Eye on eCommerce: Iain Devine, commercial director, Salmon

If you saw images of shoppers hitting the UK high street on Black Friday last November, you could be forgiven for confusing them with photographs of the 2011 London riots.

But while shoppers were battling it out in Asda branches for a discount flat-screen TV, retailers were also struggling to cope with demand when it came to their websites.

And for those retailers who managed to cope with the demand and saw their sales spike, many suffered from the 'Black Friday hangover' where sales slumped in the continued run-up to Christmas.

Black Friday migrates across the pond

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both engrained in US culture either side of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the UK retail market artificially recreated a new trading event by piggybacking on the concept.

While some retailers had been dabbling in the idea for a couple of years, last year was the first time the entire industry took it seriously. And in the UK Black Friday combined both in-store and online shopping into one huge event which lasted between one and seven days.

"From the consumer perspective it was wildly successful," said Iain Devine, commercial director at Salmon. "There were hundreds of good deals, but bluntly it was oversold."

"What that did from a technology point of view was surprise many vendors which hadn't put in enough planning to cope with it," he added. "Because it was so over promoted, it also hit margins considerably, and it was touch and go whether it had destroyed some retailer's Christmases."

Devine recommends five things e-tailers should be doing to have a successful Black Friday 2015:

1. Plan your logistics

Devine said Salmon's retail clients are planning their technology demand much earlier than ever before.

"You're now planning for two peaks – Black Friday as well as Christmas and Boxing Day."

He said retailers need to plan to have heavy loads on their systems and test their capacity where possible.

He also said retailers should avoid making any technology changes before the peak period. "You don't want to put anything in which would risk the stability of the systems before the storm hits," he added.

2. Carefully investigate queuing mechanisms

Devine said as many high profile retailers began to struggle with online demand last year, they chose to implement queuing mechanisms for their websites.

"Most retailers didn’t come out of it unscathed and many had queueing issues including Argos and Game," he said.

"But this is possibly the worst retail experience you can get – they're effectively the equivalent of a call centre and as websites experience heavy loads customers have to wait until their number comes up to transact," he explained.

For some sectors – such as big-ticket electrical retailers – customers may be more willing to virtually queue to get the best deals, but Devine said it is extremely important not to leave your customers frustrated if you sell out of the product while they are waiting in the queue.

Devine also said the queuing mechanism can be more widely implemented in a positive way, such as creating a specific land page to carve off the load from the main website.

3. Treat it like any other promotion

"The biggest thing is old-school retail planning," said Devine. "Start loading your promotions now, and get them ready, just like you would do for Christmas."

Black Friday in essence is no different from any other retail event, and Devine suggests retailers should be as considered with their promotions.

He suggested using basket add-ons like batteries to ramp up order values and tempt customers with free delivery only when they hit certain value thresholds.

4. Limit your range

"Create the impetus, but don't give away the farm," added Devine, who said he expects this Black Friday to be a lot more focussed and targeted than last year.

He said the retailers who preload their supply chain with the items they know will sell will be the winners of Black Friday 2015. By looking at your promotions last year and analysing what sold best and why, retailers will be able to limit their range.

"John Lewis did well because it planned to get the supply chain pre-loaded and was then able to move much of their promotional stock as close to the delivery site as possible ahead of time, this put less stress on the system," explained Devine.

5. Reward loyal customers

Devine also suggested retailers should use the event to use data analytics and target specific customer segments to provide a more personalised approach. For instance loyal customers could be provided with a special landing page to give them a first chance to purchase any special offers.

Similarly to queuing mechanisms, providing a specific landing page will create reservoirs off the main site in order to help with peak demand.

"We think that will go down well in the marketplace, both rewarding loyalty and taking the load off the main site," he said. 

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