The holidays are an important time of year for online merchants. Not only is it the bread-and-butter time of year for retailers, but online merchants saw a double digit gain last year.

The increase in web traffic means merchants must put their best foot forward when it comes to meeting consumer expectations. At the busiest time of year, this can be a tall order.

Let’s look at the different areas where online retailers have to be on point for consumers and break down best practices along with tips and tricks to wow customers.

Buying Experience

Online customers expect an easy, streamlined, and frictionless online purchasing experience. Online merchants need to take care to ensure that the flow of their website accommodates this – from browsing to using a shopping cart to checking out and paying.

When a customer arrives at the point of checkout when shopping online, they expect to be able to quickly pay for and receive confirmation of their purchase. Merchants can deliver on this by pre-filling forms where possible (IP geolocation and intelligent forms can pre-fill the user’s country and other demographic information), including a checkout progress bar at the top of the screen, and not requiring registration to complete a purchase.

As for payments, online merchants should offer as many options as possible. Offering major card brands are table stakes, but options should also include alternatives like PayPal. In some cases where merchants have a large number of international customers, they should consider multi-currency options and implement the appropriate currency conversion.

Customer Service

Open communication channels are key. During the busy holidays, online merchants need to be sure they’re properly staffed to handle the influx of consumer questions, concerns, and complaints. This is especially true because online merchants do not have the benefit of interacting face-to-face with consumers.

Return, exchange and refund policies should be clearly communicated and easy-to-find on the website. Customer service numbers, email addresses and forms should be, too. To go one step further, online merchants should reevaluate customer service scripts and prompts used by their reps and phone systems to ensure they are up-to-date with correct information, clear, and easy to understand.

Customer service can make or break a brand, especially during the holiday rush when tensions are high and consumers are on a mission to get what they need. Not having enough people or the right protocols in place can permanently damage brand reputation and trust with consumers. It also makes for increase chargebacks.


Fraud is the grinch that threatens to steal Christmas every year. As card-not-present fraud continues to rise, online merchants must implement the right combination of fraud tools to prevent bad actors from taking a bite out of the bottom line. In the wake of major breaches like Equifax, there is more stolen card data floating around than ever. Online merchants should be utilizing CVV2, AVS, and multifactor authentication tools to verify that the person attempting to purchase matches the cardholder.

Working with a PCI-compliant gateway provider can also safeguard the payment processing cycle from nefarious characters looking for easy targets. Paired with customized fraud tools, merchants can rest easy that their sensitive payment data is secure.

The other threat that exists is friendly fraud. If online merchants take care to optimize customer service, they can cut down on instances of friendly fraud, where a customer decides the easiest route to get a refund is to contact their issuing bank rather than the merchant. When a customer has many tools to get in touch with a brand and the customer service reps are well-trained and equipped to handle customer disputes, everyone wins.

It is much easier to work through disputes directly with a customer to find a reasonable solution for all parties than it is to deal with a chargeback after the fact. In addition to costing merchants fines and fees, it also diverts resources away from the core business and maximizing sales during the holiday rush.

Worst case scenarios can land online merchants in hot water. Too many chargebacks can get a merchant placed on a monitoring program by the card brands, costing additional time and money.

Managing customer expectations and enduring the high pressure of holiday sales volume is a balancing act. Online merchants should begin evaluating their systems and processes ahead of time so that all of the pieces are in place for the holiday rush. It can also be helpful to consult with a payment processor or other e-commerce expert to streamline things as much as possible and free up internal resources to focus on the business of selling.