Special times call for special measures. The true meaning of this may be hard to appreciate until you really find yourself in an extraordinary situation. 2020 has been a landmark year, a time when the world is permanently reshaped. And eCommerce is a big part of this change.
With Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) approaching, there is a general agreement that this year’s shopping period will be quite unique, affecting most industries. Yet, there is some ambiguity as to how businesses across the Internet will cope with the consequences of the COVID pandemic.
While historically it is inevitable to have a higher consumer activity during BFCM, there are factors that merchants need to take into account when planning their efforts. On the one hand, the number of online shoppers this year has exploded due to offline shopping restrictions, creating new opportunities for eCom vendors.
On the other hand, many businesses are moving online as well, contributing to drastically higher competition.
Besides, many consumers are refocusing on purchasing primarily what they consider ‘essentials’, and the upsurge in eCommerce (including Amazon Prime Day moved to October this year) suggests that people’s shopping appetite may not be as strong during BFCM.
In this light, the businesses that are more flexible and forward-thinking will have a better chance of adapting and reaping higher profits. The key factors that are most likely to determine your success are as follows:
- Your industry and market niche
- Your brand’s reputation
- How consistent you’ve been with your website maintenance and optimization
- How well you’ve been able to read into the current market sentiments and consumer trends.
The following FAQ is based on questions we have received from merchants over the past few months regarding ways to improve and optimize their online stores, as well as the projected impact of BFCM 2020. It is split into two major sections, dedicated to technical and marketing initiatives, and aims to help you make informed decisions that are right for your business.
DOES MY STORE NEED ADDITIONAL TESTING?
The importance of testing your website in preparation for the Black Friday sales is hard to overestimate. The reason merchants should prioritize testing is it allows them to simulate various BFCM scenarios in terms of both traffic load and operational steps. This helps evaluate your website’s performance, identify any issues, and fix them before they can cause any damage.
The main types of tests you should consider running are load tests, stress tests, and speed tests. These will help you answer the following questions:
- Can your website handle the expected load without performance degradation or crashing? Will you be able to serve the anticipated number of visitors, process orders in time, accept payments?
- What is the operational limit of your server infrastructure? How much pressure can it handle efficiently?
- What are the weakest spots of your website? Will you be able to fix them before they cause any damage?
- How flexible and resilient is your store? How well can it recover from a potential failure?
- Is your site available? Does it load fast enough?
Setting up testing tools and running several rounds of testing & fixing a couple of weeks prior to BFCM should suffice to eliminate most issues.
I’D LIKE TO MONITOR MY WEBSITE’S PERFORMANCE MORE CLOSELY, WHERE DO I START?
Sufficient data is key to inform and guide your efforts – both prior to and during BFCM. You have to be able to accurately identify user trends, monitor site performance, and understand where you might be losing money. To do this you need access to the relevant analytics data and historical reference metrics – from previous years’ sales as well as off-season.
There are a variety of specialized analytics tools available. Among the most common and reliable ones are Google Analytics and Google Ads. Setting up a custom report dashboard, e.g. using Google Data Studio, is a great option that allows you to combine all the critical metrics from various sources into a single report.
What to look for in a report? The specific set of KPIs will vary depending on your goals and business specifics, but some of the most useful info to track includes the following:
- Numbers of users and sessions by day
- Average page load time per OS/browser
- Direct traffic to the website
- Page performance
- Checkout performance
- ‘404’ page statistics
- Conversion rate
HOW MUCH OPTIMIZATION IS ENOUGH?
Due to the pandemic-related restrictions, this year eCommerce is booming. However, competition is fierce, and most online stores need to evolve through constant improvement and optimization to keep up the pace.
The principal areas of optimization usually include the following:
- Optimization for mobile. The share of mobile traffic/purchases keeps growing. New mobile-first technologies, such as PWA force merchants to stay on their toes.
- Performance optimization. To increase page load speed: optimize content, optimize server infrastructure, consider adopting CDN.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Ensure page discoverability and drive organic traffic.
- Conversion rate optimization (CRO). Streamline conversions funnels and assure seamless order/payment flow.
MY STORE WORKS OK, DO I STILL NEED A TECH TEAM AVAILABLE FOR BFCM?
It is extremely rare to see business owners who can effectively manage every aspect of their eCom store by themselves. Thus, as a merchant, you should work with a tech team – either external or in-house – that will monitor and resolve any issues around the clock, while you can focus on the business side of things.
Therefore, to secure a smooth operation of your eCom store and uninterrupted sales, ensure that you have a dedicated team of eCom professionals available on short notice. Depending on your scope, their involvement may vary to include any of the following:
- Preparation and maintenance
- Audits and strategy development
- Redesign (e.g., mobile) and content restructuring/optimization
- Technical improvements, such as eliminating bottlenecks, improving security, increasing the page load speed
- Server infrastructure optimization
- Data migrations
- Resolving any urgent issues prior to or during the sales period
WHAT’S TO BE EXPECTED OF BFCM IN 2020?
Depending on who you listen to, the forecasts for BFCM 2020 will vary in the degree of optimism. Quite naturally so, in particular, given the effect of the COVID pandemic on the eCom industry – spoiling things for some market niches, and boosting the growth of others.
This said, most blanket assumptions will fall short in accuracy. Instead, merchants should take a moment to assess the risks and the opportunities that their business will face during this year’s shopping activities.
So, what should you look out for?
Many expect this year’s BFCM to be pretty huge. Like, the biggest in history. Over-ambitious? Maybe. But there are reasons to believe that some businesses, more than others, will indeed be able to ride the waves of the storming market, big time.
Despite much uncertainty combined with a toughening economic climate, eCommerce is growing stronger globally and shows no sign of slowing down. This suggests that most online businesses will be able to find their customers. The question is, will you be able to capitalize on this opportunity?
- People are still keen to make holiday purchases
- The majority are not planning to cut spending
- There are many “new” online shoppers – people who would otherwise shop offline, but had to refocus to eCom due to COVID restrictions
- An unprecedented number of people will not be traveling this year to see their close ones in person. This means more gifts will be shipped directly to family and friends.
POINTS OF CONCERN
It wasn’t only the consumers that had to move online. The same is true for businesses: many are stepping up their eCommerce game in pursuit of shopper dollars. This means a busier eCom landscape and much higher competition.
This also implies additional operational complexities. With more pressure on suppliers and delivery services, many are likely to find themselves challenged to cater to their end-users.
Even though people are still looking to enjoy their holiday shopping, the economic realities will have an impact on what they consider a priority this year. Thus, there is the danger that the niches cast as nonessential may experience a decline in sales.
- Many have had to tighten their belts, and are more likely to be thoughtful with their spending
- With higher competition among businesses, it will be more difficult to cut through the noise and get the attention of your prospects
- Consumers are spoilt for both choice and quality of service, meaning that merchants will have to go the extra mile to win over their target audience.
ANY RECOMMENDATIONS THAT CANNOT BE MISSED?
This year merchants should consider including the following in their BFCM eCom strategy:
Start early. The shopping activities have stretched beyond the traditional hot weekend, over past years. In 2020 this trend is even more prominent, with businesses trying to outdo the competition by opening sales earlier and running them for longer.
Now, the resulting domino effect doesn’t mean you must alter the dates of your planned sale, however, it can (and should) inform some of the related operations.
For example, you may consider starting your promotions earlier this year to warm up your prospects and get them hyped up about your deals.
Another thing to do is to revise your supply and delivery workflows. Make sure you are logistically prepared for busier-than-usual consumer activities. Keep in mind that most people will not be able to travel freely to see their close ones in person, relying on sending gifts instead.
There is a real possibility that parts of the international supply chain may overheat during the sales period – blocking the ill-prepared merchants from satisfying customer demand, and leading to missed profits.
Know your niche. The eCom landscape is changing fast, and, as a business owner, it is your responsibility to make the necessary adjustments in order to benefit from (possibly) the biggest shopping events in recent history.
What are the current trends in your specific industry? How does the COVID pandemic affect the choice of products your prospects view as necessities? Is there something your competition is doing to take advantage of the situation, that you’re not? Are you aware of the latest regulations in your market niche?
Point is, now is not the time to slouch and rely on common sense. Merchants need to be quick on their feet, and actively seek relevant data to inform and verify their strategies and estimates. Those who do will have an upper hand during this year’s sales period, and, potentially, beyond.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE UPCOMING SHOPPING EVENTS?
Plan your catalog. Examine the current situation in your industry, and pay close attention to the needs of your prospects. Have their priorities shifted? Do they have specific expectations you need to be aware of? Be sure to stay in tune with your audience, and compile your product catalog to cater to their desires.
Plan your inventory. As mentioned earlier, there is a risk that supply chains might be overloaded, leading to delivery delays and item unavailability. To avoid running into these problems, make sure to stock up sufficiently and in advance.
Optimize your website. Optimizing your store is not limited to ensuring stable operation under high load. Once users show up on your pages, their journey from landing to checkout has to be as smooth as possible. User journey optimization may cover UI elements, order fulfillment and payment flows, etc.
Once again, don’t leave this to the last moment. Our experience shows that many shoppers prepare their shopping baskets well in advance to complete their purchases when Black Friday finally arrives.
Spot opportunities. You can get an insight into what you are doing right (or not-so-right) by examining your website’s analytics reports and assessing KPIs. This data will also be helpful in determining further steps necessary to meet your business goals.
HOW TO APPROACH PROMOTIONS?
In 2020 many merchants will have to take a fresh look at their BFCM promotions. For many online first-timer businesses promotion campaigns will become an opportunity to put their brand on the map and find new audiences. Digital natives and well-established brands alike will use the campaigns as a tool to hold their market niche and re-engage their loyal customers.
To get through to your prospects, consider incorporating the following tactics in your outreach and promo campaigns.
- Make your customers feel understood with personalized offers
- Get your customers involved: let them share feedback and participate in designing your product catalog and BFCM offers
- Rewards and modern loyalty programs: explore ways to form lasting relationships with your customers, so they keep coming back
- Start your campaigns as early as possible and get your audiences thrilled about your offers
- Find subtle yet effective ways to promote curiosity, urgency, and fear of missing out
- Implement conditional offers
- Though outreach via email campaigns still works well, do consider using additional channels: SMS and live chat are two great options to look into
- Evaluate demand, and showcase your products on Google.
HOW TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD?
For obvious reasons, this is always a million-dollar question in eCom. However, there are indications that competition during BFCM 2020 will be so intense that the habitual meat-and-potatoes promotions and discounts will get you nowhere. Unless your actual plan is to serve as a substrate for someone else’s success. Thus, you need to be both strategic and creative to cut through the noise and stand out from the competition.
But how? Here are a few ideas to get you moving in the right direction:
- Be in tune with your customers and plan your catalog according to their needs
- Do your best to secure sufficient inventory and rule out any backfire in your delivery chain
- Adopt multichannel selling
- Make your store accessible to a wider audience by building a personalized dynamic shopping experience
- Explore fresh strategies and approaches: ever considered a philanthropic initiative? How about live video shopping?
- Make a point of focusing on your service quality.