Nicole Fallon Taylor, Business News Daily Assistant Editor  

With two months to go before Thanksgiving, shoppers are already gearing up for a busy holiday sale season. Data from Google revealed that more than a quarter of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween, so retailers need to be ready for the rush.

If you haven’t already started prepping your business for the holidays, now is the time to start. Here are a few key areas your marketing and sales efforts should focus on, and what you can do now to ensure a great shopping experience for your customers all season long.

Keeping online shoppers safe

Online sales means the potential for more businesses to get in on the holiday sales action, but it also means a greater chance for cybercriminals to hack sensitive customer data.

“For many small retailers, the holiday season is a ‘make it or break it’ time of year,” said Jonathan Gossels, president and CEO of IT security and consulting firm SystemExperts. “In addition to traditional merchandizing challenges, they now have to worry about whether their IT infrastructure is up to date and can handle the load securely.”

Gossels noted that e-retailer websites and associated back-end systems need to be up to date, compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) and able to handle the expected transaction volume throughout the holiday season. He advised year-round compliance and security testing, and emphasized the importance of leaving enough time to fix any problems before the holiday rush picks up.

Website optimization

As more and more businesses take their retail operations online, it’s incredibly important to provide a seamless, fast website for your customers. A recent report from website performance solutions provider Radware found that slow websites mean fewer sales — 57 percent of consumers will abandon a site that fails to load after 3 seconds.

Small e-commerce companies can’t afford to lose this kind of business during such a busy season, so use this time to address any lags or missing features on your website, as well as to identify potential sale trends for the season. Ben Lack — senior director of marketing and business development at Swiftype, a provider of website search tools — noted that data analytics can help you understand and forecast your holiday demand.

Holiday season shipping

In an age of Amazon Prime and same-day delivery, consumer expectations about e-commerce shipping are higher than ever. Any retailer that’s selling online needs to think about realistic shipping times and cutoffs throughout the season to make sure customers get their deliveries before the holidays.

“For the holiday days [like Christmas], make sure you know the cutoffs, so your packages get to customers on time,” said Jarrett Streebin, CEO of shipping solutions provider EasyPost. “For daily pickup times, make sure you know these, because they mean the difference of a day or more in delivery time.”

To see what all the experts have to say go to Business News Daily.