5 Things DTC Brands Should Do During a Code Freeze

According to Adobe, 2022’s Black Friday + Cyber Monday online sales surpassed over 20 billion — and that was just in the U.S. alone. So, it should be no surprise that brands execute a “code freeze” during and throughout the holiday season.

Code freezes exist to ensure that no bugs—big or small—usurp your sales during high-traffic periods. Since DTC brands can often expect their website traffic to increase almost two-fold during BFCM, a code freeze eliminates the risk of technical issues due to new features or new code being implemented during a high-traffic period.

Code freezes allow brands to make the most of the influx of traffic and have a successful holiday shopping season; the goal is to go into the season with your best foot forward on a highly tested site where you’ve cut down moving parts to as close to zero as possible.

But since code freezes can last quite a long time (starting shortly before Black Friday and extending up to the New Year), what can your team do until you’re back in action?

A code freeze presents a unique opportunity for internal re-grouping.
A code freeze presents a unique opportunity for internal re-grouping.

Here Are the Top 5 Things You Can Do to Optimize Your Time During a Code Freeze

A code freeze means minimal to no changes will be made in your production environment. While your development team has downtime, there are five main priorities you can tackle to make the freeze period a success.

1. Reduce technical debt

You’ve heard this at least one dozen times, if not more, throughout the year: “We need to refactor the site if you want to make things faster.”

Believe it or not, Stripe found that “technical debt” takes up a third of a developer’s time each week. Compounded, your brand could lose a lot of time and resources to tackling technical debt intermittently.

A code freeze is a great opportunity to clean house.

  • First, remove unused code. This includes Liquid/HTML, CSS, and JS. During the year, you build code that gets deprecated over time, but you don’t have space to remove it without the risk of something else breaking. A code freeze is your chance to remove redundancies.

  • Second, remove unused tags in your Google Tag Manager or segment setups. There are bound to be several triggers, variables, and tags that are no longer being leveraged for your marketing efforts. Identify the test segments you last used some time ago or those that performed poorly so that you have a clean slate for Q1.
Reduce technical debt during a freeze.
Reduce technical debt during a freeze.

2. Build and Test a Large Feature

Within your roadmap, you’ve inevitably pushed back the build and testing of large features due to more critical income-sensitive projects. Code freezes are the opportunity to consider building big features without being interrupted by an insertion.

  • Go after the Big Hairy Audacious Feature (BHAF). And moderate it like an actual project because this will be where your developers/designers will have the most fun.

  • Use this space to test out something you were scared of launching. Put a lot of QA resources into this so that you can release it to start off the first quarter of next year.

3. Turn On and Activate Qualitative Testing Tools

You’ll get more visitors and customers during the two months of the holidays than you might the entire year.

When analyzing consumer traffic during Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2021, Fresh Relevance found that eCommerce traffic steadily increased in the days leading up to each main sale, and peaked at a 162% increase on Black Friday.

BFCM is a high-traffic period perfect for learning more about your users. Use the influx of customers to learn as much about their preferences as possible, then analyze the data you gather to improve your customer experience.

  • Interview customers by offering additional promotions on top of your holiday sales. Customers are more likely to participate now since they’re already shopping, have time to complete the survey, and are further incentivized by promotional bonuses.

  • Dissect a user’s journey through your website by watching their scroll maps, heat maps, and clicks. You’ll be able to identify what’s working and what isn’t based on your intended flows. As I mentioned earlier, you won’t want to implement significant code changes to your site during a freeze; however, running A/B tests on your parts of your website funnel or A/B testing your promotional sales could provide valuable data —especially since statistical significance is less likely to be an issue.
Tap into your customer data.
Tap into your customer data.

4. Plan Next Year’s Roadmap with Accurate Estimates

When your engineers and designers are available, this is the best time to get accurate timelines around next year’s development roadmap.

While planning and estimating project delivery times are essential, reality doesn’t always align with intended timelines. Therefore, working with your team in real-time to hone in on your process will always offer more long-term advantages.

  • Prototype complex features to assess how challenging they are. Then, use this prototype as a starting point and as a way to get buy-in from higher-up stakeholders.
  • Map out the various tasks and subtasks for each project. That way, you know the exact staffing and dependencies early on, instead of when you get to it.
Plan next year's roadmap while your team has downtime.
Plan next year’s roadmap while your team has downtime.

5. Focus On Cross-Collaboration Through Team-Building Activities

Rarely do your developers get much downtime. They’ve worked aggressively hard leading up to the code freeze to clear out a large backlog. So now it’s imperative to rebuild morale and team bonds, as much of those could have broken.

In 2013, Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” research discovered that team members with low morale are disengaged in their tasks. This disengagement costs organizations $550 billion in lost productivity annually.

With the job market becoming increasingly competitive, low morale likely impacts your team member retention even more.

  • Find a time to meet in person and do something other than work. With our hybrid and remote work environments, there are very few times to meet in person without having to go back home with more work.
  • Review old projects and sprints to retrospect on them. There’s no better way to feel heard and to ensure managers genuinely listen to what’s working, what’s not, and how to get better.
Make time for team-building activites.
Make time for team-building activites.

While the holiday shopping season is always going to be hectic and stressful — for both brands and people — take advantage of the unique opportunities a code freeze presents.

Reflect on the past year, clarify next year’s objectives, and provide the time and space for your team members to reconnect. Your attrition rates will thank you, and your revenue goals for the year ahead will be more within reach.

Frequently Asked Questions about Code Freezes

Still trying to figure out what to do during a code freeze or what a code freeze is? Take a look at the answers to some common questions below.

What do developers do during a Code Freeze?

When a code freeze is employed, developers don’t necessarily write code that alters a live website, nor do they make extensive code updates. Instead, developers can focus on optimizing site speed by reducing tech debt.

If you have large-scale projects or features you want to test outside of a live environment, code freezes are a good opportunity for tackling BHAFs. Since a development team is often incredibly busy year-round, think about regrouping as a team during this period of downtime.

How long does a Code Freeze last?

A code freeze typically lasts around a month or longer in DTC eCommerce, depending on when you start it. For example, you’re most likely to start the code freeze shortly before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and you may extend it through the end of the holiday season in late December or early January.

What are the benefits of a Code Freeze?

Code freezes provide the opportunity for your development team to reconnect, for you to plan out projects that may have built into a large backlog, and to clean up the backend of your site. They also offer a reasonable window of time for running tests on prototypes.

Of course, they also ensure that there will be little impact on your main site, like a broken feature, that would interfere with a great customer experience.

Looking for more Practical Insights into DTC eCommerce? Sign up for Anatta’s email list.

Research to reference:

  1. https://www.shopify.com/enterprise/black-friday-ecommerce
  2. https://stripe.com/files/reports/the-developer-coefficient.pdf
  3. https://www.freshrelevance.com/blog/black-friday-ecommerce/
  4. https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/162953/tackle-employees-stagnating-engagement.aspx
  5. https://www.goinflow.com/blog/ecommerce-site-holiday-optimizations/
  6. https://builtin.com/software-engineering-perspectives/code-freezes
  7. https://www.thoughtworks.com/en-us/insights/podcasts/technology-podcasts/is-there-ever-a-good-time-for-a-code-freeze
  8. https://jfrog.com/de/community/devops/code-freeze-blog-why-and-how/
  • avatar
    Nirav Sheth
  • Nirav is the CEO and founder of Anatta. Nirav received his engineering degree in 2006 from George Washington University. Prior to Anatta, he served as founder of Dharmaboost, a software company working with Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, and New Leaf Paper. He is also cofounder of Upscribe, a next-level subscription software for fast growing eCommerce brands.