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7 Key Steps for a Profitable Black Friday

A Quickstart Guide for E-tailers

Table of contents

For most e-commerce companies, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two most profitable days of the year. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), in 2017 more than 66 million U.S. consumers made an online purchase on Black Friday while more than 81 million did so on Cyber Monday.

Clearly, there’s a lot to gain, but there’s also a lot to lose during peak season. Take, for example, the case of one national retailer whose website went down almost immediately on Black Friday, resulting in some unfortunate social media attention that showed its customers shopping with a competitor instead.

How do you make sure you’re maximizing (and not losing) sales this coming peak season? Here are seven key steps to surviving and thriving on Black Friday and beyond.

1. Ready your war room

First things first: You need to assemble your troops. Identify which team members from marketing, fulfillment, web and mobile operations, and other key functions will be involved, and assign clear roles and responsibilities. Who will be making the mission-critical decisions and course corrections? Who will be executing which tasks? How and where will collaboration occur? Keep in mind that successfully navigating Black Friday is a team sport, so always think and act like a team.

Once the people and processes have been established, map out your plan of attack at least six weeks (ideally more) in advance of the big day. What new features will you be releasing? What bugs will you fix? What type of tests will you run and when? Establish a timeline and document a detailed play-by-play for the 24- to 36-hour period during Black Friday. Make sure that resources are available around the clock and handoffs are scheduled in advance.

2. Keep a close eye on your buyer journey

In a high-stakes environment like Black Friday, timing is critical and any slipup in your tactical execution could have potentially devastating consequences. For example, say your team is already in high-alert mode due to heavy traffic hitting the site, but then (without your knowledge) the marketing team sends out millions of promotional emails to drive even more traffic to the site. Get ready for some firefighting! Avoid these type of mishaps by having a clear line of communication and transparency between all departments.

How do you stay focused on the big picture? With a real-time analytics dashboard that gives you visibility into both user flow and performance across web, infrastructure, and mobile performance. This dashboard should be placed front and center in the war room so that everyone is on the same page and can quickly figure out if a leaky funnel is a performance problem or if it’s something else. Customer experience monitoring should be in place for every step of your buyer journey.

3. Optimize your checkout process

Awesome! Your customer hit purchase—your job is done, right? Sadly, no. You’re just getting started. From the moment your customer hits purchase, the livelihood of their transaction (and your revenue) is repeatedly tested due to its susceptibility to payment gateway errors, payment processor errors, slow networks, buyer error, etc. Imagine if you collected revenue from 100% of your customers’ purchase attempts. How much in lost sales would you recover from last month? From last year? New Relic APM, New Relic Browser, and New Relic Insights can help expose the “why” behind failed payments so you can begin troubleshooting and improving your payment success rate—fast.

You likely already know your shopping cart drop-off rate, but do you know how much of it is due to app performance problems versus other variables (like your external payment provider)? These questions are now answerable and thus fixable, thanks to your real-time performance dashboard. Set your checkout button as a key transaction to monitor both leading up to and during Black Friday.

If your payment provider can accept $0 transactions, test the checkout process so that you can optimize it beforehand without having to rely on people complaining on Twitter to discover there’s a problem. Key metrics to track: payment success rate, payment gateway response time, and third-party payment provider response time.

4. Use bots to catch problems early

Although the checkout process is most critical, you should ideally be proactively monitoring all transactions happening on your e-commerce site. The goal here is to identify all those pesky code bugs or slow database calls ahead of time, and make sure they’re all fixed before the big day. Using the data and real-time dashboard that maps your buyer journey, find out where your buyers are getting stuck or leaving during the process—and, more important, drill down into the data to find out why.

What can you do to proactively optimize and make sure shoppers make it all the way through to purchase? Take advantage of synthetic monitoring to simulate user behavior and catch problems before your customers do. Run automated tests to find out where specific errors and slow pages are, so you can deliver a top-notch experience no matter where your users are.

5. Test, analyze, repeat

Black Friday shoppers are often not your everyday e-commerce customers. Unlike typical online shoppers who may be searching for quality over price, Black Friday shoppers are primarily interested in finding the best deals. They’re looking for sale items, and, even more likely, items that they can give as gifts over the holidays.

With these different priorities in mind, you should A/B test different versions of your site to see which design features and functionality perform better. Is it with products tagged with a % savings or $ savings figure? Is it with product images lined up in a gallery on the left of the page or at the bottom? Optimize early on to give customers the best shopping experience possible, and on Black Friday put the version that performed better in front of users to maximize results.

6. Be flexible in the moment

You can test and plan for everything but you never know what real shoppers are actually going to do on the big day. For example, you may be expecting shopper traffic to start slowing down around 2 a.m., but they may end up shopping until 3 or 4 a.m., which would cut into your window of normal housekeeping tasks.

Assess key performance indicators and traffic trends to identify opportunities for improvement. If it’s a choice between releasing that shiny new bit of functionality or fixing an underlying infrastructure problem that’s causing a half-second delay in response time, you’re going to want to put the value-add stuff on hold. Be prepared for rapidly changing plans and priorities to keep customers happy.

7. Set yourself up for future success

Just because you’ve made it through Black Friday and Cyber Monday doesn’t mean it’s time to relax just yet—you’re going to be experiencing holiday shopping traffic all through December as well. Perform a postmortem and use your performance monitoring data to analyze what worked and what didn’t. Identify innovation and performance improvement goals, refine your processes, measure and repeat.

Remember: e-commerce is a 365-day business. While there’s a lot at stake during peak season, every day is critical for online retailers and you need to have a flexible, “always-on” approach to development, testing, and monitoring.

Understanding the availability, performance, and customer experience of your web, mobile, and digital channels used to require months of integration, instrumentation, and tuning. Today, synthetic monitoring and native mobile app monitoring, along with infrastructure and single-page app monitoring, can all be acquired as a service without the hassle of setting up a handful of separate monitoring tools.

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