The secret to Black Friday success? Stay agile!

SciVisum talks about how you can turn Black Friday from a day of dread into a day filled with success.

Learning last year’s lessons

While Black Friday may offer retailers a valuable pre-Christmas sales opportunity, it has also created a potential minefield for the unwary.

The speed of change itself is challenging; new benchmarks are set each year and rules are rewritten. Whereas Britain’s first experiences of this transatlantic import were characterised by dawn scuffles in high street stores, the fight has since moved into virtual territory.

So much so, that by 2015 internet sales had dwarfed their in-store equivalents, with UK online retailers taking £1.1bn over the course of Black Friday, up more than a third on the previous year’s figures. Moreover, mobile became the dominant device, accounting for 60% of traffic and 40% of sales.

Tapping into the Black Friday zeitgeist

From the retailer’s perspective, the most pressing problem is how to deliver an acceptable online experience to customers who are increasingly intolerant of delays, disruptions and downtime. At worst, performance issues may not only result in lower conversions on the day but also inflict longer-term damage to brand reputation.

We’ve been working closely with our clients to ensure they’re as well-prepared as possible ahead of the big day – here are some of our insights:

1. Implement a queuing contingency plan

At peak sales periods, bottlenecks will occur, regardless of how thoroughly you’ve prepared. One of last year’s takeaways was to make use of queue-management technology that kicks in when the site is too busy, offering customers a virtual ticket and a place in the queue. It’s not a foolproof option, as the tech is difficult to test in advance and is dependent on setting overload parameters at the right level, but it’s better than crashing the site.

2. Get your performance tests right

Use realistic customer-focussed data to ensure you run the most accurate load testing programs. Only by analysing test metrics that accurately reflect customer behaviour will you be able to create a useful load test model. For instance, with mobile usage on the rise, it’s important to assess the different types of traffic and to ensure your site is responding accordingly. We advocate regular load testing, with increased frequency in the run-up to code lockdown. 

3. Factor in new tech

Web technology is always changing – and new functionality always brings a fresh set of technical challenges. Take web sockets. This technology enables businesses to be more proactive by continually updating information rather than waiting for the browser to request data. It’s a handy tool for communicating special offers or for providing chat help. But, with traffic flowing both ways, it can make testing more complex and – if a web socket is dropped in at the last minute – you could get caught out.

4. Bridge the gap between marketing and tech

Marketers like to use tech to better understand buyer behaviour so they can more accurately deliver promotions. This focus on ‘big data’ often relies on tagging web visitors so they can be tracked using web analytics and targeted with ads. If a random approach is taken to dropping tags into a website – especially in the run up to Black Friday – it can hamper page rendering, so it pays to restrict tagging responsibilities. Working more closely with your marketing team can also help with management of email campaigns to smooth your traffic profile as much as possible.

5. Be cautious of the cloud

As businesses look to save time and money, cloud technology is becoming the go-to resource for more ecommerce activity – the theory being that a virtual server will increase capacity when business is brisk and decrease it in response to reduced demand. The concept of an ‘elastic’ cloud is all well and good but it may not scale up quickly enough in response to a rapid spike in demand and there’s always the danger that if a bunch of businesses need capacity to rise simultaneously, the supplier may not have enough to spare.

6. Make it easy

Some retailers simplify their website for Black Friday by removing superfluous or complicated functions (virtual mirrors, for instance). It can result in a smoother customer experience at peak periods but bear in mind that any radical changes to code will require a load test after code lockdown to ensure there aren’t any unforeseen gremlins. We’d suggest a final test 24-48 hours before D-day.

7. Keep it real

While load testing is essential in advance of anticipated peak demand, it’s also crucial to employ effective performance monitoring including mobile browser journeys throughout to spot any potential problems in real time and resolve them before they impact the business or dent revenues. By quickly identifying and rectifying issues as and when they arise, you’ll build in additional protection, especially when the pressure’s on.

What can you expect from this Black Friday 2016?

This year, Black Friday falls on 25 November in the UK. It’s anyone’s guess just how high online receipts will rise but one thing’s for sure: those retailers whose websites perform effectively under pressure will see the best results.

Seven steps to stellar Black Friday web performance

Black Friday

Edited for web by Jordan Platt