The Keys to eCommerce Success on Black Friday and other Sale Peak Periods

BlackFridayOn November 28, 2014, which was celebrated as Black Friday and kicked off the season of holiday shopping, bumper sales and promotional deals, consumer electronics giant Best Buy faced an embarrassing technical failure. On what is considered the biggest shopping day of the year, visitors to the website got an apology message, saying that the site was unavailable at that time and they should come back soon. According to the company, the website had to be shut down after a concentrated spike in issues triggered by mobile traffic. Service was restored within an hour, but the damage of customer goodwill and the potential losses during that one hour would certainly be making the company think about how the downtime could have been prevented.

On Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2012, companies like Toys ‘R' Us, Dell Computers, Kohl's and Sam's Club were left dealing with customer wrath vented on social media due to inability of their technology to manage the large volumes of orders, and the insufficient customer care staff to soothe irate buyers.

In India, a country where the eCommerce industry is rapidly expanding, eCommerce goliath Flipkart held the ‘Big Billion Day Sale' on October 6, 2014. While revenue of USD 100 million was generated in just 10 hours, the technical glitches and pricing errors compelled the company's founders to send an apology mail to millions of buyers.

The above-mentioned examples demonstrate the importance that eCommerce companies must give to their back-end operations across different departments to ensure that these are robust and will be able to scale up with spike in sales during seasonal peak periods or the holiday shopping season. Here are five ways in which e-tailers can make sure that they are able to capitalize on these intensive shopping periods:

1. User-friendly web design: Customers cannot buy products, if they are unable to find them. In a usability research study by the Baymard Institute, customers encountered 900 usability-related issues on popular e-commerce websites. This made them inclined to abandon these websites when they had difficulty in locating the products of their choice. Websites with poorly laid out categories will not provide the desired results to customers. Companies should also provide easy navigation features to enhance customer experience, establish data security measures to safeguard financial and personal information, and optimize the website for mobile traffic and apps.

2. Rigorously tested IT and IT infrastructure: The production environment of the eCommerce website has to be thoroughly tested across different parameters to ensure that it is capable of taking the load of large volumes of traffic on a given sale day. A well-tested site will take into account all possible contingencies at the back-end as well as optimize the user experience at the front-end. Backup servers and backup locations also facilitate the process of business continuity.

3. Accurate product information management: In the run-up to the sale, product information has to be entered and verified for SKU availability, description, pricing, shipping information, discounts and deals. Product information discrepancies, especially in pricing, can create an immense amount of confusion for the user and will generate a strong backlash if he or she feels shortchanged. Swift and accurate product information management is required to verify all this information before shoppers converge on the website.

4. Adequate customer care staff: During the sale season, it is likely that the number of customers who wish to communicate with the company will also multiply - be it for queries, to register a complaint, or for follow-ups. A multi-channel contact center with sufficient number of customer care representatives is an essential for every eCommerce company. The customer care executives need to be capable of handling large volumes of customer communication on voice calls, live chat and email, to ensure no customer is kept on hold or has to wait for a long time. They should also be proficient in cross-selling and up-selling to generate further sales where possible.

5. Streamlined order management processes: When eCommerce orders are larger than anticipated, it can lead to shipping delays, which consequently can frustrate impatient customers. With a streamlined order management operation in place, eCommerce companies can process orders quickly and mobilize the products to reach their users.

It is predicted that global eCommerce sales will cross USD 2 trillion by 2017. For eCommerce companies looking to be a beneficiaries of this projected growth figure, functions such as logistics and warehousing, inventory maintenance, marketing and IT infrastructure upkeep are key focus areas that require their undivided attention. Several e-tailers around the world have benefitted from outsourcing non-core processes, such as IT, customer care, back office BPO, and Finance and Accounting (F&A) BPO, to keep their own internal operations nimble and Agile.

2014's Cyber Monday saw online sales totaling almost USD 2.04 billion, according to research firm comScore Inc, making it the heaviest online spending day ever. The eCommerce revenue potential for these sales-oriented days is clearly immense. With eCommerce support services from a competent IT-BPO service providers, businesses will be enabled to drive online sales in a seamless manner during this holiday shopping season, as well as through all other sales periods and festivals in the rest of the year as well.

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