The e-commerce calm before the Black Friday storm

The end of this summer saw a notable dip in UK online sales. Could this be because savvy shoppers are holding out for the sales season? The Christmas retail period, typically adorned with festive offers, kicks off on Black Friday – a calendar day that, up until recently, was recognised in the US alone, and is now infamous.

PCA Predict’s Big Data Labs identified a three per cent dip in online transactions from July to August this year despite the Bank Holiday, which typically brings more sales. The IMRG Capgemini online sale index also recorded a mere six per cent ecommerce sales growth from July to August, marking the lowest increment in growth since online data started being recorded in 2000.

Experience tells us that UK consumers are starting to hold back, conscious of the widespread deals that are heading their way in November. This quiet period is therefore a perfect point for e-tailers to gear up – and hopefully avoid the mayhem that ensued in 2014. Last year, online shopping traffic caused chaos for e-tailers. Delivery services came to a standstill, websites crashed, and both retailers and customers missed out. Everyone was caught off-guard, realising too late the appetite from hungry bargain shoppers, eager to buy. With four times as many UK shoppers expected to buy online on 27 November than last year’s Black Friday, here’s how e-retailers can get ready.

1. Get involved
If you don’t join in with the activity around a date the nation now marks their calendar by, you not only face losing sales on the day but also long-term customers to your competition. Bargain hunters, online solely to find discount deals, will bypass your site without any sales – and may not return. Black Friday, therefore, is a perfect way to establish yourself in the industry – by providing your audience with the deals they want, when they expect them. With the gift of ravenous streams of traffic to your site, why wouldn’t you take advantage? Grab the chance to convert first-time buyers with simple discounts that could spark a prolonged shopping spree all the way up to Christmas and beyond.

2. Plan your sale strategically
Sales are an easy way to win over customers, no matter how big your business is. Even small and medium-sized online retailers can get involved and offer token discounts in the spirit of the shopping season to grab shoppers’ attention and win impulse buys. But don’t get caught out by putting a blanket discount across all ranges; staggering sales will help manage stock levels and keep visitors coming back.

By using simple data analytics, you can start to learn about how your customers shop, and therefore plan your sales season around them. Evaluate when your audience will best respond to deals and then duly streamline the customer journey to optimise turning visitors into customers. Advances in predictive analytical platforms over the last few years, means that you can even do this on an individual level, giving each and every one of our customer’s a personal shopping experience.

3. Communication and transparency: managing expectations
Communication is key for winning trust. Being transparent with customers will manage expectations of what you can deliver, while being communicative internally will ensure all bases are covered with an accurate forecast and effective contingency plan. For instance, over-promising on next-day deliveries last year led to the breakdown of delivery services, causing havoc for couriers, consumers and retailers alike. It also damages the trust your customers had in your promise to deliver a service. Be realistic with your logistics partners and suppliers, who need to know a true indication of demand. It may mean having an alternative courier service as back-up, for example, so you can follow through on your guarantees to your customers and keep your reputation duly intact.

The best way to predict demand for this year is to monitor data from last year. Where were the biggest issues? Are your most-visited pages easy to navigate and able to withstand peak traffic? Test your site beforehand as you may spot an obvious error that could turn off your visitors at the first step.

4. Make checkout a breeze

Loyalty is diminishing as consumers are all too quick to jump to another site at the click of a button. And when traffic is concentrated into such a short space of time, every little counts in the fight for customers’ attention.

While getting them engaged at the start is the first step, it’s critical to make it as easy as possible for them to make it through the checkout process. It helps them reach their end goal quicker and easier, and therefore yours. Short forms using auto-complete tools, like address validation, mean customers aren’t bogged down with long questions that will test their patience and potentially get them to switch off. At a time when everyone is ready to abandon ship and go fishing for another deal that will come more readily into their hands, speed and ease is key when it comes to the final hurdle.

With reports this month showing that consumer confidence in ecommerce growing, it is clear that people are ready and waiting to shop online – and never more so than on Black Friday. Using these tips to prepare for the spike in demands will mitigate the risks of such a high-traffic period and turn a potential logistical nightmare into a great opportunity.

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