How retailers succeed on a Black Friday like no other


Black Friday in the UK is now the most popular shopping day in the calendar. According to a recent report, 56 per cent of consumers plan on participating this year. But this year’s event presents retailers with a range new of obstacles to combat, catalysed by the pandemic as high street stores remain closed.

One of the biggest challenges to overcome is maintaining high levels of customer service so consumers can make the most of this once-in-a-year shopping event. But it won’t be easy with cybercriminals on the prowl for unsuspecting targets, alongside unpredictable peaks in site traffic and new audience demographics to consider.

So, how do online retailers benefit from the solely online environment this Black Friday?


Prioritising customer journeys

Maintaining a loyal customer base should be an absolute priority for retailers this year as online competition is increasing. Chris Huggett, SVP EMEA & India, at Sungard Availability Services, acknowledges that “in recent years, small and agile start-ups and digital challenger brands have proven themselves capable of taking longstanding market share from traditional companies. Now that consumers have a much wider pool of retailers to choose from, it’s simpler to cut ties and shift to a competitor if a brand fails to meet expectations”.

However, according to Rohit Gupta Head of Product and Resources at Cognizant “incumbent high-street retailers which have been around for many years, have had no choice but to build online systems on top of legacy technology.” Meanwhile, Gupta explains “new competitors have been able to build their systems from the ground up using the best-in-class modern technologies more suited to the digital world. This means traditional high-street retailers have to work much harder to create a connected customer experience as systems are often siloed. Modernising these systems should be a top priority, and a big part of this will be completing the transition to the cloud to become cloud native.

To this point, Simon Johnson, General Manager UK and Ireland, Freshworks cited its research, which found that 69 per cent of customer service leaders in the UK “have seen an increase in customer expectations since February 2020, as many of us turn to online channels to speak to customer service teams or to secure our goods”.

That’s because “every interaction matters,” according to Marc Zottner, Field CTO EMEA, VMware Tanzu. “The first time a customer goes through the entire online checkout process, only to be told their items are out of stock, might be the last time they visit a particular site.” To succeed this Black Friday, Marc emphasises that retailers’ backend teams must have software that is equipped to deal with upcoming traffic spikes, so they can process orders during peak times and deal with any troubleshooting in real-time.

Furthermore, Adam Mayer, Senior Manager at Qlik, explains that consumers expect a “seamless, effortless experience online to make up for brick and mortar stores being closed.” He adds that for businesses looking to capitalise on these changes and ensure business continuity, “it is integral they have a business strategy in place to spot trends ahead of any competition.”


Technology is at the heart of excellent service

With an increase in online sales, comes an increase in phone calls from potentially frustrated customers. That’s why Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-founder of Natterbox explains that, one of the most important steps retailers and their contact centres should take ahead of Black Friday, is to “ensure they have the right collaboration tools in place, so agents are equipped to provide the best customer experience, and that they can work effectively and productively when at home.”

According to Stephen Harcup, Head of AI Banking at Amelia, an IPsoft company, artificial intelligence (AI) could be a great aid to contact centres. Harcup emphasises the correlation between excellent customer service and technology. “Customers don’t like to wait in queues, they want help right away”, he commented. “Conversational AI is creating new digital doorways, creating a frictionless experience and ultimately new levels of customer experience.”


How to beat the cyber criminals

With more consumers shopping online this year, retailers and consumers also need to be wary of cyber criminals. David Warburton, Senior Threat Research Evangelist at F5, warns that, one of the most common threats now facing online retailers is “formjacking” which “siphons data from online forms to an attacker-controlled location.”

Another issue that will be more prominent this year than ever before is shoppers using work devices to complete online retail transactions. David Higgins, EMEA Technical Director at CyberArk, explains that 39% of Britons working from home are waiting for flagship retail days to buy their gifts. “Many employees will use their work devices to complete these transactions, with 50% admitting they use theirs for personal purposes, such as online shopping”, he says. This means that corporate devices “are a potential gateway to more lucrative data and assets. Even a basic ransomware attack on an employee’s device via social engineering, or malicious code hidden in a website, has the potential to cause devastating damage.”


A changing demographic

As well as an evolving security landscape, the nation’s demographics are having to adapt to a new way of shopping. Every demographic has differing expectations, and with no one currently able to visit retailers in-store, it isn’t just younger customers that retailers will be targeting online. Gupta believes that “what sometimes gets overlooked, is experience and accessibility for every shopper.” In assessing the evolution of e-commerce he notes: “Most online stores today highlight the fundamental inequalities in our current digital world, in which e-commerce experiences are built for a user-normative experience. In these current economic conditions, demographics for online retailers need to expand to include people who would have never shopped online and therefore may not be familiar with e-commerce.”

Tony Hughes, Executive Director Local Government, Civica agree, and points to the company’s recent study, A Word from the Wise, based on research and focus groups with over 70s from across the UK to support his view. It showed that the elderly population is in fact far more tech savvy than we might think. Over half of the UK’s over-70s own a smart TV, two-thirds use a smartphone daily and 70 per cent go online to find information, according to the study. However, Hughes explains, “making small adjustments to online products and services to refine them for this audience, such as enlarging font size and simplifying website designs can be effective and can allow organisations to make the most out of the bumper sales weekend.”


The key to success

Fundamentally, to succeed this Black Friday, online retailers must be prepared to cope with and respond to unparalleled customer demand. Utilising the technology available to them – whether to improve customer experience, mitigate cyber-attacks or reach new audiences – will help deliver the shopping experience consumers desire, and encourage retailers to show them loyalty in future.