For many online retailers, Christmas is an important landmark in the calendar. A successful Christmas can be the difference between making a profit or a loss, while for smaller companies a bad Christmas could even mean going out of business come the New Year. While December may feel like a long way off, it is essential to prepare well in advance if retailers are going to make the most of the influx of online shoppers they will start to see as Christmas approaches.

It’s not just missed sales that online retailers risk if their site’s not robust enough to deal with peaks of traffic. Underperforming sites will also frustrate customers, damaging brand values and driving them to the competition. With Forrester predicting that there will be 190 million online shoppers in Europe by 2014, worth a total of 114bn Euros, it is essential that businesses protect both their current and future revenues during peak times.

With more brands than ever competing for business online, and shoppers less loyal and more affected by price and experience, it is no surprise that customers don’t hesitate to go elsewhere if they can’t find what they want quickly or experience poor service online. But by following a few simple rules and getting your site in tip-top condition ahead of time, it is possible to ensure that your web business runs at peak efficiency no matter how many customers you attract over the Christmas period:

Know what your site’s doing – unless you monitor and test your site regularly (ideally automatically), it will be impossible to anticipate and avoid potential problems.

Scalability – you can prepare for the highs – and lows – of traffic by making sure that the infrastructure your website relies on is flexible to fluctuating requirements and can provide additional bandwidth when needed.

Load balancing – by recognising different types of requests it is possible to route them to different servers depending on available resource, ensuring that the most important requests are always dealt with as a priority and bandwidth goes where it is needed most.

Caching – by identifying and caching web content that is most frequently requested you can reduce the load on your back-end web servers, freeing up that resource to handle other traffic.

Security – make sure your site is protected from malicious attacks and that user data is kept safe, by implementing encryption and filtering technologies across your applications. Firewalls and anti-virus alone will not stop a Denial of Service attack.

Despite there still being a few days left of the summer, it is never too early to start assessing your website and making any improvements now, before the festive rush begins. In these tough trading conditions, retailers need to make the most of every sales opportunity. If your website isn’t able to perform under the weight of the shoppers it attracts, the effect on not just your sales figures but your brand reputation could mean a very unhappy Christmas ahead.