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RBTE 2016 Interview: Phil Geary, The Entertainer

Black Friday: For some retailers a huge sales opportunity, for others it is a day cannibalising pre-Christmas sales. But whether you love it or hate it, Black Friday takes a great deal of preparation, especially online, where hoards of customers descending on your eCommerce site puts extreme pressure on its infrastructure.

The Entertainer's website – thetoyshop.com – is attempting to spread out the demand on its website and logistics by bringing forward discounts from a week before Friday 27 November.

Calling Black Friday a "juggernaut", marketing and eCommerce director at The Entertainer, Phil Geary, describes how in 2014 the website held up under pressure, although to his CEO's despair.

"He was thinking if the website hadn't fallen over, we can't have had enough customers," explains Geary, saying that of course this wasn't the case. "We did a great load of testing in the weeks prior to it and we managed it very well."

He describes how most of the retailers who struggled last year found it was around delivery and fulfilment. "It's the last mile, so we're working closely with our courier partners this year."

Pie Face

But while Black Friday is usually the biggest retailing day of the year, Geary describes how a viral video of a man playing a game with his grandson led to a day which made Black Friday pale in comparison.

The game was Pie Face – a board game with a mechanical contraption which threatens to catapult pie into the gamer's face – the grandad and grandson playing the game in fits of laughter went viral earlier this year with 3.5 million views on Facebook.

"We were the number one on Google for that product, so we got more traffic on that day than Black Friday," says Geary, noting there will be a lot of families with pie on their face this Christmas. "It is a retail phenomenon, where trends can drive more traffic than Black Friday, and it was a silly game called Pie Face which did that."

But the difference between these two peak trading days for The Entertainer is that Pie Face was additional revenue, whereas Black Friday is negatively affecting the rest of Christmas trading.

"We're having a really soft November," he says, noting how his customers are waiting for the big discounts on the 27th. "And because of Black Friday there's only a short time to claw back what you lose in November. I think we will do well, but November didn't soften that much last year – that's not good for retail."

But Geary explains that a toy business is affected differently than a supermarket. "If you're doing 75% of your annual business in November and December, having this unusual spike doesn't help."

Geary believes the retailer is ready for this year's Black Friday, but wonders if it might be the last one of this magnitude after retailers like Asda, Made.com and Oddbins have decided to give this year's event a miss.

Agile working

Geary says the way his team prepares for this level of stress on IT systems is by being agile.

"We're incredibly agile," he says. "To the point where we do continually make slight changes – if something is up and running one day, the next we will be tweaking and testing."

Geary uses the high street retailer's click & collect service as an example. The Entertainer has been offering click & collect within 30 minutes of placing an order for several years, but while this is industry leading, there is always room for improvement.

Originally, the customer came into the store and their product would be waiting for them with a raffle ticket number attached, and Geary says they wouldn't mind, because they were getting their goods in such a short space of time.

"Before joining The Entertainer, I couldn’t decide in my mind whether it was absolute genius or absolute madness," he laughs. "I spent the first few months integrating various different software and hardware platforms to make it a little more seamless."

He said two years ago, the retailer had a click & collect failure rate of around 6%, but after small incremental improvements, Geary and his team improved this to 1.5%. "So now I obviously think it's genius," he says.

"You stress test every tiny part, and it was these constant little improvements that got us to that place – we're really trailblazing on the high street."

Geary says the retailer is constantly considering whether to charge for click & collect services. "But customers want more delivery options, they want it cheaper and faster than ever before, and there always seems to be someone willing to support them.

"Being in the toy category, if we charge for click & collect it makes us uncompetitive, but somebody has to go first, and right at this moment in time we're reviewing it. I think we'll find other ways of value engineering the experience to keep it free for the consumer, we'll find better ways of picking and packing centrally."

Mobile

After joining the retailer in July 2014, delivering a mobile optimised website was on the top of Geary's to-do list. It took three months to produce and since going live a year ago, The Entertainer has seen a 155% increase in sales on mobile and now 50% of online orders come from mobile devices, while it accounts for 70% of total web traffic.

Next on the roadmap is looking into the possibility of a mobile application, which would act as a gift finder. Geary says he is always on the look out for the next interesting app for inspiration – having over 1,000 apps on his own phone. "I use the Trainline and Premier Inn apps the most," he says. "Getting someone to download an app, there's got to be a reason and they have both made the experience very simple and it's almost completely tailored to getting you in and out quickly and accessing all the detail you need."

Geary says a mobile app for The Entertainer would take a similar approach. "In one or two steps we should be presenting the answer to your problem," he says.

Geary will be talking in more detail about preparing for peak performance at the RBTE show, which takes place at London’s Olympia on 9-10 March 2016. He is sitting on a panel session on 9 March at 12:50 in the eCommerce Theatre, alongside Daniel Lee, web analytics manager at Evans Cycle and Steve Mader, VP digital and retail insights at Kantar, who will be talking about customer expectations. Click here to register for RBTE 2016.

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