While most folks are still at the beach soaking up the last of the summer sun, retailers are busy planning for one of the biggest shopping events of the year: Black Friday weekend.
Black Friday has long marked the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season in America, and the last decade has seen more and more UK stores adopt the trend. In fact, UK customers spent a whopping £1.4bn on online Black Friday sales in 2017. With so much consumer interest, it’s no wonder retailers devote months to preparation.
So, you’ve probably already done the marketing prep for Black Friday. You’ve read every article from How to Create a Buying Frenzy to 2018 E-commerce Trends. You’ve placed the purchase orders, hired the temps, got the word out on your socials. You’re all set to promise your customers a whole host of incredible deals.
Now it’s time to make sure you can deliver on those promises.
To minimise the risk and maximise your profits, it’s essential to make sure all your systems are ready to go. After working with some of the world’s biggest brands during this period, we’ve identified key steps to help your Black Friday go as smoothly as possible.
What happens if you put hundreds of thousands of orders through your systems in the space of a few hours? If you don’t already know, now’s the time to find out.
Load testing is the process of simulating demand on your software so you can test the way it behaves in various conditions. For example, if you’re expecting a multitude of orders on Black Friday (and even if you’re not), it’s essential to load test your software to ensure it’s able to cope with your sales peaks.
If you have a variety of different systems in place and you’re unsure how to conduct a load test, there are a selection of tools you can invest in to help with this. You can also get in touch with your technology partners.
If you’re using an integration platform like Patchworks, you don’t need to worry about load testing – we’ll take care of it all for you.
In theory, cloud computing should mean limitless resources for handling high traffic and order volumes. But in reality, there are no guarantees – something big brands like Game realise every year when their sites unexpectedly go down at crucial moments.
Check with your systems providers to establish their resources for Black Friday:
- Is their software battle-proven?
- Has it been load tested, and if so, what results can they share?
- What are their contingency plans?
- What options are there to increase capacity for your e-commerce platform, ERP, WMS or other critical business system?
- Will there be an additional cost for these increases?
The chances are that your technology partners are ahead of the curve, but it’s always best to check. Getting in touch with your key providers will give you the peace of mind you need ahead of the tumultuous Black Friday weekend.
Lines of communication
Who do you turn to if something goes wrong? It’s always a good idea to know your point of contact in case issues arise, and it’s never more essential than Black Friday. Work with your software providers to establish who’s responsible for what in your IT ecosystem. Make sure you have a clear and quick process for escalating issues, with out-of-hours support in place for all essential areas.
The more systems you have, the more difficult establishing this line of communication becomes. Most companies have a variety of systems in place to support their operations. So who do you contact if something goes wrong as a critical time?
This is where a robust integration platform comes in handy.
With one source for your all your different systems integrations, you’ll only need one point of contact if something goes topsy-turvy. If you’d like to learn more about how an iPaaS can help your business, you can get in touch here.
This is something a lot of brands forget to consider. While system updates are essential for improving your customers’ shopping experience, it’s important to be aware of when these updates are going live.
Ensure you can control and limit changes to your IT infrastructure ahead of Black Friday weekend. You can do this by contacting your tech partners and finding out what software releases and updates they have planned in the weeks before Black Friday. Allow at least a few weeks before the big day for any updates so you can be confident your systems are stable.
It’s also a good idea to avoid major front-end updates ahead of peak trading times. A sudden change in appearance and UX can be off-putting for loyal customers, and the week before Black Friday is not usually the time to start experimenting.
Peak trading times like Black Friday are where your company’s internal communications are really tested. If you’re launching offers all over the place and your average order volume quadruples, it’s going to have a ripple effect on the rest of your business.
To cope with the extra orders, it’s important to synchronise communications between your operational, customer service and marketing teams. If an incredible offer is going live at a certain time over Black Friday weekend, everyone needs to know about it – not just the marketing heads.
This is a good time to take a look at your current communications plan and see if there are any gaps that need filling. Talk to your employees, create an anonymous survey, and work with your marketing, operational and customer service teams to establish what communication issues they face on a daily basis.
When reviewing your internal comms, don’t just think about what messages need to be conveyed; think about how those messages will be received by your colleagues. Email and intranets still work really well for some companies, but organisations with a younger workforce may benefit from exploring instant messaging tools like WhatsApp and Slack. And hey, who doesn’t love a good dashboard?
Pick, pack & despatch
Once your customers checkout with all their exciting deals, it’s down to your warehouse and your fulfilment partners to get those orders out the door. For Black Friday weekend, this requires a strategic plan established ahead of time. There should be three key phases in your plan: pre-peak, peak and post-peak.
Prepping your warehouse during the pre-peak period is one of the best things you can do in the run-up to Black Friday. Make sure your warehouse layout is optimised – what will be your fastest moving products? What can you do to make those quicker to pack? One option that Amazon takes during Black Friday is to pre-pack their most popular products, as well as checking all their equipment is functioning correctly.
During the peak period, it’s all about manpower. It’s best practice to hire extra staff ahead of time to allow them to complete training and become familiar with the environment. Pre-negotiating overtime will give you breathing room if you need it.
You could also look to involve the whole business – and even key strategic partners – in pick, pack and despatch. 2017 saw Patchworks co-founders chipping in at our customer Gymshark’s warehouse – something that the Patchworks team are keen to emulate with customers in 2018.
If your business uses a third-party logistics management, it’s also important to negotiate extra capacity from them. See if you can get pick-up time extensions to allow your operation some leeway if things don’t go to plan.
Remember, things aren’t over as soon as the peak season ends, especially not for your warehouse. With that high order volume comes a higher returns volume, so it’s important to think about the post-peak rush in your warehouse plan. Consider keeping on some of the temporary staff until the returns period is over.
Bringing it all together
Black Friday weekend is one of the biggest opportunities of the year for your company, which means the pressure is well and truly on. Alongside your marketing strategy, you need to make sure your IT infrastructure can handle the thousands of extra orders. Luckily, Patchworks can help with that.
Patchworks is an integration platform, giving you one handy place to plug in all your essential business software. Everything from your WMS to your 3PL can be managed through this powerful platform, allowing automated data syncing between your systems. The best part? You’ll only need one point of contact to prepare your integrations for peak shopping seasons.
If you’re curious about how integration can help transform your company’s operations, get in touch today. We’ll take you through the basics and advise you on what’s best for your business.