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The cost of peak performance

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By Deri Jones 03/11/2020

As retailers enter the peak weeks of the Golden Quarter, it’s fair to say that the stakes have never been higher. This year has forced a rapid change of pace for ecommerce operations. Brands with little or no online presence have had to quickly adopt one, while even practised players have redoubled their efforts to anticipate consumer buying patterns and match demand with supply.

When it comes to online retail, it’s not just about getting the proposition right. The technological and logistical problems that have been the stumbling block for many – how to deliver a smooth user experience (UX), quickly converting eager browsers into confident buyers, and tying it into a suitably robust, back-end logistics function – are, of course, only exacerbated during peak buying times.

Getting it wrong is expensive

The basic ecommerce principle of giving customers what they want and ensuring they get it, on any given day of the year, sounds straightforward enough. In practice, it can be a tricky strategy to implement. Take a significant retail occasion – a new product launch or sales event like Black Friday, perhaps– throw a handful of supply issues and a few departmental mixed messages into the equation and you have the potential for significant reputational damage.

There’s no shortage of examples demonstrating how even high-profile brands get on the wrong side of a PR spin. Just last month, Smyths Toys found the less-than-sweet spot between supply and demand when a lucrative promotional event turned sour after website glitches prevented customers from placing orders

An increasingly competitive landscape

Experts predict that this quarter will be a particularly competitive one, with retailers anxiously vying for a slice of a diminishing consumer pot. As Covid-19 takes its toll on the consumer purse, even usually bankable events like Black Friday will exert less overall pull: ecommerce consultancy Wunderman Thompson Commerce has estimated that Black Friday spending could shrink by 22 percent. The bright spark in an otherwise gloomy forecast for engaged ecommerce brands? That online spending is expected to take the lion’s share of business.

WTC’s Welcome to the Mega Peak report (a survey of over 2,500 UK consumers) predicts that 67 percent of Black Friday shopping – a potential £3.7bn spend – will take place online. With shoppers harbouring concerns about the financial toll exerted by a toxic combination of the pandemic and January’s Brexit deadline, retailers will need to win every piece of business they can, while they can.

Balancing functionality with a flawless UX

We know that customers want a smooth browsing and buying experience. But we also know that they appreciate – and, in some cases, expect – the add-ons that enhance the journey. The automated personalisation features offered by our partner PureClarity, enables marketers to deliver precisely targeted campaigns that enrich the UX in a valuable win-win exercise.

Delivering these twin ideals – an enriched and smooth customer journey – isn’t antithetical, even when considering performance around peak, so long as realistic testing protocols are factored in from the earliest stages. Simply put, any enhanced functionality – like PCP personalisation – will create an infinitely better UX and help drive conversions but should be used on tandem with a testing regime that ensures there are no obstacles to buying, regardless of traffic spikes.

Peak has never been more critical

Coming into this pivotal period, it’s essential to understand:

  • The capacity of all digital channels to better analyse how many customers they can support and how many concurrent orders can be processed.
  • How website changes may adversely affect the capacity or stability of the platform.
  • What impact variations in traffic have on site performance and the UX.
  • At what point the site will experience performance degradation and, ultimately, fall over.

Test early and often

At ThinkTribe we recommend testing to expose any weaknesses, before making changes and then testing again to make sure your improvements are effective. If you repeat this testing loop, you’ll win more fans and convert more customers, while saving time, money and resources. It’s a strategy that could make all the difference in a pressured market.


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