Originally a US import, Black Friday has now been fully embraced by British shoppers and, according to predictions, the five peak trading days around Black Friday this year will generate record revenues of £5 billion.
Despite its popularity, many retailers think that preparing websites for the lead up to Black Friday can wait until closer to the date.
However, the reality is that deployments should have been carried out in September this year, with testing taking place in October.
Ever since Black Friday hit the UK’s shores, reports of websites buckling under the pressure of large volumes of shoppers have been rife – last year even big high street names such as John Lewis, Boots and Argos were caught out.
According to research from Adobe, customers are rightly becoming more discerning and impatient, and will not stay loyal to an online retailer that doesn’t provide a seamless service.
In fact, 78% of customers now say they are not loyal to any brand, demonstrating how offering a poor online experience is likely to cause a loss of customers.
For those retailers who have not heeded the warnings from last year or recent months, the next week could be make or break.
Retailers must use this time to do all they can to make sure their website can deliver under the strain of millions of eager consumers searching for the best deals out there.
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If they can’t, then it could be better to opt out this time to avoid reputational damage, and focus on preparing for next year or their next big sales peak in January or February.
Here are some last minute steps underprepared retailers can take to make sure their website handles the seasonal deluge of Black Friday traffic.
Retailers must identify how many visitors their site received over the last Christmas period, recognising the peak days and times, and if any downtime was experienced.
It’s also important for businesses to know how their site performed.
For example, whether traffic or conversions were a result of increased mobile usage. They can then identify where expectations were met, where there is room for improvement, and where immediate change is needed.
If this is a business’ first Christmas period, it’s a case of making sure that the right expertise and skills are on hand to help be as prepared as possible for this big rush.
The earlier the better
It’s critical to ensure websites are ready for the increased festive traffic well ahead of drafting the first piece of seasonal promotional marketing content.
Plus, consumers are going online to scout out those bargains earlier and earlier, so businesses need to give themselves plenty of time to make sure a site is in good shape.
This means knowing web load capacity, finding out how a site is performing throughout the technology stack, and identifying revenue goals, so it can be coordinated across the business.
Proper performance testing
It’s no good flooding a website with traffic from virtual users to test how it performs.
Businesses instead need to build up an accurate picture of customer journeys on the website and across different platforms.
This will allow testing to show how many customers are browsing versus those who are making a purchase.
Performance testing is a carefully planned project, which can identify bottlenecks in a site.
By testing in an intelligent way, not only can companies understand the volume of traffic the site can handle, but address any outstanding issues and improve performance.
What to do if your website breaks on the day
If your website goes down, it is not a complete disaster.
There are some short term fixes you can attempt to implement to salvage the position.
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Caching content by using a CDN (content delivery network) will reduce the impact of large media assets (HD images and video) on the page and server load.
However, any last minute changes will require a quick and measured response. It’s worth working with an experienced support team to implement this quickly to minimise any loss.
Next Black Friday, let’s hope retailers heed the warnings and don’t leave preparations for their most important day of the year to the last minute.
Soured by Mike Bainbridge, chief digital technologist, Rackspace