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How can online retailers maximise Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Black Friday spend last year totalled a staggering £1.49bn in the UK according to IMRG, and this year that total could be even higher. But that’s only if online retailers fully prepare for peak traffic. In 2018 there were a host of big retail names that suffered problems with their e-commerce and suffered website crash. This meant negative press and buzz on social media, as well as shoppers turning to their competitors for heavily discounted items. Potentially millions of pounds worth of revenue is on the line again this year, making it vital that retailers adequately prepare. Here’s what they should do to ensure they are ready.

Analyse e-commerce in real-time

Retailers must have real-time analytics dashboards fully set-up and tested ahead of Black Friday (29 November) to be able to track site performance and spot problems before they develop. These should be able to measure user satisfaction and key metrics so that teams have full visibility into the user experience as it happens. Ideally, dashboards should be located in the retailer’s network operations centre so they can be accessed by anyone and everyone responsible for e-commerce management and that there is always one source of truth on data. Real-time e-commerce dashboards should track customer experience across all channels, including mobile and tablet and third-party services, such as payment portals and product delivery. This means that should there arise an issue with any part of the shopping process – whether that be third-party service outage, performance issue on your site or something else – it can be dealt with straight away to avoid more serious knock-on effects.

Monitor transactions from start to finish

Retailers may think their work is done when the customer clicks the ‘buy’ button, but really this is just the beginning. Transactions can be subject to a number of errors threatening their completion from issues with payment gateways to payment processors to slow networks. It is vital that brands keep track of the ratio of successful and unsuccessful orders and popular payment methods to spot patterns ahead of peak season. This can be used to identify common issues with underperforming systems. Synthetic monitoring, site testing that simulates customer journey, can also help IT teams understand the reasons for failed payments and sort out faults ahead of the busy period. This helps retailers minimise complaints and the chance that a customer will turn to a competitor, which is something they will be more inclined to do should they know about an issue before the retailer. Sorting issues early can also help prevent reputational damage and drive customer loyalty. With the use of simulation and tracking, e-commerce players can better troubleshoot issues and improve payment success rate.

Continually test your e-commerce

Retailers can’t assume everything will keep working indefinitely, so they must test, test and test again to make sure everything is working as it should. There are a number of testing options. Load testing can be used to simulate expected traffic volumes during peak periods to understand how systems will perform under pressure. Chaos engineering is another possibility: it’s a more advanced but increasingly popular test, which can improve complex technology architecture resilience. Running statistical tests on differing versions of your website is also a good idea as this enables you to decide on the best features for generating sales. For example, would tagging products with a ‘popular today’ message encourage better purchase conversion rates or would the option for a different image gallery layout make it easier for browsers to scroll through products, and find what they are looking for?

Stay flexible and be ready to adapt

Despite the amount of testing a retailer has performed, it must still be prepared to adapt even when the peak season hits. There is no predicting exactly what will happen until it does – traffic could spike at an unexpected time - for example, if a competitor’s site has crashed or a bug appears for no apparent reason. Because of this, retailers should carefully monitor trends and KPIs, perform cost-benefit analysis and decide whether it's worth making any adjustments as and when they are needed. Yet, acting right away to fix a problem could be the right choice at one moment, but at another it might be more fruitful to await a quieter time to perform a system change.

Once the annual sales event is over, retailers should look over site performance data and meet as a team to discuss what went well and what they could do better next time. A comprehensive review process will allow them to better prepare for both next year’s event as well as the general day-to-day tasks. After all, e-commerce never sleeps and every day of sales is important for a healthy bottom line. In what can be a fiercely competitive market, taking a flexible approach to e-commerce system development, testing and monitoring is – and will continue to be – crucial for success.

Mike Riley, Senior Director, UK and Northern Europe, New Relic

Mike Riley is Senior Director, UK and Northern Europe at New Relic. He has over 20 years' experience in the IT industry.