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The secret to Black Friday success it’s never too early to get your ducks in a row – load test early and often

15th June 2016

A record-breaking £1.1bn was spent with UK online retailers over the course of Black Friday 2015, up more than 30% on the previous year’s figures. Statistics show that online sales dwarfed what was spent in-store, with mobile taking the lead, accounting for 60% of traffic and 40% of sales.

Everybody loves a bit of schadenfreude so, naturally enough, bad-news stories abounded, with some of the biggest high-street names suffering the PR fallout from underperforming websites. It’s estimated that 20%-25% of all ecommerce sites suffered from outages or downtime on Black Friday, including Boots, Argos, Game and John Lewis.

We know it’s a massive blow to business when performance issues result in lower conversions on the day – not to mention the longer-term damage to brand reputation. Some businesses think it won’t happen to them but in our experience, it’s not that the majority of retailers don’t consider the potential effects of underperforming in this critical period, more that they don’t have the resources, time, knowledge, experience or capacity to plan, prepare and test for Black Friday peaks.

Seven Steps to stellar Black Friday web performance

1. Plan for your peak periods

Prepare a comprehensive load test plan eight months or so before Black Friday. It’s important to involve business as well as tech teams so everyone’s aware of deadlines, together with test dates and contingency dates. It’s the only way you’ll build in enough time to implement, test and fix these before code lockdown so there’s no last minute pressure on tech to deliver the impossible.

2. Prepare for your desired outcomes

It’s crucial to nail the outcomes you want for Black Friday. Use analytics from the previous year’s performance to better understand how and when the traffic may arrive and to create an accurate and realistic Load Test Model. This will help you test realistic customer journeys including specific landing pages and promotional codes. We routinely review past performance for clients and map our findings into proposed changes. 

3. Measure current capacity

In order to prepare for your peak sales period, you need an accurate assessment of web performance. We recommend that a load test is performed at least six months ahead of Black Friday to measure current capacity and to flag any performance issues that may adversely impact the customer experience. If you can spot areas of weakness at this point, you can begin making changes to fix or improve performance and capacity.

4. Test early and test often

We advocate regular load testing, with increased frequency in the run-up to code lockdown. The best routine to implement testing after making changes to improve performance to understand how your improvements are working or how they’ve affected the performance of other components; we provide comparison data on previous test runs to help clients with this. Sticking to this process can save time and money in the long run as it’s easier to manage and enables smaller changes at each stage whilst ensuring each change is verified before moving on to the next stage.

5. Get it right on time

The best performers on the big day will be those that stick to the schedule, so you should aim to lock down code six to eight weeks prior to Black Friday. That’s not the end of the story, though. Obviously, you’ll want to update your website with special Black Friday sections and deal codes but these must be implemented before lockdown.

6. Retest after code lockdown

You’ll need to retest after lockdown – we suggest two to four weeks ahead of time – to check performance of the final system on the live environment, while allowing enough time to remedy any last-minute issues.

7. Make it work for your customers…

It’s important to recognise that any change to a site carries the risk of additional performance problems. You want customers to enjoy a smooth, glitch-free experience right through to checkout. So make sure you monitor key journeys 24/7 prior to and during your peak period to identify any problems before they impact your customers. Remember to monitor mobile journeys and also right to the journey’s end, including ‘Click and Collect’ or delivery options.

…And for your business

There are some practical considerations that will make your Black Friday online experience more manageable. Firstly, consider stripping down your site to deliver essential core functionality to avoid slowdowns – consider reducing the range of products offered for the flash sale period for the best speed, stock control and experience at busy times – and keep pages small to optimise performance on mobile devices. Finally you may want to consider a queuing system as a contingency plan.

What can you expect from this Black Friday 2016?

This year, Black Friday falls on 25 November in the UK. While no-one knows how high online receipts will rise, it’s safe to say that the retailers who stand to gain most are those whose websites can perform effectively, despite the expected virtual stampede throughout the sales period. This year’s Black Friday peak is expected to extend over a longer period. The commercial stakes are high, but by planning ahead and focusing on delivering an optimal customer experience, savvy retailers can capitalise on this opportunity to increase conversion rates and boost online revenue in the run-up to Christmas.

If you’d like to learn more about how thinkTRIBE could help you prepare for peak demand through a fully managed service that’s tailored for your operation, read more about our managed load testing service or get in touch. In the meantime, why not download our in-depth load testing white paper or check out last year’s Black Friday mCommerce survey results.