Preparing for the Golden Quarter : A UK Perspective

| By: Alex Shepherd

While I appreciate that we are all probably full of the joys of summer and winter is not something we really want to start thinking about too hard, now is the time for savvy retailers to start preparing for the Golden Quarter! The concept of the ‘Golden Quarter’ has been around for some time in the UK, with retailers traditionally seeing great sales spikes in the build up to Christmas. While high street footfall has been trending downward since the build to Christmas 2007, online retail has certainly picked up. We have seen consumers taking more interest in ‘shopping the sales’ with three key sales peaks emerging in the UK: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Boxing Day sales.

The concept of Black Friday only emerged in the UK a couple of years ago, as retailers such as Walmart brought in their US sales promotions. Black Friday sparked much debate as to whether it would be a flash in the pan or stay the course. Some retailers have fought against this, but I think that it is safe to say that Black Friday is here to stay. From a digital commerce perspective, it is important that we are all prepared well in advance.

I have no doubt that buyers, HR managers and marketers have been thinking about this for months and preparing their plans accordingly. But below are some key questions I think digital retailers should be thinking about that will enable them to capitalise on this peak:

Are you prepared for increased traffic?

Now might be a good time to start looking at key metrics from last year – what traffic and sales peaks did you have?

  • How did your servers perform? Perform load testing to see if you think they can handle the volumes you are projecting for this year (preferably and then some). If you are on a cloud solution, make your hosting partner aware that you will need to make use of scaling during the period.
  • Have a spring clean. Make sure your databases are not crammed full of redundant data which could slow performance.
  • Review your cron jobs, can you disable non-critical ones to free up server capacity? It may be worth setting up alerts for cron job failures or successes rather than assuming they are all working.
  • Consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to reduce the burden on your servers by hosting heavy content elsewhere.

 

Can you be doing user testing now?

This will allow you to take findings and increase conversion rates ahead of the peak. Most sites have areas which can be improved, and sometimes making a small tweak can make a significant difference to the conversion rate or AOV. We all think ‘I must do some user testing,’ of course. If it is on your roadmap, then consider doing this now. This will allow you to really maximise that return on investment with the higher traffic volumes you will experience.

Have you planned your roadmap to allow for a code freeze?

The reality is that all development carries risk. While we all try our best to minimise this, it makes sense to put a code freeze in place ahead of and during the peaks in the Golden Quarter with no major new development in between. With this in mind, if you are looking to implement any new functionality to capitalise on this, now is the time to truly think about it and ensure it is planned into sprints well in advance, allowing plenty of time to test and bed in.

You may want countdown timers or pre-order for out of stock items, so think about whether now is the time to implement this. It might also be worth considering if you do need to develop on site or if there is a third party solution you have access to which can facilitate this. For example, if you have Monetate, this has a powerful promotion engine built in, which will enable you to build certain functionality you may want (such as a countdown timer).

Have you set up promotions in advance?

Of course you are already thinking about what offers you will have. With Magento 2.1 onwards, you can actually get all of your promotions built suitably far in advance and scheduled to deploy on a given date at a given time using content staging, preview and scheduling. This will make it easier to run teaser campaigns building up to key dates such as Black Friday. There are arguments for and against pre-promotion, but it is likely that for some categories consumers will research in advance. If you can ensure that you are the first site they visit on the day, you may benefit considerably.

Are you ready to market appropriately?

Clearly search will play an important part in many customer’s journeys. In addition to making sure that you have campaigns ready to be turned on in advance, make sure your Google shopping feed is working properly and offers the flexibility you need to optimise bids and budgets for products with varying levels of margin. It would be wise to talk to your search team or partner well in advance to ensure that they are ready for this with keyword universes built out and optimised to provide the best ROI.

Is your warehouse ready?

Operations and HR teams will have doubtless been thinking about staffing levels, but many retailers have also been working on updating systems and processes to ensure they are ready for the peak. Have you optimized your pick, pack and dispatch process? Are you able to optimise pick routes? Have you got the best deal with your delivery partners? Can you use your projected increase in volume to negotiate better deals? These are all things which should be considered.

Are you thinking beyond the Golden Quarter?

You will likely see a dramatic increase in visitor numbers, and therefore in customer data. This is a perfect opportunity to learn from browsing history, and more importantly, what your audience is engaging with. The trick is to use these learnings moving into January.

  • The first point here is to make sure that you have your Analytics set up correctly. There is a great deal we can learn, so it is important that there are no ‘black holes.’
  • A segmentation strategy with different groups set up in advance will help you to increase conversion on the day but it will also help you to target these individuals in future.
  • If you are using an automated ESP (Email Service Provider) such as dotmailer, consider establishing the email follow-up journey in advance, offering you a better chance of bringing consumers back into the site. Consider putting email pop-ups in place, incentivising people to sign up in order that you can continue to market to them. If you do not have an automated ESP, perhaps now is the time to consider one?
  • Regardless of ESP, consider offering users the opportunity to sign up for early access to or visibility of Black Friday deals.

All in all, there are many things that retailers should be considering ahead of the seasonal peak and I have barely scratched the surface. The key thing is to make sure that both you and your partners are trying to think about all of the angles as far in advance as possible to capitalise on any incremental gains which can be made and to allow the stability required to really make the most of this period.

If you would like to discuss any of this further, please do not hesitate to contact me at alexs@corra.com.