10 Black Friday (& Cyber Monday) Tips For The CTO

April 19, 2022

If you are involved in online retail whether B2C or B2B then there are certain times of the year when your systems are pushed to their limit. A few years ago, I was involved in an e-commerce outfit that had about 10k live SKUs and the main times in the year for promotion where Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Valentines, Halloween, Christmas Holiday Season and other seasonal promotions.

  • 2019 Black Friday was the biggest yet, Google tracked a 7.1% increase in sales volume, 16.5% increase in sales value and a 3.1% increase in footfall – with the majority of the growth tracked online. (found.co.uk)
  • Ometria reported the number of on-site visits from Black Friday to Cyber Monday in recent years was 150% higher than in an average 4-day period on sites. (rapidspike.com)
  • 40% of customers will leave a site that doesn’t load in 3 seconds, is your site at risk of losing customers? (rapidspike.com)

This year is going to be even busier online due to the restrictions of buying in store.

Our promotions were planned meticulously due to the number of items on sale but it was mainly a Marketing Strategy on the product side of the business.

From a technical perspective, these are some of the lessons that we learnt.

1. Test your server load capacity

We were running hosted Magento with a distributed MySQL backend and limited caching due to the dynamic of the website. On normal days, it would operate seamlessly but when it was stress tested the system would have indeterministic errors. Our testing was more rigorous than the experts managing the installation. (It turns out that the MySQL distribution settings were not correct.)

Lesson: We did not take our supplier’s word for reliability and tested ourselves. This prevented any real world issues for customers.

2. Coupons, Vouchers and Discounts codes are working correctly

Make sure that someone is checking that codes are working and that they give the right discount. We had a code set up that was supposed to give 10% off but turned out it gave 90% off. There were a few red faces in the office!

3. Ability to support enquiries

Your potential customers may have questions in the process of buying. You need to make sure that you handle them efficiently so that the customer will have confidence to buy. On top of our website, we used different channels including Amazon and a few on eBay. We rolled out 2000 products over a weekend without taking into account the queries from customers. Monday was spent answering the questions by the whole team.

4. Distribution Capability

From your warehouse to your delivery partners, you need to make sure that the technology is in place to support them with the increase in demand. This might be as simple as getting extra staff in to help with packing in the warehouse.

5. Efficient Returns Process

A pain for reporting is that your sales can be an overestimate of reality if you have a reasonable amount of returns. This is more prevalent in the fashion B2C. To keep your customers coming back, you need to have an efficient process but watch out for those customers who are abusing the system.

6. Unlisted stock

Stock sitting in a warehouse will not sell if it is not on the website! This may seem obvious but I had to change our processes so that new items were added quickly as we had a batch of items sitting in the warehouse for days.

7. Escalation procedures

“Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth.” At the busy times when something goes wrong, your escalation processes need to kick in. If they don’t exist, you don’t even have a plan. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

8. Extra staff

The company may take on extra staff over busy periods and you need to make sure that onboarding and security protocols are followed. It is very tempting to bypass in busy times but they are there to protect your brand and customers’ data.

9. Freeze non critical releases

Stating the obvious but do not update any live systems before a busy period unless it is critical. Work can still carry on but plan to release when things have quietened down.

10. Personal life

Warn your loved ones that your work may need you over the busy period. Get your colleagues to do the same.

Your ecommerce traffic will be driven by digital marketing, ad clicks and the deals. If you have estimated the number of shoppers correctly, then you should have a stress free period with 100% uptime.

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