When it comes to the Black Friday sales, it’s never too early to plan ahead. Wednesday 19 August marks exactly 100 days until Black Friday, and while that may sound like a long time, many retailers are already rushing to prepare.
Where normally brands would be planning for an influx of in-store shoppers, this year’s Black Friday is looking like an entirely different affair. According to the latest research from Emarsys, less than 1 in 10 shoppers plan to brave the high street this Black Friday because of concerns about coronavirus. In contrast, almost a third (32%) say that they’ll still be browsing for deals online.
Given these concerns, numerous retailers have announced that they’ll be approaching Black Friday as an entirely digital event, with brands like Target and Walmart refusing to open their stores over Thanksgiving.
While it’s great to see these brands putting customer protection before profits, the closure of physical stores doesn’t have to mean a massive drop in sales. With 100 days to go, now is the time for retailers to invest in their digital commerce strategy and ensure that their apps, sites and online stores are prepared for a digital-first Black Friday event.
With the countdown clock now ticking, here are a few things that your retail brand can do to prepare:
Triple check your site infrastructure
It sounds obvious, but before you start worrying about customer experiences, cart abandonments or coupon codes, you have to guarantee your site’s infrastructure is up to scratch. If the predictions are to be believed, 2020 could be the biggest year in history for online retail traffic. Unfortunately, that traffic’s not much use if your website’s down.
Every year we hear the horror stories. Costco went down. John Lewis went down. Walmart went down. So much time and money spent on building great digital experiences, only for customers to be greeted with an HTTP error screen.
When it comes to ecommerce, 2020 is not the year to take risks. Use the next few months to triple check your site infrastructure and to invest in cloud-based systems. Virtual queuing software is also a great way to ensure that your site doesn’t get too overloaded. But remember — if you’re going to stick people in a queue, make sure they know how long they’ll be waiting for! Nothing damages customer relationships like long queue times and a lack of information.
Use this time to drill into your data
Thinking about Black Friday in August may seem premature, but it buys you enough time to really drill down into the available data, spotting trends that your competitors might miss.
Take this time to dive back into last year’s Black Friday event, using analytics to understand what people bought, what promotions they responded to and where they had issues on your site.
But don’t just focus on your own data, check out what other retailers have done successfully and make the most of data that’s freely available online. Sites like ccinsight.org provide unparalleled insight into what consumers are buying — providing free access to over 400 million transactions from retail brands. Keep a close eye on this type of free data in the run up to Black Friday, look for patterns and preferences and then use those to inform your own promotional approach.
With fewer in-store promotions to worry about, this Black Friday will give retailers even more time to focus on optimising their digital experiences. With 100 days to go, your focus should be on mobile, social and customer loyalty programmes.
With shoppers not out and about this Black Friday, it would be easy to assume that mobile purchasing will decline. In reality, the opposite is true, with 80% of shoppers now using their mobiles to browse and buy from home. Last Black Friday, mobile accounted for 67% of all online action. This year we should expect that figure to increase even further, making mobile optimisation a vital part of your Black Friday prep.
In addition to mobile, retailers should also use this time to begin planning their email marketing strategies. Last year, we saw retailers sending in excess of 100 million emails during the Black Friday weekend. Done badly, this level of email marketing could become a major source of irritation for consumers, but with the right planning and personalisation strategy in place, it can be your #1 source of Black Friday revenue.
Brand’s like Charlotte Tilbury, AO.com and Gymshark are already talking openly about their email investments ahead of Black Friday. But you don’t have to be a world leader to take advantage of personalised email campaigns. Thanks to advancements in AI, there are loads of great automated, personalisation tools that let brands of all sizes build and optimise their email marketing. But remember, great personalisation takes time and data. Get started now in order to have the maximum impact in November.
Alex Timlin is SVP verticals, Emarsys