Blog Post - John Beechen, Dec 3 2015

Five key insights from Black Friday

Five key insights from Black Friday

Black Friday 2015 will go down as the busiest online shopping period in the UK, with our prediction of Britain’s first £1bn online shopping day easily met as IMRG and Experian data confirmed a total spend of £1.1bn on Black Friday. At Salmon we spent most of last week huddled over monitors, watching with amazement the tidal wave of demand hitting our customers’ sites. As such, I wanted to share some key insights on what we saw, as well as provide some useful lessons for the future.

  1. People didn’t go in to stores they were shopping online. The frenzy of Black Friday shopping with people fighting and clawing their way to the discount TVs or latest toy craze turned off a lot of store shoppers. Instead, they went online where the bargains were all there at the click of a mouse or an iPhone screen.
  2. The action started early. While the bulk of the selling was still done on Friday, there was a shift to sales starting earlier. Some of the best volume was on Thursday evening. 8pm was off the Richter scale in terms of traffic as people returned home and sought out early bargains. Whilst we anticipated some busy periods starting Thursday – in fact Salmon started its peak operations on Wednesday morning to cope with the influx of demand – we originally planned on ramping up operations Thursday evening.
  3. Flash sales are good, but all day selling is better. Some retailers announced a sale for specific products at a set time, others liked to give their discounts over a wider time period. From a system perspective – which is now also a customer service perspective – as any limitations of the system become fodder for customer dissatisfaction, the longer time period option is better. Customers don’t have to crash the system like a tsunami to get what they want and the systems can better cope with the demand spread out.
  4. Online ecommerce systems have many moving parts. Looking at an ecommerce site is a bit like seeing the tip of an iceberg. What you don’t see are all the interdependencies under the water. For example, many of the sites use payments services, content services or search services that are hosted in the cloud, outside of the control of the merchant. If one of these services experiences an issue or slowdown, it looks like the merchant's site is not performing, when in fact it is the service they have purchased that isn’t. When large cloud providers’ networks blip, for example, we see services from a number of these vendors degrade at once as they are all reliant on this one provider. In these cases there is almost nothing a merchant can do about the problem affecting their site. While cloud computing/services make perfect sense, and are very cost effective, it’s not necessarily "peak effective" when you lose control of elements of your system at key times.
  5. Performance is both front end and back end. So much time is spent making sites fly in terms of loading images and content quickly. What burns us sometimes is that we don’t pay as much attention to the back end processes – things like ensuring a consumer gets their order confirmation email quickly, or orders actually flow to a fulfilment system quickly. Spreading more of our performance dollars/pounds/yuan into performance, tuning the links between these now speedy websites and the systems that communicate with and deliver the products to customers, is essential.

As much as we know about peak operations, each year throws something new and different at all of us. Rather than play the "name and shame" game that many internet pundits have been playing (and seem to take such joy in - why?) let’s look at how what we do relates to this peak period, and see how we can all help make online commerce stronger for our customers.

Finally, I thought I’d round up with a few statistics from Salmon’s peak operations room for Black Friday trading ops.

  • Traffic sessions between 06:00am and 12:00pm were highest at 33% of the total day’s traffic.
  • The busiest order time was between 8.00am to 9.00am where the Salmon Peak Operations room was watching over client orders as they processed over 900 orders a minute
  • Increaseof 77% conversion rate of viewings to sales compared toBlack Friday 2014. Obviously savvy shoppers knew what they wanted.
  • 77% of traffic originated via desktop devices
  • 23% of traffic originated via mobile devices