Black Friday: six ways to optimise your site

With just two days left to go before Black Friday commences, it’s time for retailers, and customers to prepare themselves for a day of shopping havoc.

However, as with all forms of businesses, the risk-to-shopper experience is high, but if you can get it right your business will be able to reap the benefits.

This is especially the case with online retailers. People are increasingly looking to purchase items on their mobile phones or computers, rather than fighting off large crowds in retail stores.

According to an online retailer’s trade body IMRG, £1.4bn was spent on online sales in the UK on Black Friday in 2017, an 11.7% increase from Black Friday sales in 2016.

That’s quite a healthy increase from the previous year, but those aren’t the only eye-opening numbers. A report from said that Black Friday in 2017 raked in more than $7.9bn in online-sales in the US.

So, it quite clear that if you aren’t anticipating Black Friday sales on online platforms well ahead of time, you could risk the chance of losing a lot of customers.

We spoke to Eran Kinsbruner, author, blogger and technical evangelist at Perfecto – a cloud-based platform for DevOps teams – to find out a few tips on how to get your site up and ready for the biggest shopping season of the year.

Plan ahead

During this heavy shopping season, it’s pretty much a given that you will need to prepare for the large amounts of customers flocking to your site on the big day. It’s all well and good if you manage to bring in a lot of visitors, but if you don’t prepare for any hiccups along the way then it will just deter visitors away from your site.

Hopefully, you’ve spent that last couple of months preparing, but for those who haven’t planned, the truth is it’s never going to be easy to deal with impending visitors if you haven’t prepared throughout the year, as Eran explains, emphasising the need for retailer websites to “continuously test and monitor their web application daily to minimise the amount of time it takes for your site to load.”

He continues: “If you have hundreds of thousands of users per each given minute, you need to make sure your testing to identify glitches and predict if there’s going to be any issues, and optimise accordingly. You can find external tools, but I recommend to use a cloud-based solution that mimics and provides you with the exact configurations that your end-users will use.”

MTTR: avoid blackouts and peak traffic loads

In today’s world, a website is the first place a customer can interact with your services, but virtually all online customers are put-off when a site stops working.

For companies like Amazon, “it is imperative that they’re able to keep up with the high volume of traffic that Black Friday entails,” says Jeff Keyes, Director of Marketing at Plutora. “If they are unable to keep up, there’s a loss of brand credibility, productivity, and revenue — revenue that is likely to be lost to the competition.”

And, with so many competitors in the retail marketplace, revenue loss is never a good thing for any retail business.

To avoid any blackouts or to fix any problems with your retail website, Keyes believes that mean time to recovery (MTTR) should be at the forefront of any retail business.

To ensure a lower MTTR, organisations should incorporate failure planning into every level of service delivery – creating redundancies in every layer of the application delivery stack. Plan for failures anywhere and everywhere. There are even open source toolsets created to induce chaos into an infrastructure, such as the Simian Army. Reduce time of delivery for software updates utilising continuous deployment with significant automated tests so that patches are less likely to introduce further problems.

Test advertisements and third-party snippets

Every day is competition for user’s attention, especially on one of the busiest days of the year.

You only have seconds to win your customers’ attention, and you’re not going to that by overloading your page with third-party snippets or pop-up advertisements. 

While advertisements and snippets are a great way to promote other deals and services, Eran advises retailers to use them based on the “context perspective of the end-user” and to include snippets or advertisements “as part of your testing process” to avoid any abrupt interferences.

He adds: “If the context is location, not every third-party snippet is relevant for every user in each location. So, I would optimise this interference based on the location, the platform that these users are using, and to measure conditions as well.”

Think mobile-first on black Friday

If retailers can learn anything from last year’s sale figures, both in the UK and in the US, it’s that optimising your website for mobile devices is imperative.

While performing regular tests in advance is an important process for any website, it’s equally important for websites to use a responsive design that allows your website or app to render properly, no matter what device the end-user is using.

To Eran, mobile represents many opportunities – and potential problems – for online retailers. He pointed out that if a retailer doesn’t use a responsive web design, it could have a negative impact on end users’ experience.

“When you develop for responsive, or more advanced webs like progressive webs, by definition these apps have the same feel and functionality for both mobile and web. So for response web or progressive, if you design it correctly for different screen sizes, layouts, and devices like Mac with Safari and Windows with Edge etc., then you should be safe.

But, how do you choose a design that’s suitable for your end-users?

Not only do retailers need to test the web architecture of their websites, but they also need to continuously “check which one (responsive or progressive) is the most reliable when it comes to improving the end-user experience,” Eran said.

Use metrics and machine learning

From the moment a customer visits the landing on your website, they need to know what deal and promotions are on offer and how they can buy them.

It’s a great way to bring people to you, and once you have their attention, close the deal by giving them content or other deals that fit their characteristics and profile.

Using metrics to gauge a user’s characteristics and profiles is a tactic, which large companies like eBay, Amazon, and Netflix (even though they’re not a retailer) use to direct subscribers or viewers to relevant content that reflects their own interests.

According to Eran, companies such as eBay, Amazon, and Netflix use Google Analytics and machine learning tools “to go through their big data pipelines”, which can then be used to customise their user’s experience.
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“When you apply machine learning, on top of the analytics that retailers have – retailers can definitely customise appealing advertisements such as images, videos, promotions, and coupons. I think many retailers are looking into that as we speak,” he said.

Analysing market trends and using data to determine the content you promote on your website is one of the best ways to monitor your customers, Eran explained.

Use countdowns, but “use it in a smart way”

Each year, most customers wait for this day, so much that some never forget to mark it on their calendars each year. And, why shouldn’t they? After all, these sorts of bargains only come around once a year!

According to a recent Black Friday survey, over 75% of people living in America plan to make at least one purchase on the day, either in-store or online.

Just as customers count down the minutes to Black Friday, Eran recommends retailers add a countdown to keep their target audience keyed in and up-to-date on the big day.

However, he says it’s important for retailers to avoid “wasting their customers time and that driving high expectations could lead to users not purchasing any items.” He said: “If I were a retailer I would use countdown timers, but it’s important to use them in a smart way.”

Future trends for online retailers

According to Eran, businesses that personalise their customer’s experience based on users buying behaviours and optimise their websites for mobile, will be the big winners of the 2018 Black Friday sales.

For retailers to drive the next era of modern websites, he explained that retailers need to start integrating machine learning and AI. He believes that these two tools are both “smart and intelligent ways to process data while customising users experience.”

Additionally, he thinks that the market is poised for strong growth, pointing to Virtual Reality (VR) as one of the key trends to help businesses enhance online consumers with their e-shopping experiences.

“Virtual reality seems to be something that many retailers might start using in the future. You can experience the product even before you start shopping. Say, for example, you want to shop for a couch, you can go online and it will launch the camera from your smartphone and show you how the couch looks in your very own living room. The same applies to people shopping for clothes.”

Eran also insisted that the IoT applications could also pave the way for many new business opportunities in the future as well.

New hardware, according to Eran, can either disrupt the market or it can truly revolutionise the industry by creating a seamless customer experience, but it all depends on how “retail developers use those devices.”

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