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Act now to prepare for Black Friday and Christmas, retailers warned – especially if you sell overseas

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With European ecommerce sales hitting £346.9 billion in 2015 and expected to pass £380.9 billion this year, retailers need to get on with preparing their websites, logistics and business processes for Black Friday and Christmas. And the need is even more pressing if you are selling overseas.

Despite many retailers thinking that preparing a website for the lead up to Black Friday can wait until later in the year, the reality is that deployments need to be carried out in early September at the latest, with testing taking place in October, this means plans need to be finalised by the end of the summer.

As the pressure mounts for retailers to provide a fast, seamless and tailored online experience, along with the fall in value of the pound making it more attractive for overseas shoppers to buy from UK sites, retailers have an opportunity to capitalise on increased demand that’s set to continue for the remainder of the year.

Another requirement is to engage increasingly savvy online consumers with a range of website features, as competitors fight for their attention across various platforms with mobile now a key focus.

According to research from Adobe, customers are rightly becoming more discerning and impatient, and will not stay loyal to an online retailer that doesn’t provide a seamless service. In fact, 78% of customers now say they are not loyal to any brand, demonstrating how offering a poor online experience is likely to lose customers.

By starting to prepare now, retailers can set their businesses up for success when the apex of holiday shopping rolls around, and ensure they minimise lost sales throughout this peak season.

Mike Bainbridge, Chief Digital Technologist, Rackspace explains: “It’s often hard to start conversations about Black Friday and the holiday peak in August, but for online retailers it’s vital to plan early. The worst situation for a retailer is leaving things to the last minute, then rushing to get things ready. This doesn’t have to be a stressful process; you just need to make sure you start early.”

He continues: “Now is the time for retailers to start making decisions about the future of their ecommerce platform. Adequate planning is an essential part of this process, delivering performance and having sufficient capacity is also critical to providing that all important customer experience.”

Top tips for Black Friday preparation

Rackspace has pulled together the following top tips for businesses looking to get as prepared as possible ahead of the seasonal rush:

Lessons learned

Retailers must look at revenue goals, and identify how many visitors their site received over the last Christmas period, recognising the peak days/times, and if any downtime was experienced. It’s also important for businesses to know how their site performed, and traffic or conversions that were as a result of mobile. They can then identify where expectations were met, where there is room for improvement, and where immediate change is needed.

If this is a business’ first Christmas period, it’s a case of making sure that the right expertise and skills are on hand to help be as prepared as possible for this first big rush.

The earlier the better

It’s critical to ensure websites are ready for the increased holiday traffic well ahead of drafting the first piece of seasonal promotional marketing content. Plus, consumers are going online to scout out those bargains earlier and earlier, so businesses need to give themselves plenty of time to make sure a site is in good shape. This means knowing web load capacity, finding out how a site is performing throughout the technology stack, and identifying revenue goals, so it can be coordinated across the business.

Proper performance testing

It’s no good flooding a traffic with virtual users to test how it performs, instead, businesses need to build up accurate customer journeys and deliver the right percentages of browse and purchase populations. Performance testing is a carefully planned project which can identify bottlenecks in a site. By testing in an intelligent way, not only can companies understand the volume of traffic the site can handle, but address any outstanding issues and improve performance.

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