Taking a short view of Black Friday

Vincent DeGennaro, General Manager EMEA, SOASTA, takes a short view of Black Friday.

It was Benjamin Franklin that famously stated that: “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”. If ever there were an occasion when preparation counts, one would think that it’s the Black Friday weekend. There’s no getting away from it. Love it or loathe it, this very American of traditions has taken root in the UK. Yet the scope and scale of the preparations that retailers have to undertake is changing and will continue to change in light of consumer expectations and the changing retail landscape. Yet one thing will remain constant – retailers’ performance will be measured by the performance of their digital estates.

Preparing in an ever-changing landscape

As retailers planned for the Black Friday weekend, it was against a backdrop of Amazon’s growing success and prowess. No one will have failed to notice that the Prime Day event was Amazon’s biggest single-sales day ever, with the company reporting worldwide sales up 60% on the previous year. It has already cast a shadow over the Black Friday weekend event as other retailers look at replicating Amazon’s Prime Day success during Black Friday. Moreover, it adds another date in an already crowded calendar for retailers to prepare for. Therein lies the challenge. While much is made of the Black Friday weekend, the reality is that every day is potentially a Black Friday for retailers. Whether it’s a planned event or an opportunistic flash sale, retailers have to ensure their digital platforms are available, scalable and reliable. In short, focusing on the short term is now part and parcel of essential long-term planning.

Short term is the new long term

Black Friday is a unique occasion in so far as it is a seasonal event that has the hallmark of a condensed flash sale. To cope with the potential volume of demand some retailers planned at elongating their Black Friday weekend event by starting their sales earlier to relieve the pressure on their websites. Others are looking at ways to ensure more resilience across their digital estate. Whatever the approach, the real measure ultimately is how end users interact with your site and whether your digital estate meets their expectations. This is what long-term planning boils down to in the short-term. This has been at the core of much of the planning undertaken by a number of retailers and its importance is borne out in recent research by SOASTA.

The new research examined the ideal load time for peak conversions, how fast shoppers expect a site to be before they will bounce, what digital downtime actually costs retailers and why retailers need to think more like Amazon. Amongst the findings, the report found:

  • 28% of customers will not return to a slow site
  • In 2015, 57% of Black Friday traffic came from mobile
  • Amazon accounted for more than a third of 2015 online holiday spending
  • The “sweet spot” for peak conversions is a load time of 2.4 seconds
  • A mere one-second slowdown resulted in an 8% increase in bounce rate

When success or failure comes down to a mere two seconds, long-term planning has to be based not on gut instinct but raw, hard data. The analysis for the new research draws on more than 1.5 million beacons’ worth of user data for ten leading retailers during Black Friday/Cyber Monday week 2014 and 2015. The data never lies and it is the analysis of the data that a growing number of retailers have focused on in order to fine-tune their preparations for Black Friday and beyond. Continuous load and performance testing without the context of key data can quickly become a limiting exercise.

The data is the data – welcome to DPM

A growing number of retailers have used their preparations for Black Friday as an opportunity to adopt a more holistic view of their customer base and engagement levels across their digital estate. Gaining a better insight into the customer journey and the customer experience requires an ability to analyse data in real-time as well as historically and model that data to provide a view on not just IT metrics but also against the broader business parameters and goals.

The rise of digital performance management is anchored in an appreciation of the importance data analytics plays in not only shaping the preparations for major retail events, such as Black Friday, but also how data analytics underpins the planning itself.   Driving traffic to your site is one thing, ensuring that your site is optimised to drive conversions is another. That can only be realised through an analysis of the data. It’s the reason why Amazon enjoys a 13% conversion rate and an impressive 74% amongst Prime members. Whether it is Black Friday or just another Friday, the planning undertaken by retailers has and must evolve. Preparation may once have been everything but increasingly it is performance that is everything.


Edited for web by Jordan Platt.