Black Friday presents huge opportunities for retail but at what cost?

With Black Friday nearly upon us, which presents a huge opportunity for retailers to boost sales and attract new customers, here is what the channel has to say:

“Black Friday can be a chaotic time for retail. It’s one of the busiest times of the year, and the sheer number of orders can cause problems even for well prepared retailers. Websites crash, stocks run out and customers can get frustrated. This year promises to pose an even greater challenger with an inconsistent supply chain and labour shortages. To add to the pressure, recent research from Fluent Commerce revealed that 42% of people in the UK plan to start their Christmas shopping by Black Friday this year. And even though physical stores are open again this year, 89% of shoppers plan to do at least some of their Christmas shopping online, so a seamless omnichannel customer experience is vital, said Rob Shaw, Managing Director EMEA at Fluent Commerce

Deploying the right technology is key. Having easy to deploy, real time, inventory visibility and order orchestration solutions – which a good order management system should provide – allows retailers to have a good understanding of what is available to sell. This minimises the chances of over promising or underdelivering, enabling them to keep selling until the very last item is gone.

A good grasp of inventory also enables retailers to be flexible with their fulfillment options. For example, rather than charging for delivery, why not offer promotions or discounts for consumers to pick up orders themselves? With widespread driver shortages this year, offering alternatives to delivery could be the key to getting products to consumers.

These are small steps, but they can make a big difference. With time running out ahead of this year’s Black Friday shopping bonanza, retailers that have taken the time to prepare will be best placed to take advantage of this all-important period in the retail calendar.”

Staffing challenges
“With stores open again for Black Friday this year, retailers face a huge challenge optimising their staffing levels. The so-called ‘great resignation’ has made this more difficult, with job vacancies at an all-time high. When you consider that retailers are already managing a disruptive HGV driver shortage and an IT skills deficit, additional resourcing challenges over the upcoming holiday period are nothing short of a logistical nightmare, said Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal.

HR teams need crystal clear visibility over which employees will be available in advance to ensure they have the optimal number scheduled for the busy period. The ability to analyse critical employee data, particularly around skills and experience levels, is also crucial for advanced scheduling, allowing HR to guarantee that staff with the right skills are in the correct place at all times. And while shop floor staff will undoubtedly be the focus this year, it’s essential not to forget the IT teams. While consumers will be enjoying in-person shopping again, heavy online traffic is now a guaranteed feature of big retail holidays. Getting Black Friday right this year will mean being prepared in advance: making sure staff have the most suitable facilities — whether they’re working remotely or on the shop floor — and that workforce management programs are up to date.”

Orla Power, marketing director at Luzern, advises: “Year-on-year the Black Friday theme timeline continues to grow. Combine that with the explosive growth of eCommerce and we now see Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales extend for days or even weeks, providing brands with more opportunity to attract customers and increase online conversions.”

“eCommerce brands increasingly use shopper behaviour data to better understand the customers’ digital footprints. Although 2020’s Black Friday event was an anomaly, with the date being moved as well as lock downs resulting in many brick and mortar shop closures. Now, more than ever, these insights are crucial to creating an  effective online strategy that enables brands to develop new offerings and/or unique product bundles, something that they can’t get anywhere else, that can be advertised at exclusive Black Friday only prices.”

“A key aspect to 2021’s holiday shopping season is that the age group of the big spenders now includes younger shoppers. The biggest chunk of Black Friday customers is undoubtedly the 18-44 age group. To reach the new, younger buyers, brands need to have a solid digital marketing and advertising strategy”

“Although many people shop around on different channels, Amazon is still the preferred platform. Consumers are familiar with shopping on Amazon and take advantage of the site’s many Black Friday deals. Increasing ad spend on the run up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday to drive holiday shopping traffic is a smart strategy, however, attention to bottom of the funnel tactics is also needed. For example, if you’re selling products on Amazon, drive more conversions by spending money at the SKU level.”

“The holiday shopping season is the perfect time to reward loyal customers. Delivering personalised shopping experiences not only lets customers know that you appreciate them but helps to increase customer lifetime value.”

“When a customer makes a purchase, reach out to them with personalised offers, as this will keep your brand fresh in their mind and promote repeat business. Alternatively, when a customer stops purchasing from you, provide them with special offers such as a VIP discount code for additional savings.”

“Use digital coupons to your advantage by sending your high average order shoppers a unique or one-time-use code. This will pique their interest more than receiving a blanket deal, help offset advertising costs, and create larger profit margins.”

“To reduce shopping cart abandonment, deliver friendly reminders and time based prompts throughout the shopping experience.”

“Send targeted emails that contain exclusive promotions, educational material, and relevant up-sell and cross-sell offers.”

 “After the damp squib that was Christmas 2020, Britons are eager to kickstart festivities by taking advantage of Black Friday savings. However, the financial pressures induced by the pandemic have stretched most household finances – and some may feel the need to take on extra debt in order to embrace the festive spirit, said Denise Ko Genovese, senior personal finance expert atNerdWallet.

“Whilst debt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can negatively impact finances if poorly managed. For example, NerdWallet’s research has shown that just three in ten (31%) Britons set themselves spending limits on their credit card. This can easily cause spending to spiral and debt to pile up.

“But Britons can take steps to retain control of their finances – enforcing stricter budgets, for example, or seeking help from charities such as StepChange to help them create a sustainable debt management plan if it is already a problem. Provided that Britons are upfront with themselves about their financial situation, and are responsible with their spending, I see no reason why families cannot embrace the festive spirit, without jeopardising their financial futures.”

Hank Schless, Senior Manager, Security Solutions at Lookout says: “People are shopping on their smartphones and tablets more than ever before. Threat actors know that. We receive messages about new deals and shipping updates through SMS and social media platforms all the time. Phishing campaigns based on an event, such as Cyber Monday, are built to imitate those communications. We’re programmed to interact quickly with notifications on our mobile devices. It also doesn’t help that mobile devices have smaller screens and simplified user experience that makes it more difficult to spot many of the red flags that would usually warn us of a phishing attack.”

“To protect yourself from mobile phishing attacks, you should never tap a link from a number or person you don’t recognize. If possible, contact the sender and validate the communication before interacting with the link. If you do tap one of these links, read the full URL in the browser. Phishing sites often use URL spoofing to look like a retailers website, for example, but when you view the full URL it’s actually something very different. You should also protect your phone and your personal data by using a mobile security app that offers phishing protection. Not only will this keep your personal data safe, but it also helps protect any work data you access from your personal smartphone or tablet.”

George Papamargaritis, MSS director at Obrela Security Industries adds: “Online retailers and e-commerce businesses are key targets of DDoS attacks, especially during the period of peak sales, such as Black Friday / Cyber Monday. It is very important that retailers invest in the security monitoring of their ecommerce infrastructure to protect against this rise in threats.

For instance, by monitoring the identity service which provides authentication services to end customers, this can provide early warnings and help ecommerce sites take proactive actions before an incident takes place.

Furthermore, e-retailers should invest in threat detection mechanisms that specialise in ecommerce threat monitoring. Such analytics may include specialised visualisation techniques, which establish real-time trends of activity on business-critical ecommerce APIs. These are used as baseline to allow monitoring on the collected data points to track traffic trends, helping operations teams to analyse and predict threats quickly, before the impact operations.

Jamie Boote, software security consultant at the Synopsys Software Integrity Group said: The holidays are a chaotic time for many industries that depend on the retail surge to put their ledgers back in balance. Every year offers increased opportunities for businesses and scammers alike, but this year will be especially dangerous. The supply chain disruptions and high employee turnover rate means that there are new challenges to face and fewer experienced hands to fix them.

Supply chain disruptions create all kinds of opportunities for unscrupulous dealers to introduce risk into end products that might have been passed by in years where parts were easier to come by. Normal suppliers of chips and hardware may not be able to fill demand and desperate vendors may need to source parts with a less pedigreed provenance. These counterfeit chips and parts can degrade reliability and availability, or be vectors for malware and back doors. The remote nature of online store fronts makes it much easier for counterfeit goods to be sold as genuine. By passing on this risk, the burden is placed on the end consumer who has to perform extra diligence in terms of testing and validation or be faced with an attack vector or unreliable hardware.

Unfortunately, sourcing work hours to devote to security is difficult during the holidays, and extra difficult in the midst of the Great Resignation. This time of year is difficult for IT teams that are covering for time off during the holidays while supporting the increase in holiday operations. New hires can help with the issue, but they may lack the training and experience to properly diagnose and respond to security issues. Increasingly, IT departments are turning to outside help for assistance with their security issues.

All this holiday traffic is riding over brand new architectures such as cloud, microservice, and API driven applications. These new services are accompanied by a learning curve and unique tooling needs that, if neglected, can allow attackers to exploit these new systems during the most important time of the year for some industries. Companies need to be extra vigilant this year to secure their systems from attack to prevent malicious traffic from flying under the radar. Any incidents need to trigger a root cause analysis that feeds into a get-well plan to close the hole and any ones like it.”

Steven Hope, CEO and co-founder of Authlogics said: “Retailers and consumers alike face a plethora of threats over the course of cyber week and Black Friday. One particular danger is the use of breached or re-used passwords within an organisation and among its customers. In fact, our research has shown that over 100,000 breached passwords within our database belong to some of the UK’s and the world’s largest retailers. What’s worse is that individuals are also using breached credentials, making them an incredibly easy target for threat-actors who can use these to gain access and launch phishing or ransomware attacks. Considering the fact that most retailers hold sensitive customer data, including payment information, this can be extremely harmful and lead to monetary loss, damage to reputation and even identity theft.”

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