Blog Post - Dave Witchalls, Nov 30 2018

From inside the War Room – how Salmon's clients survived Black Friday

From inside the War Room – how Salmon's clients survived Black Friday

Dave Witchalls, one of our Senior Operations Mangers, shares his thoughts from inside Salmon's War Room, discussing "How to survive Black Friday and how to prepare for the next one”.

Before Black Friday, Black Week, Black Fiveday, "insert marketing moniker here" and Cyber Monday start to become a distant memory, I thought I’d share some thoughts and insights from the Salmon War Room - and what your business needs to start doing to prepare for next year’s peak trading event.

By now you’re bound to have seen emerging data about how big this event has been from a sales and volume point of view, so I won't cover that. What I can say from sitting in both the Salmon War room and on client site is how the behind-the-scenes profile of the event has changed this year.

In previous years, the Black Friday sale has largely been a big-bang event, comprising of a few early sales but, not enough to tempt people into spending their money before the big day. This year, however, a majority of our clients launched early with bonified sales and offers that had people spending before the much-anticipated Friday. This all resulted in a quieter transition from Thursday to Friday night, fewer web issues, and a better experience for both the business and consumer.

But what was the biggest takeaway from being in the War Room? Preparation is everything! Our clients who spent the most time preparing for Black Friday, performed the best on the day. So, how did they prepare, and how can you prepare for next year?

  • Learn from last year’s event – what went well, and what didn’t? And, what should be repeated, and what should be avoided.
  • Bridge gaps in performance, and resolve shortcomings in both software and hardware.
  • Have a detailed go-live plan (or several) - write it down, sense check it, and rehearse it (quick propagations, waiting rooms, holding pages, promotional codes, markdowns, staggered cache clears etc..).
  • Plan a levers list (functionality to turn off to free up resource) - It's better to have them and not use them, than to spend hours on a conference call deciding the risk of doing or not doing something. Ensure the steps are detailed and tested ahead of time.
  • Agree external communication plans - identify what, and when, mailshots/app pushes are occurring, and to how many people, and stagger where possible.
  • Pre-agree the minimum and maximum for autoscaling for cloud customers. You can add more if you need it, but it is much better to start off slightly higher for launch and downscale the minimum value after.
  • Ensure that key stakeholders are available - making quick decisions when required is key to minimising the impact of issues.
  • Involve suppliers early - involving your suppliers in planning (targets, volume, load etc.) will ensure they, too, can scale up, helping make your sale a success.
  • Testing… testing… and more testing! - You know last year’s load, and you know last year’s pinch points - so you'll likely have some indicative patterns for growth, and you'll have a steer on what you hope to achieve. Performance testing as early as possible is of the upmost importance. Don't be tempted to only test the non-transactional journeys; there are several options to run complete end-to-end tests in a controlled way on both production and test environments.
  • Ensure your monitoring, alerts, and dashboards are relevant - having the information you need at your fingertips is vital; not only does it give you a visual way of interpreting how your site performs outside of the front end, this data also empowers you to make important decisions.
  • Key technical resources must be available - during an incident, you need the right team members with the right technical skills to help make the correct decisions on-time. No one wants to hear "I've left them a voicemail", "they can join in a hour", or "just trying to track someone down".

With all this in mind, preparation needs to start now! But what do you need to do over the coming weeks and months?

  • Book in your post-peak review - the data needs to be collated from both Business and IT Teams. You need to go through how the sale went from a commercial, performance, and experience point of view.
  • Celebrate the positive - even if things didn't go 100% how you wanted, make sure the positives are remembered, celebrated, and the teams thanked.
  • The peak review should also be extended to the suppliers involved in the planning - Did they cope, or were there any shortfalls in capacity or process that need to be worked through together?
  • Where are the current shortcomings? - Are you nearing capacity on any of your systems, what options do you have?
  • Start considering what next year’s peak volumes will look like - you already have historic data showing growth. Applying 10% to this regular growth pattern is a good start until you get more concrete numbers.
  • Don't be tempted to just do the easy things - from first-hand experience, I can tell you some suppliers and third parties will tell you what you want to achieve is "too hard", "too complicated", or even "we've never done that before." You must do the right thing, not the easy option! This is something Salmon truly believes in. I've even had to help broker support agreements in one of the "we've never done that before" and "it's not supported" scenarios (we got it supported and in place and it made a huge difference).
  • Ensure that you have a plan – Peak preparation should be a project. Ensure you have a plan with achievable milestones with enough time before sale to do final testing / tweaking.
  • Keep reviewing what you are doing - Are you hitting milestones? Are the targets you are working towards still correct? Is the plan from the business still the same? Are there any changes to the product roadmap that need to be factored in?
  • Ensure any new features in development can be "toggled" wherever possible - This gives you a levers list by default.
  • Work with your suppliers - The one team approach goes much, much further than you think. Everyone involved in getting your site ready for, and through, peak wants you to succeed. Considering them as part of the team helps to reinforce that.
  • Review what's needed from a staffing point of view for the event - Make sure rotas are in place, and people are rested, watered, and fed. Tired eyes don't make the best decisions.

The above list may look daunting, but the first step is getting the review booked in.

If you would like Salmon to help you prepare for your next event, please find out more below:

View our Black Friday Playbook