Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

How to make sure poor website performance doesn’t ruin your Black Friday or Christmas

By Deri Jones, CEO of thinkTribe

Your success on Black Friday this year is not guaranteed, despite the shift to digital. Here’s how to prepare to ensure you get Black Friday – and Christmas – right.

While the media may be full of stories about how awful things are in retail and to be sure, for bricks-and-mortar retailers they are pretty grim, as they have had to endure a second lockdown. But for online retailers, the pandemic has brought a windfall, however unfortunate the reasons for it.

However, the windfall has caused many retailers to rush to fulfil orders without putting the normal protocols and systems in place to ensure that orders can be fulfilled accurately and on time. This will lead to lost business from largely home-based consumers who have never been more demanding, as if they weren’t already. McKinsey provides the proof in its five themes – Shift to value and essentials; Flight to digital and omnichannel; Shock to loyalty; Health and “caring” economy; and Homebody economy.

Each one of these dynamics is an opportunity to win business but also to lose it, as consumers have also demonstrated their willingness to try new things from new suppliers and shop across more channels than before. According to Fashion United, globally, 39 percent of consumers purchased from new brands during lockdown and 88 percent of consumers plan to stick with the new brands they have tried during lockdown.

And on Black Friday and its related promotional pre- and post- promotions periods, these shoppers will create a burden on sites that haven’t tested or made modifications to accommodate higher volumes of shoppers, or who have implemented new functionalities without assessing if will stress the robustness of the site infrastructure.

And it isn’t even just about Black Friday but about wider golden quarter behaviour which is certain to be almost impossible to predict. According to Sensormatic speaking to 1,000 adults in the UK, a fifth (25%) of UK shoppers had already started planning their Christmas shopping. 20% said they would begin Christmas Shopping in October, and 27% would begin in November (the most popular month) with only 16% starting in December.

Shoppers may also start earlier so they are not disappointed when orders don’t arrive on time. McKinsey again discovered that out of all Europeans, Brits would start the earliest. This and the added pressure of Christmas will mean a poor online user experience and customers more likely to abandon sales.

Our data shows that the average UK shopper abandons 10% of their online purchases due to poor website performance.  This means that retailers risked losing out on an estimated £1.3bn in lost sales over the peak trading period if their ecommerce platforms could not cope with the surge in demand.  And this comes just at the time when many retail businesses are trying to make up ground from lost sales during the lockdowns.

If a website isn’t robust enough to cope with the increased demand, this leads to poor online experiences, such as slow loading webpages, long queues to get onto site or, ultimately, the site crashing due to the volume of visitors, which increases purchase abandonment and damages loyalty and customer life time value.

The goal is to strike the fine balance between adding new functionality in order to improve the customer experience during this period but knowing the site is technically robust enough to accommodate those changes without adding risk.

Adding new functionality will mean not simply trusting third-party plug-ins which are a great way to access must-have functionalities such as personalisation, fulfilment and sizing solutions. But, plug-in developers are constantly updating and renewing their plug-in code and that can mean that bugs or incompatible lines of code are introduced. Ongoing use of a third-party plug-in requires ongoing monitoring if a retailer is to be sure they won’t suffer a nasty surprise during peak.

Achieving this depends on collaboration between teams that might in the ordinary course of business work separately. Together they should continually and often conduct testing, and make it rigorous enough to realistically challenge online performance capabilities. In this way, improvements can be scheduled in advance to ensure the site can cope with planned and unplanned demand.


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