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GUEST COMMENT Is Black Friday destined to become Groundhog Day?

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They say pride comes before a fall, and that could’ve been the motto for last year’s Black Friday promotions in the UK. Retailers celebrated unprecedented sales – totalling around £810 million – but, for many, triumph soon turned to disaster.

For while most companies had invested in the marketing hype to build up Black Friday’s significance in Britain, they hadn’t necessarily followed the thought process through to the logistics and fulfilment of items that were purchased on the day.

As a result, we saw delivery companies stretched to the limit, with shoppers having to wait days, even weeks, longer than anticipated for their bargains. This had a huge impact on pre-Christmas trading capabilities, and some retailers suspended same and next day delivery to clear the Black Friday backlog – feeling the wrath of loyal customers in the process.

Of course, a large proportion of those disgruntled shoppers will look through rose-tinted spectacles when this year’s event arrives, with tech experts already predicting that November 27th will be the biggest online shopping day in history. Second time round, however, Black Friday customers might not be so forgiving; retailers could find themselves out before the third strike if they fail to deliver on their promise.

So how can the industry prevent a repeat of last year’s post-Black Friday chaos? It starts with knowing what’s to come – based on data from 2014, along with 2015 to date, retailers should be forecasting activity for trading peaks throughout the festive trading period.

From this model, companies can then confirm inventory requirements with suppliers, to ensure they can meet the surge in interest. This stock can then be allocated across channels based on predicted demand, although retailers will require an omnichannel order management system to maximise sell-through across the day.

The next step is to liaise with carriers, to gauge their capacity for Black Friday fulfilment. Some companies, such as Yodel, are limiting the number of next-day deliveries they will carry out, and information such as this can be passed on to customers in advance, to manage their expectations.

On the whole, customers are much more tolerant of a brand that tells them upfront that some time-sensitive delivery options are going to be removed, than if they receive a grovelling apology email when their order can’t be dispatched on time.

Don’t forget – a bargain isn’t just a cheap item, it’s an agreement between two people. Therefore it’s the retailer’s job to get buy-in from suppliers that they will supply stock on time, carriers that they will be transparent and proactive with their delivery capabilities, and shoppers that they will be prepared to wait a little longer for their purchases.

Retailers then need the operational transparency to manage the promotion as effectively as possible, and respond to demand as it unfolds, to prevent Black Friday 2015 turning into a Groundhog Day-style repeat of last year.

Mark Thornton is marketing director at Maginus Software Solutions

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