Black Friday is essentially when the Christmas shopping season starts. Although it’s not yet December (a curmudgeon writes) Friday 25th November will see a spike in spending if previous years are anything to go by. Figures from Nationwide business and consumer credit cards show that last year spending increased 43% compared to a normal Friday, peaking at 1.30pm.
There have been warnings about the effects of fatigue on drivers working zero hours contracts as they try to keep up with delivery schedules (see this story from the Guardian, which also points to a 12% increase in parcels to be delivered). This website, however, is devoted to IT.
And the complexity demanded of technology in retail transactions in this season is matched only by the sheer volume. If IT professionals are in any doubt about the robustness of their systems, now would be a good time to do some intensive testing.
Black Friday allows data collection
One should probably assume that any retailer of any size will have a decent and robust point of sale system in place as well as stock control and warehousing. Recently, however, newer technologies have emerged that will impact the customer experience.
First there is the contact centre, whether outsourced or kept in house. Self-service and automation are increasingly common and the experience has to be satisfactory, particularly since the aforementioned Nationwide research suggests one in eight Black Friday purchases will be returned by the customer. Dissatisfied customers can do huge reputational damage on social media so they have to be happy even when they’re taking money away.
Those customers will also be offering their data, consciously or otherwise, contributing to the Big Data available to the larger retailers. This is the point at which not only data protection laws kick in (of course) but also analytics. Big Data is only as much use as the questions it is asked. For example, anecdotally from my own experience (and not scientifically researched), when e-commerce first started and you could order groceries online, your editor ordered a weekly shop that included lemon juice. The store had run out of juice so it sent lemon-scented washing up gloves instead (they tasted foul).
More recently, your editor had to order a part to do a minor plumbing repair. The online retailer from which he purchased the part sent weekly entreaties to buy another for months afterwards, when a better-informed system would have worked out that the repair was successful, no further parts would be needed.
On a larger scale this sort of error will impact the experience of a large number of customers and once again, will hit reputation – and take up attention spans that could have been shown more appropriate marketing.
Integration with logistics
The other part of Black Friday in part and Cyber Monday in its entirety is e-commerce. Not only does your business need a robust and secure system for its customers (whose confidence will have been shaken by last week’s incident with Three and other recent breaches) but this needs to integrate with product delivery.
Whether your company chooses to outsource delivery or to perform the function in-house, links between the customer’s ordering system and the delivery infrastructure need to be of the smoothest. Preferably customers need to be able to track their deliveries online or through an app. You might or might not have the resources of an Amazon, which will tell you when your product is going to be delivered; your customer, increasingly, will expect this as a minimum level of service.
Black Friday is this week and will be followed by Cyber Monday one week from today. If you’re in retail your systems had better be ready – and by “ready” we don’t just mean able to take lots of orders.