The future of the British High Street is online

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With the future of the British high street more uncertain than ever before, one thing that can be counted on is the ever-growing importance of e-commerce. You only have to look at the recent plight of Homebase, Marks & Spencer, and Poundworld to see why it’s in the general interest of retailers to focus on their online presence.

Homebase for example, are understood to have requested rent cuts of approximately 90 per cent on 18 of their existing stores as they feel the squeeze of the rising costs of maintaining a high street presence. In fact, almost a fifth of British retailers plan to cut staff during this quarter, as redundancies in the industry have risen to three times the level they were this time last year. If retailers are unable to perform on the High Street, then, throughout the upcoming festive season, there will instead be an increased pressure for them to perform online.

Online retailers already feel the pressure during the holiday season, as they are expected to perform flawlessly with much higher-than-normal levels of traffic. Yet, this year that pressure is likely to be greater than ever. With all eyes on the world of e-commerce, it is important that these retail websites perform during this crucial period—if they go down, they will make headlines for all the wrong reasons, losing the trust and business of valuable holiday shoppers.

So, how can companies avoid a Holiday PR Disaster? In the run up to Black Friday and other similar events, if you want to remain on your customers ‘nice list’ there are certain things that every company should avoid: The Seven Deadly Black Friday Sins.

1.       (Customer) Wrath

Upset customers are never a good thing—especially ones who have been interrupted from getting that hugely discounted item on their wish-list by a slow-running website. And since the customer is already online, they can quickly share their wrath on social media. A company wants to be trending for good reasons, not because everyone is talking about the poor service their website provides.

Always start with a thorough plan to avoid customer wrath—if you fail to plan then you’re planning to fail. Prepare and gather as much insight as you can. It’s important to understand how the traffic is accessing your website, for example. Are you expecting sudden spikes as campaigns hit or more gradual increases? This kind of information will help you to run performance tests on the website, so you can find out what needs fixing in advance, helping you to deliver a great customer experience when it really matters.

2.       Sloth

Your customers don’t care that you’re seeing unusually high traffic on Black Friday, they just want your site to be fast so they can get bag their bargains and not miss out on any deals. In a recent survey, Eggplant found that consistently slow websites are more irritating to customers than websites that crash. Your customers are unlikely to hang around if the first page they visit is slow so, to maintain speed, it is likely that you will have a whole host of landing pages that need optimising. These are entry points into your site, so it’s vital that they are as fast and smooth running as possible.

Real customer insight is the key to keeping you informed about your site, and you need a solution that will tell you not just what pages are visited most, how often, and so on, but also the experience those visitors got. Companies often test their sites on a speedy laptop with a fast internet connection, forgetting the other ways that people may be accessing their content. It’s very easy to blame the old technology when a customer accesses your site on a slow, old Android phone as if it’s not possible to optimise for that technology—but it is! Understanding how customers interact with your site and optimising for as many devices as possible will open your website up to many more potential customers.

3.       Gluttony

It’s important to ensure that the website isn’t blindly running lots of third-party content that could damage the customer experience. Although some third-party services may be required to deliver key functionality, it’s important to audit for possible single points of failure—weak spots that could be the downfall of the entire site if they were to fail.

4.       Envy

Black Friday is a dog eat dog world: if your website isn’t performing, then your customers have plenty of alternatives. The experience you provide needs to as good as if not better than your competitors. With the increasingly digital retail landscape, there are many retailers that trade exclusively online, such as notonthehighstreet.com, and which have an established online presence.

With that in mind, it’s important to monitor the performance of competitor websites to understand what they’re doing to optimise for peak—and rather than look on with envy, learn lessons from the competition, so you can at the very least match them and, ideally, beat them.

5.       Ignorance

Since lust isn’t involved too much in the world of e-commerce, we’ve replaced with an arguably deadlier sin: ignorance. It is vital to understand how the customers uses the website at different times of the day. Have a clear understanding of how your customers really interact with your website and how changes in the performance of the site affect user behaviour. Ignorance is far from blissful as is evident by those retailers who fail to prepare for higher than usual traffic: even the giants get it wrong as demonstrated when Amazon’s site crashed this year on its very own “Prime Day”.  

6.       Avarice:

This is the one sin you shouldn’t avoid. The faster the website the greater the number of conversions and the higher your revenue—it’s simple. All those tenths of a second add up and make a real difference to customer experience. Users are more likely to consume an additional page if the site as a whole is quick. The faster the website, the easier it will be to beat the competition.

7.       Pride:

We all know it comes before a fall. It’s tempting for companies to think that everything they’ve done is perfect and that they don’t need to test anything—those are the ones that fail. It’s important to understand how the systems that you’ve built behave under the Black Friday pressure—in e-commerce nothing stands still long enough to be proud, and no retailer is too big to fall.

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Many retailers regard the great Satan as Amazon.com, but to stay on the side of the angels and reach the e-commerce promised land of high net promoter scores, high conversion rates, and growing revenues, it’s important to avoid the seven deadly sins. Otherwise, retailers risk losing their souls to the seven circles of retail hell. 

Alex Painter, Senior Web Performance Consultant, Eggplant
Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio