The Pre-Peak eCommerce Health Check – Are You Ready for Black Friday?
June 12, 2019
The peak trading period puts unprecedented pressure on eCommerce businesses and trading teams. Prepare for this period with a Pre-Peak eCommerce Health Check
Black Friday, originally a single day retail phenomenon, has elongated to become an entire month of heavy discounts, known now as ‘Black November’. Combined with the Christmas shopping period, this ‘Golden Quarter’ of peak retail sales can stretch even the most robust retailers and eCommerce systems to the limits.
With the growing shift to online and mobile commerce – online sales had reached a 46% increase by 4pm on Black Friday 2018 – the strain is increasingly felt by eCommerce infrastructure: platform technology, order management systems, fulfilment and logistics providers, and customer service teams.
In the UK for example, there were 1.2 billion eCommerce website visits between November 19 and 25 2018, with 194 million of these visits on Black Friday alone. That’s quite a spike in traffic for websites and, every year, causes an unlucky few to crash and burn as the increase in load takes its toll. Needless to say, the sizeable loss of potential revenue and reputation damage is an eCommerce director’s nightmare.
Remember: Black Friday is the 29th November 2019, falling 6 days later than in 2018. This means the busiest period for retail businesses – between Black Friday and Christmas Eve – is compressed into a shorter period of time, creating greater strain on eCommerce systems and physical stores. Check the 2019 commerce calendar here.
To avoid these issues, it’s worth having a health check. There are some key areas of your eCommerce infrastructure that can be diagnosed and tested to ensure you’re in the best shape before peak hits. Ideally, retailers should be planning their health checks in June or July to allow time to implement any necessary improvements. Here are some key areas a health check will optimise as part of your peak eCommerce strategy:
Predicting traffic volumes is often overlooked, or not adequately invested in. Accurate predictions here will ease pain further down the line, and allow planning, load testing and contingency planning. Retailers should consider online and offline marketing and promotional activities and timing of promotions, and analyse previous performance where possible, with a buffer in numbers to be safe.
The first step is a review of last year’s experiences, reports, traffic types, and volumes. Ideally, this should be completed by July. To fully contextualise the detail behind these findings and confidently predict upcoming volume, spend time researching them alongside industry trends. Joining the dots between previous performance and current trends will be key to an accurate prediction.
Also, why not run a trial campaign with similar promotions or discounts in the summer, a dress rehearsal, to gauge the performance of eCommerce systems when the pressure is off? This will help with accurate traffic volume predictions and highlight potential bottlenecks, with plenty of time to implement change.
Understanding the bottlenecks in your eCommerce platform architecture is vital. These vary from the customer facing elements of digital marketing campaigns and mobile UX, APIs, or payment gateways on the site, to back end OMS or PIM performance. Issues with any of these can slow the commerce experience down, or worse, grind the site to a halt.
Retailers should focus on identified bottlenecks that occurred in software, hardware, integration layers, and third party and backend systems. Bottlenecks can also occur in data, for example, maxing out auto-generated order numbers. Plans need to be in place to address them in a timely manner, before peak. Act quickly, using agencies to diagnose and fix the problem where necessary.
Testing is key here. Retailers should ensure performance testing is real and consistent with the traffic profiles they have seen on their site, using previous years’ stats. Without this, there is a false comfort over how well the system will perform during this period. Performance tests need to run against a production configured environment which is a true replica of live conditions.
Stability and scale
Your eCommerce platform solution needs the capacity to scale on demand. In the dream scenario that you do experience a spike in traffic volumes beyond your predictions, your platform needs to scale and seamlessly handle this situation. This might involve manual intervention to add more servers, or an automated provisioning service that scales up and down based on traffic volumes.
Customer preferences at this time of the year for online shopping are generally based on certainty around stock and delivery methods. Retailers need to understand the omnichannel habits of their customers and ensure they can meet the popular customer journeys. For example, if customers arrive in store to buy goods that are not in stock, retailers must be aware of the impact of this on conversion, and provide a simple order in store, deliver next day solution.
Another trend at this time of the year is click and collect, as this provides some guarantees for customers in receiving a product at a convenient time and place. As this trend drives foot fall to stores during this business period, retailers may wish to capitalise, with ‘Click and collect’ online purchases qualifying for exclusive in-store offers.
For online customers, providing a wide range of options for online customers to receive their goods is proven to help conversion rates. However, it is vital these options are realistic and transparent. Free, same or next-day delivery also helps conversion rates, but failure to fulfil these promises, or hidden costs, will destroy trust and loyalty. Messaging on banners, carts and checkout pages should be clear, and reinforced customer support teams should be in place to handle queries during peak.
As mentioned, temporary staff will likely be necessary to reinforce and manage on-site trading, fulfil orders, and handle increased demands on customer service functions. The readiness of your team across the whole organisation for peak trading is essential. Training should not be underestimated, in terms of getting new staff up to speed on technology and process. Everyone should understand the urgency during this period of responding to requests. Awareness of how and when to obtain third party is key, as is a clear escalation path.
The LiveArea Pre-Peak Health Check
LiveArea offers a Pre-Peak Health Check for eCommerce businesses to review previous peak performance, diagnose potential bottlenecks, and plan early for future holiday campaigns, enabling brands to deliver their peak commerce strategies with confidence.
Covering the period from mid-November to mid-January, this health check includes analytics, promotions, trading strategies, digital marketing and key learnings to shape next year’s planning. Strategising improvement through identifying pain points and subsequent solutions.
The health check also reviews internal roles and responsibilities, including team structures, considering global and local teams, and resourcing opportunities, as well as an independent review of external agency performance during peak to understand opportunities for improvements or considering a re-selection process.
Podcast – How retailers can make the most of Black Friday 2019.
On 30th October, Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director at IMRG, sat down with Elliott Jacobs, Director, Agency and Commerce Consulting EMEA at LiveArea EMEA, to discuss the upcoming peak period and provide advice for those retailers looking to make the most of the event.