ll already have a list of customers that buy every year or so (B2C as well as potentially B2B customers), so talk to them well in advance. Remind them that you’re here, and ask for their business back.
Incentivizing works well, too, and can result in a lot of volume. During the holidays you’ll likely see higher conversion rates, but you can increase this even more through incentives and testing your messaging. Whether they are a first time buyer and you’re offering a discount on their next purchase or a free gift with purchase, these kinds of promotions help to meet or exceed your goals.
And if you have the ability to user test, have actual customers go through your site and provide feedback.
Thanks to tag management solutions you can make changes without the need for deployments.
Q: Are there any downsides to code freezes?
A: You lose velocity and forward momentum on projects that you’ve been working on, and there is the potential for them to get dropped by the time the freeze is unlocked.
Q: What kind of changes or additions are still ideal during a code freeze?
A: UX, definitely, and content updates, too. Content should be planned well in advance and scheduled for production without the need to scramble.Don’t forget about merchandising, and ensure you have enough inventory on hand leading up to Cyber Monday/Black Friday, and enough to carry you through the holidays.
Q: If a code freeze is in place, when should new changes roll out that were being worked on in the background?
A: It all comes down to traffic and volume of the site. Your site will be stress-tested in new ways, and you’ll likely identify new issues. During a code freeze you should be putting together projects that could address the issues identified. At the same time, schedule projects/sprints that can be worked on going alongside those, and implement them as soon as the freeze lifts. Do this based on priority but continuously review priority during the freeze itself
Q: Any suggestions on testing ideas while a code freeze is in place?
A: The biggest thing to consider is that these are not your everyday customers. In most cases, they are gift customers shopping for others. If your personalization is based on products that people buy for themselves, you’ll probably need to change it. Whether it’s gift guides, wish lists, shipping messaging around expected delivery dates, you should turn the entire personalization plan into a gift oriented one. Most of the customers during this time want to know what’s the least expensive option with guaranteed delivery for the holidays, and if they can get it gift wrapped. Also, make sure to call out your return policy.
Overall if you get it right and craft an experience that is enjoyable, easy to use and delivers on it’s promises you will have an easier time engaging that customer again next year.
Looking for more? We released our holiday checklist to ensure your tech and team are ready to roll before you lock down your code. Download here.