How retailers can brace for ‘Blackvember’

Will their IT systems cope under peak pressure?
28 November 2018

Brace yourselves for ‘Blackvember’. Source: Shutterstock

Brits are set to splash out £8.1 billion (US$10.4 billion) during Black Friday 2018 week, up 12.5 percent on last year, according to IMRG.

As with previous years, retailers anxious to ease pressure on their systems have extended sale campaigns over longer periods.

The result is that some commentators are now labeling this whole month ‘Blackvember’ as we witness the soft launch of campaigns at the start of November, changing website design and teasing customers with early sale releases during two weeks of promotional activity leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

This presents a huge challenge for retailers and their IT infrastructures, not least the stability of websites which can face a surge in traffic of over 220%. According to Michael Wood, Principle Digital Consultant, Astound Commerce, those who take the following six steps to optimize their retail systems will be best placed to succeed this November and into Christmas.

Prepare for your desired outcomes

You should have nailed exactly what you wanted to achieve and have been as specific as possible. By using analytics to understand fully what happened last year and then predict how this year will be different. Predictions should have been based on a wide spectrum of factors, including your marketing plan and what products will be promoted.

What is your expected web traffic uplift?

Quantify how much traffic think your site will experience. Base your prediction on last year and then compare your predicted traffic with the levels your system can currently handle comfortably.

How will you handle the expected traffic?

Take steps to enhance your e-commerce platform so that it can cope with an unexpected increase in traffic levels. This may include adding extra scalable server capacity and ensuring your payment processes are sufficiently scalable.

Keep testing

You should have created a test environment based on what you think November and December will look like. Don’t simply scale up your system based on the expected increase in traffic (e.g. doubling server capacity if you expect double the traffic) and hope for the best because your system may behave in unexpected ways.

The best approach is to design and implement a test that will replicate the expected traffic and put your systems under the necessary strain.

Decide if you need to lock down your website code

It may have limited your ability to change your site’s software weeks or months ahead of Black Friday and beyond, but a code freeze would have been necessary if you manually test your code.

This is because manual testing is time-consuming and introduces the possibility of human error. If, however, you carry out regular automated regression testing with each website software update, a full lockdown may not have been necessary.

Walk in your customers’ shoes

A clear focus on customer experience is vital for Blackvember. More than anything else, you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and see the world through their eyes.

For example, last year mobile traffic overtook desktop for the first time, so a customer’s mobile experience must be just as good, or better than, the desktop. Product details, including image, description, price and a buy button, need to load immediately otherwise they will go elsewhere.

Your platform also needs to be flexible, so you can add the very latest products to satisfy customer demand. There may be scores of factors that impact customer experience for your website, but you need to identify, prioritize and satisfy as many people as possible if you are going to get the most from this event.