How to get your online retail infrastructure ready for Black Friday

By: Steve Roberts

This article explains how online retailers can make sure their website is ready for Black Friday, and offers some best practice tips to remember when things get busy.

The biggest online retail event of the year - Black Friday

Black Friday, which falls on 24th November this year, is the biggest online retail event of the year, and there is no wonder why, considering that 42% of UK shoppers plan to do the majority or all of their Black Friday shopping online.

But Black Friday is more than just a weekend; in the US retailers are carefully planning for maximum return throughout the scant four and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and 25th December.

But Black Friday and Cyber Monday certainly mark the crescendos in sales and marketing efforts.  This global phenomenon shows no sign of abating. In the six-week period leading up to 25th December, UK department store John Lewis earns approximately 40% of its annual profits.

Power Up Your Platform

Often the retailer's focus is on offers and stock level management, but the most important factor which underpins everything, is infrastructure.

Your platform needs to be suitably powerful and be able to process extreme peak loads and avoid costly and embarrassing website crashes throughout the lead up to Christmas.

Extreme platform power has become indispensable for retailers during peak times as online holiday retail sales will grow by 12% in 2017, account for over one quarter of total annual US online retail sales and transactions per minute reach record levels.

Make the most of Black Friday

So with platform power, how else can retailers embrace Black Friday and make the most out of the peak?

Optimise the Customer Experience on Mobile

Optimise the customer experience on mobile and desktop as customers are empowered and connected to multiple devices — mobile devices accounted for 55% of all online shopping visits on Black Friday last year. But clunky mobile shopping experiences meant that more orders were placed on desktop: 30% of all shopping baskets lead to orders on desktop but only 19% did on smartphones.

Optimising your mobile shopping experience is vital

Digital Intelligence

Capitalise on new digital intelligence captured in the holiday period by personalising the customer experience and ongoing marketing communications. Consumers interacting online, engaging with and purchasing from their mobile devices expect their preferences to be recorded or saved to help with future purchases.

By demonstrating that you know that little bit more about each customer, you can enhance their experience and ultimately the relationship they have with your brand.

This insight can also help with retention, preventing them from going to a competitor who doesn’t know about that customers’ style or product history in the same. Especially with 79% of customers admitting they would take their business to a competitor following poor customer service, retailers need to be leveraging all they can in order to retain customers.

Deals and Vouchers

Customers expect amazing deals for Black Friday so pull the deals out of the bag to capture new data and develop recurring relationships. Don’t forget that Christmas is not that far away, non-unique vouchers and discount codes have long been accepted as ways to reward loyal customers and complement holiday season campaigns.

Take the voucher incentive to the next level by offering a limited quantity of unique offers to create a sense of urgency and reward loyal customers. Make offers valid only in Black Friday weekend to attract the ambivalent customers or those who usually avoid the Black Friday madness. Most importantly, ensure that you can launch offers in real-time and replicate successful offers.

Don’t Neglect Customer Care for Sales

Customers have high expectations for fulfilment experiences, Black Friday or not. A great omnichannel experience needs testing thoroughly before the surge in traffic. Huge retailers such as Amazon and Asos set the standard for customer experience and if you deliver anything less, you are not only behind, but the bottom of the pile in the customer’s eyes.

In addition, although holiday season sales rocket, so do rates of return and these processes are what set retailers apart. The NRF found that three quarters of the holiday shoppers surveyed checked return policies before making a purchase and 22% backed out of a purchase because of a bad return policy.

Black Friday for Subscription Retail

Traditional retailers are not the only ones who can benefit from the surge. Subscription retailers can offer reductions and vouchers during the holiday period and secure recurring relationships with customers. Black Friday is therefore not just a one day opportunity or event — it’s an opportunity to gain all year round recurring revenues.

Subscription companies should capitalise on quiet times before Christmas. Gyms for example, have notoriously poor joining rates before Christmas but these surge with new year campaigns. Gyms could offer one month free if the customer signs up on Black Friday weekend.

Black Friday is one of many peak traffic times for retailers

Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are amongst traditional peak times, but new retail events are continually emerging and Black Friday is far from the most prolific.

Self-gifting has become widely accepted, particularly amongst Millennials and Generation Z, and has been perpetuated further by fabricated retail events such as ‘Singles Day’ on 11th November.

Retailers continue to tap into this growing trend and changing demographic: in the US, singles now outnumber married adults and have a higher per capita spending. This year, Singles Day is expected to generate annual sales in excess of $20 billion, more revenue than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Similarly, during Single’s Day in the UK, £11.28bn was spent and Topshop saw sales surge by over 900%.

Final advice for online retailers on how to embrace Black Friday

  • Do not overlook platform power — it forms the foundation of a retailer's online Black Friday preparations
  • Optimise your omni-channel fulfilment processes and website across all devices, in particular mobile
  • Consider offering unique and non-unique voucher codes to stimulate interest and a sense of urgency
  • Don’t let sales volume compromise the quality of your customer experience before and after the sale


By: Steve Roberts - Vice President of Retail at MPP Global

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