How to plan for Black Friday

Originally published on Street Fight, October 2020

Here’s my main advice for ecommerce leaders as the holiday season approaches: Prepare like never before, and brace yourself for a Black Friday unlike any other. The consumer behaviors that emerged over the past several months are not going away, and the demand for top-notch digital commerce experiences only continues to grow. 

Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast projects that ecommerce holiday sales will grow by 25% to 35% year over year, compared to a sales increase of 14.7% last year. Here’s a five-point holiday prep list to help ensure your digital commerce experiences stack up and are ready to engage the influx of shoppers this holiday season.

Audit your site’s customer experience 

Put yourself in the shopper’s shoes, and browse your website. Evaluate the experience, identifying and resolving gaps or points of friction that jeopardize a smooth customer journey. As you evaluate your site, some of the questions to ask include:  

  • Am I offering the right products?  
  • Do my products appear correctly on the product listing and product detail pages?
  • Am I listing the right complementary products for each purchase?    
  • Am I offering delivery options? 
  • Is checkout smooth on both desktop and mobile?  

Test your technology infrastructure 

Run tests on your technology infrastructure based on traffic projections to ensure you can absorb the anticipated surges. The last thing your business needs is for product pages to load slowly or your site to crash on Black Friday. 

As you test your infrastructure, be sure to include systems connected to your online experience, such as payment gateways and delivery systems, simulating all possible shopping and checkout scenarios to identify and resolve bottlenecks in your infrastructure. You should also develop contingency plans in the event that problems arise during the height of the retail holiday season.   

Refine your marketing plans 

Ecommerce competition will be fierce this holiday season. As soon as possible, test multiple scenarios with key customer segments in your database to identify the best campaigns. Testing should include various products, messaging, special offers, and promotion vehicles as well as days and times. Conduct A/B tests to determine how customers react, and start to build your marketing playbook.

Allocate inventory based on anticipated demand

Though you may not be able to predict exactly when a traffic surge will occur or how large it will be, it’s better to prepare rather than miss out on a major opportunity. Take a look at sales from your last traffic spike. This will provide an idea of what to expect when it comes to inventory. Then, look at the assumptions in your forecasting model and reallocate inventory to cover anticipated demand. For example, if you are expecting increases in particular locations, transfer inventory to the appropriate distribution center now. Assess your entire fleet of inventory, note where the product is located, and identify which brick-and-mortar stores can serve as temporary fulfillment centers.

Plan for increased BOPIS (buy online pickup in store) 

Prepare for increased BOPIS demand during Black Friday, from both messaging and logistics standpoints. Based on the last several months, curbside pickup is the preferred customer scenario, both for efficiency and safety. 

Customers will look for the ability to select the store where they wish to shop, view available inventory for all deals, and then buy immediately and schedule curbside pickup. Keep in mind that if you plan to adopt a BOPIS strategy, you need a game plan for informing shoppers how to move through the experience — if there is any friction or confusion, they will choose an easier option elsewhere. 

Ecommerce will be the primary channel for many consumers this holiday season. But the pandemic has taught us that If you can’t support a high-quality digital commerce experience, you’re going to miss opportunities for sales and increased loyalty. Now is the time to accelerate whatever projects you have in the pipeline and prepare for a first-of-its-kind holiday season.

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