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GUEST COMMENT The retailer perspective: Black Friday festivities

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GUEST COMMENT The retailer perspective: Black Friday festivities
GUEST COMMENT The retailer perspective: Black Friday festivities
Black Friday and Cyber Monday is arguably one of the most significant sales periods for retailers, and it unites both online and high street brands. Heralding originally from America, the commercial holiday has quickly caught on in our own UK markets; certainly, if last year’s reports of tramplings, crushings and other injuries are anything to go by. It’s clear to see that the UK public are more than embracing this new annual festivity.

Happily for online retailers, the idea of spending hours queued up along shop fronts and then having to push your way into the throng to join the swarm of wild-eyed shoppers desperate for the best and biggest savings, all the while running the risk of experiencing all kinds of frantic aggression and sharp elbows along the way, is not an attractive prospect for the majority. This is where the online click-fest gains traction; a shining beacon of salvation for the hordes that just can’t bear the high street.

The shopper’s perspective is clear to see; the public wants good deals, and is likely to opt for impulse decisions. But for the retailer, how does this compute behind the scenes? Are there hidden losses, among all the advertising, competition and price cuts? We know sales rocket on the day itself, but what about the interactions and engagements with the customers? Do they suffer due to the spike in the volume of orders? Logistically, this kind of frenzy can quickly become a retailer’s worst nightmare.

Founded in 2005, Feelunique is Europe’s largest online beauty retailer and now sells over 400 different brands on the site. Offering Black Friday deals throughout the sale weekend, as well as the week prior, the site offers customers savings as large as 60% off the usual prices listed.

These sales result in a huge spike for Feelunique; so huge, in fact, that during the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, the company sold as many products as they had during the whole month of February earlier that year.

Although there is a trend here, of sales increasing by 700% in 2014 and a further 250% last year, which enables the team to make predictions, this is more than a stock issue. Any online retailer knows all too well that one of the biggest factors influencing a customer’s satisfaction is the delivery period; this is where these kind of spikes can wreak havoc on the customer experience, something that is central to brand reputation, peer-to-peer recommendations, positive reviews and repeat business.

Quickly overcoming initial struggles, which saw Feelunique’s service rating drop from 99% to 89% during the period in 2014, the brand took preventative action. Thanks to the reviews left by customers, the team identified their trouble areas – namely, delivery times exceeding usual service – and pro-actively implemented corrective measures, advising customers in advance that their delivery may take a little longer with a revised timescale of three to seven days from the usual three-day turnaround. This small change meant that, during the 2015 sale period, the brand’s service rating not only avoided a drop, but actually increased by 7%.

For this coming weekend, the team has focused their efforts on ensuring the smooth running of the website, another area which can suffer due to the peak traffic volumes. They have learnt from their competitors, who have experienced issues, that this is important to the customer and are again seeking to pre-empt and protect against this in order to beat the competition hands down.

Rounding up their Black Friday strategy, Craig Wheeler, operations director at Feelunique, stated that, “This is a key trading period for us and we spend a massive amount of energy ensuring that both new and existing customers have no issues when they visit our website during this period. We ensure that we set reasonable expectations on despatch and delivery and expect to surpass these each year. It is a tremendously exciting time for us and the whole business lights up. It really kicks off the Christmas period!”

When it comes to dedicated gift websites, the spikes in traffic reflect the public mentality that this is a sales period ideally suited to stocking up on presents, without paying a fortune. Notonthehighstreet.com is the UK's leading curated online marketplace that connects more than 5,000 small creative businesses with the world, offering inspiring, unique and thoughtful gifts. They see 10 times as many transactions on Black Friday as they do on their average day; thanks to deals of up to 50% off across all their categories including: home and garden, food and drink, fashion and jewellery, and baby and child.

They have also noted a spike in the customer reviews that they receive during this period, again showcasing the additional benefits of the increased traffic, beyond the sales made. The feedback gained during the period can not only improve the service moving forwards and lead to even more happy customers, as Feel Unique has shown, but also congratulate a site on their preparation, deals and offerings; providing valuable insight into the product selections and operations. Reviews from notonthehighstreet.com include comments such as “endless items I could buy… huge range… service was amazing… craftsmanship is incredible” – complimenting not only the site itself, but it’s selection of small business Partners and the products stocked. The feedback gathered during this time, then, helps keep the sites in great shape all year round.

To summarise, Black Friday certainly presents an unbeatable opportunity for retailers, not only in terms of sales but customer insight too. That being said, it can also present a myriad of difficulties too. In order to overcome these and maximise the opportunities available, the best strategy is to learn from past and others’ challenges, and remember to prepare well in advance. Prevention is better than cure when it comes to customer problems, and simple measures can make all the difference between a retailer making or breaking it during the Black Friday festivities.

Andrew Mabbutt is CEO of Feefo.com
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