Well, that was Summer, we hope you enjoyed it! Now, are you ready for Black Friday?
Not to mention Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year, Easter 2017… The world never stops and successful retailers don’t stand still either. Black Friday is something I wrote about in detail last year, but with 2015’s volumes being as huge as they were and with 2016 being predicted to be even bigger, I thought it was worth re-visiting.
Black Friday 2015 in the UK saw more than £1.3bn spent by consumers. Whilst Cyber Monday has traditionally been online retailers’ opportunity to cash in, 2015 saw the first Black Friday where online sales outstripped instore.
eCommerce consultants, Salmon, are anticipating a 5-day orgy of consumption (Black FIVEday sic.) that will run from Thursday 24th through to Monday 28th November. Salmon also expect to see more than £5bn spent online during this time.
So what should you, as a retailer, be doing? We’re already at the end of the Summer Holidays, so there’s no point harping on about lead times, last order dates and other Supplier / Manufacturer-oriented points. However, focusing on making the customer experience as good as it can be during this period is vital. A 2015 Vision Critical Study in the US found that 42% of shoppers will stop using a brand after only two bad experiences with them. Offering a poor experience during a critical shopping period like Black Friday has the potential to impact your brand and your company significantly.
From my perspective, there are 5 steps to preparing operationally for the Black Friday / Cyber Monday jamboree.
They are all applicable regardless of your business, but how much time and effort you need to expend on them will depend on you and your customers. For example, I can’t imagine that Black Friday has a huge impact on sales of school textbooks or laboratory equipment.
Pull all of your Google Analytics (other eCommerce traffic analysis tools are available) and sales data for the Black Friday period for the last 3 years (increase or decrease as appropriate for you). This will allow you to:
- Understand how you are impacted by Black Friday.
- Understand the kinds of products your customers are going to be after.
- Plan for any infrastructure enhancements you will need to ensure that your Website(s) has the best chance of coping.
- Plan for staffing and internal infrastructure requirements in terms of making sure that you will be able to deliver on your customers’ expectations, both in terms of customer service and in terms of fulfilment.
With regards to your eCommerce stats, make sure to build in a contingency % increase on top, this will ensure that you’re not caught out.
When you’re not John Lewis, Argos, AN Other (insert the retail giant of your choice), load testing and other preparation techniques can be tough to achieve and the expense they entail can be hard to justify. However, work with your eCommerce website’s hosting provider to load test your website with a simulation of what you expect your traffic levels to increase to during the Black Friday period. This will allow you to make decisions on how (if at all) to scale up your website hosting infrastructure and resources.
If you are able to, there is also real value in testing failover scenarios. Understanding what will happen if an element of your website suffers a critical failure – for example, the postcode lookup stops working, or the connection to your back office system’s API is severed – and how quickly you can recover will allow you to plan around these eventualities.
In the months, weeks and days prior to the Black Friday period, you will be putting in place the processes, procedures and infrastructure that will allow you to thrive. What you focus on and the resources you decide to dedicate to this will be completely driven by the analysis you’ve done and how your testing has gone.
From my perspective there are number of different elements to consider:
- Staffing – you may wish to extend your opening hours so that your shops, trade counters, phones, live chat, social media and other customer service channels are available when your customers will need them. In addition, extra fulfilment staff / shifts may be required in order to cope with the volume of orders you expect to process.
- Stock – on the back of your analysis you will know what’s going to move quickly and what isn’t during the Black Friday period. Re-ordering your warehouse entirely for one weekend may be overkill, but it will certainly be worth considering what you pick and where you pick it from. Anything that can increase efficiency in this regard will enable you to handle the increase in order volumes more elegantly.
- IT Infrastructure 1 (Kit) – if you’re going to have more people in the business to handle increased order volumes have you got enough ‘kit’ and licences to hand in order that they can contribute?
- IT Infrastructure 2 (Internal Performance) – more people in the business will also mean that your back office systems / services will need to be able to cope with the increase in usage. Work with your suppliers and put redundancies in place.
- IT Infrastructure 3 (External Performance) – on the back of the analysis and testing you’ve done, start spinning up resources for your eCommerce website(s) ahead of time. You will need to find the tipping point between throwing money away by scaling up too soon and losing customers by leaving it too late, but agree a date / time that works for you and scale from there. You will also want to have a plan in place for scaling back after the Black Friday period.
- IT Infrastructure 4 (Integration) – your business is reliant on an integration between your Website and Back Office system, even if that still means that someone is downloading orders from the website and manually importing them. Will your integration cope with the increased volumes you’re looking at? In addition to that, your Back Office system is likely to be integrated with a range of other solutions, from Couriers, to Payments, to Emails. Have you got redundancies in place for these solutions should they fail? Often more important is to ensure that you have a plan for how you would work around an issue, should it arise.
- Communication – in addition to any marketing you will be running for Black Friday, it is also worth considering how – or if – you need to set your customers’ expectations.
The fun part! Remember to enjoy yourself!
There are two elements to this. Your IT and Operations people will be reviewing performance throughout the period to ensure that bottlenecks and other issues are dealt with as, and hopefully before, they become an issue. Secondly, reviewing your performance and the impact your preparations did – or didn’t – have on the business. This will give you a solid base to build from for other sale periods and for Black Friday in 2017. The lessons learned will often be applicable during ‘normal’ periods as well.
In Conclusion – don’t just react to Black Friday
The Black Friday period may, or may not, be something that your business focuses on in terms of promotions and offers. However, it will have an impact on you operationally and getting ahead of the game, rather than simply reacting, will give you the best chance of success and growth.
The Khaos Control solution covers everything the retailer needs from back office software, through to eCommerce solutions and hosting. If you would like to know more about how we can help your business, please contact us today.