Black Friday 2020: How can retailers prepare for this year’s online-only affair?

Black Friday is one of the busiest days on the retail calendar. Due to the UK’s second lockdown, this year’s event will take place exclusively online. With online retail association IMRG predicting sales to grow between 35-45% during the event versus last year’s sales, we spoke to technology experts to understand how retailers can best prepare for this influx of online customers.

First, fulfilment
Black Friday ranks as one of the busiest times of the year for retail, and even thoroughly-prepared retailers can become overwhelmed with the volume of shoppers.

“Websites crashing due to heavy traffic, stock selling out early, and disgruntled customers: it happens every year, and 2020 will be no different,” explains Rob Shaw, MD EMEA at Fluent Commerce. However, this “Black Friday represents a seismic shift in the retail landscape, so the retailers that are best prepared to opportunise on this, will be the ones that thrive.”

“Retailers must deliver an unblemished e-Commerce experience. This means ensuring they have enough stock and can sell stock across all locations. Wherever stock might be located, it’s important not to stop selling online before the last piece is gone. With a complete view of inventory and a good handle on stock available to sell, retailers can ensure they don’t overpromise and underdeliver.”

Animesh Chowdhury, Co-Founder & CTO at Goodtill, agrees that “with the right technology, many merchants will still see the typical sales boost this year that Black Friday brings.

“By Introducing a modern Point of Sale (POS) system that leverages stock management, reporting and business analytic functionality, retailers can seamlessly transition away from the high street into an online platform without compromising sales. A seemingly small adjustment to strategy can open up a whole new online world for retailers that don’t yet have a comprehensive ecommerce platform.”

Support the teams working behind the scenes
With a huge increase in traffic anticipated for platforms across the nation, those without a strong online presence will suffer first.

“With limited staff or many once again on furlough, customers could be greeted by ‘error’ or ‘try again later’ messages on their websites rather than bargain deals,” Bob Potter, CEO at SentryOne warns.

“It will be a difficult time for database administrators trying to cope with these demands from home. It is crucial that ahead of Black Friday, retailers prioritise their database management to ensure that they don’t suffer from downtime. Impatient customers shopping online will happily choose a different site if their first choice isn’t loading.”

Jeff Keyes, VP of Product at Plutora, agrees, and advises retailers to put their systems through rigorous testing ahead of the event.

“Online retailers should devote time to chaos engineering to learn what your system can withstand – what you learn from this experience will impact how you architect and deliver software solutions.

“Redundancy and resiliency planning in both infrastructure and processes significantly improve reliability, which will help achieve a trustworthy customer experience. The Black Friday crowds have been known to break down doors in the past, we don’t want to see a similar level of destruction in online marketplaces.”

The influx of online trafficwill put a huge amount of pressure on IT teams to reduce the likelihood of any operational or technical mishaps,” according to Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal Systems.

“HR will need to ensure their workforce management programmes are up-to-date, ensuring IT and security teams are scheduled to work around the clock, and have the right facilities to work remotely or in the office at the right social distance. This year it’s all about being prepared in advance.”

 Take to the cloud
Increased web traffic results in a significant influx of data, and it is vital that retailers are prepared.

“With its elastic nature, cloud computing is well-placed to help businesses face this challenge head-on, as it can easily scale up and out to meet the peaks in demand that are anticipated over the Black Friday weekend,” said Jonathan Bowl, AVP UK & Ireland at Commvault.

“With more customers than ever creating multiple digital identities for themselves across websites, it is those retailers’ responsibility to protect and efficiently backup this growing volume of data as a matter of compliance. Cloud backup and recovery enable exactly this: data protection either in physical and virtual servers on-prem or in the cloud.”

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO & Co-Founder of Content Guru agrees: “Implementing a scalable cloud solution allows retailers to handle any interactive scenario – from social rant to video shopping consultation, whether their teams are in or out of lockdown. At the same time AI-driven intelligent automation is on hand to soak up excess demand.”

This is especially important as today’s retailers are operating in a market where consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, demanding, and sure of what they want.

Jonathan Wright, Industry Director – Retail at Six Degrees explains: “User experience is everything – 53% of mobile users abandon websites that take more than three seconds to load.

“Throughout the golden quarter and into 2021, retailers should be considering long-term strategies that use the right secure cloud-based technology platforms to enable them to adapt to changing consumer demands.”

Open for business
Despite the festive shopping period being a predominantly online affair this year, physical stores that are permitted to open will still attract visitors. All of these businesses will need to take measures to keep their workers and customers safe from Covid-19.

Many retailers are now implementing video surveillance to further ensure the safety of their store by, for example, identifying the most efficient traffic flow through the aisles and altering the layout to avoid the build-up of queues,” concludes Rishi Lodhia, Managing Director, EMEA, Eagle Eye Networks.

“As the country transitions in and out of lockdown and our ability to move freely is curtailed, an added benefit is that video surveillance enables owners to monitor and manage their store locations without actually having to go anywhere near the buildings themselves.”

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