Homepage improvements: How retailers can boost website sales during Black Friday

Last year, Black Friday was yet another record-breaking shopping event. Barclaycard reported that transactions were up 10% year-on-year by 3pm on Black Friday itself, and Springboard reported that online sales had reached
a 46% year-on-year increase by just 4pm.

However, sales started way before then, with retailers disclosing deals over a week in advance, and 1.2 billion retail website visits occurring from 19th to the 25th of November, according to Retail Assist.

The report also found that 67% of all discounts offered were introduced between the Monday and Thursday leading up to Black Friday. This was a 17% increase from 2017, and indicates that the lead up to the day is just as important as the Friday itself.

With IMRG revealing that UK spend on online retail sites on Black Friday 2018 reached £1.49 billion – a 7.3% increase from 2017 – it’s clear that having a well-functioning retail website is becoming more and more imperative if retailers are to take full advantage of the week (or even weeks) long shopping event.

Despite this, recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show that retail sales for September reveal the amount of goods bought by shoppers fell by 0.2% compared to August, with online sales falling slightly compared to the same period last year.

“We have grown used to e-commerce saving the day for retail, but online sales actually fell by -2% against August. Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was just 19.1% in September 2019, compared with 19.5% reported in September 2018,” comments ParcelCompare’s head of consumer research, David Jinks MILT, who says there’s “little doubt” Brexit battles made consumers wary in September, as the nation held its breath waiting to see if there would be a no-deal Brexit.

“Normally consumers turn to Amazon and eBay for a little retail therapy in times of trouble. But in September non-store retailing fell back -2.9% and online department stores a whopping -4.3% as shoppers tightened their wallets and their PayPal accounts,” he reveals. “If even e-commerce growth is faltering amid the general Brexit gloom, UK retail looks to be in a perilous position. October is likely to be similarly disappointing.

“Some kind of Brexit resolution in the run up to the peak Christmas season is the best hope for high street and now even online retailers.”

Online performance

Are the disappointing online retail sales just down to Brexit uncertainty. Or could it be that many businesses need some serious help when it comes to their website functionality?

With a report that UK retailers face £10.6 billion of lost sales due to poor website experience, Tribe is urging retail businesses to make some much-needed home improvements if they want to make the most of the Black Friday sales.

After researching 2,000 UK consumers in the ‘Preparing for perma-peak: the changing face of the trading calendar’ report, Tribe revealed on average, UK shoppers abandon 10% of their total online shopping spend due to poor website performance, leaving UK retailers facing £10.6 billion in lost sales.

With 83% of consumers saying they would simply shop elsewhere if they experienced poor website performance, the biggest pain-point causing UK consumers to abandon a purchase was slow loading webpages, said 37% of shoppers.

This was followed by experiencing pages errors, such as receiving an Error 404 notification, and broken links for a further third (35%) and 28%, respectively.

Tribe also found that 79% of UK shoppers felt retailers could do more to make their websites easier to shop, with fast loading webpages (54%), smoother online checkout processes (52%) and better site navigation (48%) among the top improvements.

This, the report suggests, demonstrates the need for retailers and brands to adopt a nuanced approach to website load testing and site optimisation to ensure they maintain the loyalty of their customers, especially in the new retail trading environment of ‘perma-peak’.

“In the era of digitally transformed retail, the highly- predictable calendar of predefined trading peaks of yesteryear looks increasingly antiquated. The very heartbeat of retail is now driven by customer demand, facilitated by real-time data analytics, low-latency digital networks and algorithm-driven micro-trends that can sweep a social network in nanoseconds,” explains Deri Jones, CEO at Tribe. “The first challenge when preparing your website for the new era of perma-peak is to adopt a regime of always-on testing.

“Trading peaks can happen at any time, so websites need to be in a state of permanent readiness to ensure customer experience is upheld, customer loyalty remains uncompromised, and sales opportunities aren’t lost.”

Remember, investing in your website isn’t just for Black Friday. It will not only help with sales across Cyber Monday and Christmas, but into the New Year and beyond.

But it’s all very well me saying that. What are other retailers suggesting? Well, Shop Direct CTO Andy Burton recently wrote an article for Business Cloud, which delved into the company’s online strategy.

“We constantly test the front and back end of our websites and native apps by simulating Black Friday traffic, so we can be certain that changes made at any time are capable of handling the busiest day of the year,” reveals Burton.

“In fact, our testing system ensures that all of our tech platforms are capable of sustaining at least twice the expected volume of Black Friday traffic. We want to know what our limits are and then push them even further
to identify bottlenecks before they impact customer experience.”

As Black Friday approaches, Burton says that Shop Direct scales up the number of servers running its websites, meaning more traffic can be handled and at a faster pace.

“By learning lessons from previous years, we’ve developed defensive layers to protect website stability. These include the ability to reduce pressure on systems by temporarily switching off some features in the event of particularly high traffic spikes, for example after email marketing drops or promotional notifications on our apps,” he explains.

“For any retailer with an online presence, ensuring their tech is fighting fit is essential for Black Friday success. This means taking a year-round approach to planning and testing, collaborating with other teams in the business and analysing customer behaviour and performance from previous years to identify and prioritise improvements.”

Burton concludes: “Our experience shows that there will almost always be unexpected issues, but in-depth preparation means you’re in great shape to tackle them head on.”

Black Friday 2019 looks set to be yet another busy sales event for the industry. Are you prepared for 29th November?

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