Why now is the time to cash in on the end of year retail gold rush

Why now is the time to cash in on the end of year retail gold rush

By Alex Painter, Senior Web Performance Consultant, Eggplant

The boom in popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a case of Christmas coming early for retailers. Not least because it is set in the backdrop of store closures in the face of increasing rents and decreasing High Street footfall. These once-a-year mega sales require careful planning and execution, often across multiple departments. As business events go, there’s nothing more complex, costly, or time-consuming.

And that process starts now. For a business to reap the rewards of a successful sales period, it needs to be putting the processes and plans in place today to ensure website speed and uptime are optimal during the festive shopping period. A drop-off in either of these is bad at the best of times - according to the Aberdeen Group, large companies lose an average of $686,250 per hour of downtime - so for this to happen in a retail frenzy is catastrophic. That’s because now more than ever, the customer comes first.

The customer comes first - especially online

The customer experience extends far beyond a purchase or customer service interaction; it encompasses a customer’s entire experience - every time he or she comes into contact with a brand, be it on social media watching a brand video, or while completing an online purchase. It is a far-reaching, all-encompassing experience that defines customers’ perception and opinion of a brand.

Customer experience studies have shown that customers are five times more likely to make a purchase if they’ve had a great experience. On the flip side, 78% of customers have abandoned a purchase due to bad experience. A Walker study found that by 2020, customer experience, more than price or even product, will stand out as the key brand differentiator.

Don’t fear the (retail) reaper

Key to putting the customer first is delivering a fast, reliable online experience. And that means making the most of the months leading up to Black Friday, using the time to carry out performance tests and identify opportunities to optimise for speed and availability.  The mindset should be one of looking to thrive - not survive. At the same time, it's important for retailers to have contingencies in place just in case things do go wrong - from queueing systems to call centre capacity. With the right preparations in place, there is nothing to fear.

With customers looking for peak performance, this is an opportunity to win new fans. A slick, fully functioning and quick website offering the right deals and the right times and following through with exceptional delivery and customer service will go far. In the UK, John Lewis is a prime example of a big online retailer that continues to do this very well. And good business is good for business. Keeping customers happy when they’re actively looking to spend money is going to have the online tills ringing like Santa’s Sleigh. It will generate more revenue at the same time as maximising capacity and cutting costs of inefficient systems and downtime. The holy trinity of ROI.

So what makes for a happy Christmas?

Put simply, it means getting ready now. Businesses need to carefully consider the criteria that will separate success from failure. This means continually looking into web performance. It also means being critical of performance and analysing it closely. Highlighting if there is room for optimisation that would improve customer experience, capacity or cut cost at peak. Measuring it, tweaking it, updating it and testing it, to get the balance right that not only works for now, but that creates a platform for continuous future improvement. This includes elements such as giving special attention to common entry points to the site, such as the home page and campaign landing pages, as well as testing, monitoring and optimising key user journeys. 

It’s also important to note that no business is alone. Just because a business thinks it might be ready, doesn’t mean it actually is. Getting an independent party to test and check peak performance is a sure fire way to minimise the risks associated with peak trading and maximise the rewards. After all, when it comes to online and retail sales at Christmas, nowhere has the phrase ‘every second counts’ been more apt.

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