Preparing for Peak: Planning, Provisioning and Security

It’s never too soon to start preparing for peak. As the last quarter of the year arrives, so do some of the most important, busiest and profitable events for your business including Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day Sales.

Let’s take a quick look back at how our shopping habits were transformed over the last year with some peak shopping stats:

  • Total online sales growth in the UK rose by over 36% year-on-year in 2020 – that’s the largest growth seen since 2007!
  • December’s online retail sales remained higher than the year average at 37% while Black Friday caused November to take the crown for peak performance at 39%.

Although these impressive stats highlight the opportunities for eCommerce stores, the steep increase in demand the shopping events bring can put pressure on your business. As a result, meticulous planning and careful execution are required to maintain strong online performance throughout the peak period.

What can you do to effectively capitalise on this opportunity? First and foremost – plan! We’ve collated our top considerations to help you plan for peak and secure your store. Putting these provisions in place, your website will be able to deal with increased traffic and conversions while still offering your customers an enjoyable shopping experience.

What is Black Friday?

Beginning as a US trend in the 1940s, Black Friday originally took place the day after Thanksgiving. It was launched at this time as Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November making Friday an unofficial holiday. As many people were off work, shops began dropping their prices for one day, marking the start of the Christmas shopping season. Only in the past decade have Brits begun to embrace Black Friday, with momentum building year on year and the event now becoming a firm fixture in the UK calendar.

What was once a singular day of discounts has now turned into a two-week-long spending craze. Amid the Black Friday frenzy, you can expect to see intense competition between brands, increased cybercrime, as well as busy and distracted shoppers. Nevertheless, there’s no denying this is an important period for your business and one we advise brands to take advantage of.

Why is Black Friday important for your eCommerce Store?

The rise of Black Friday has created a generation of savvy shoppers who search the web to find the best bargain. As a result, competition is tougher, and the awareness stage within the sales funnel becomes even more saturated with consumers subject to countless offers. If businesses choose to ignore Black Friday and other peak shopping events, they may lose a substantial volume of sales to their competitors.

Just as brick-and-mortar stores prepare for peak with seasonal products, deals and strategic marketing, the same should be done for your digital store. As UK consumers abandon the high street to shop online, this has become even more important.

“For many merchants, large proportions of annual turnover can be taken within a couple of months of the year. During this time, it’s important to minimise risk to your website, ensure everything is stable and avoid any unnecessary stress that may impact conversion rates and overall sales. Start by ensuring your server infrastructure can support your increased levels of traffic by reviewing last year’s data and ensure you go into code freeze well in advance of peak”

Lewis Sellers, MD, Pinpoint.

As retail culture evolves, we see more people heading online, attracted by the high levels of flexibility and product availability which high street stores struggle to compete with. Black Friday officially begins at midnight and consumers can immediately purchase goods online from the comfort of their own home. After all, why battle the Christmas crowds and wait for high street opening times if you don’t have to?

Preparing your online infrastructure each year is a necessity to ensure your website can cope with traffic surges and increased user pressure. Take a read of our tips and tricks to ensure your business is ready for peak.

How can you prepare your eCommerce store for the peak period?

Planning and provisioning

Planning is essential to any large project. Setting yourself clear objectives and defining a path for how you will reach those goals is fundamental to success. Of course, certain factors are uncontrollable, but without planning and provisioning, there’s a good chance you’ll fail before you’ve even begun.

“Making sure your site is performing at its best is an ongoing battle, but you’re really going to notice those small, iterative improvements during peak. They might save you milliseconds on page load, they might allow 100 more people to use your site at the same time, or they might save you £££ in bandwidth.”

Douglas Radburn, Head of Development, Pinpoint

Key factors you should consider

Go into code freeze early: Site stability is important all year round, but even more so when increased traffic is expected. If your website crashes, all traffic will be lost which will inevitably affect your success.

It’s imperative that no new bugs are introduced to your website. By going into code freeze early, any further development work will stop meaning no additional code is added and the risk is reduced. You can be confident your website is stable and developer resource is available to deal with any other site issues instead of bug fixes or general firefighting once peak season begins.

Analyse your retrospective data: To effectively prepare for the future, we must consider the past. By collecting and analysing your previous data, you will be able to create a better picture of what to expect and where to focus your promotional efforts to create the best ROI.

Consider possible trends for top-selling products, create an understanding of what they are and when they experience high levels of sales. It’s also important to look at which channels are driving traffic to these products. Is it paid, organic, social media, an email campaign? Doing this will allow you to attribute your success and use this channel to drive maximum traffic to the areas you want.

Find out where your customers are located: It’s important to understand where your customers are and their preferences. Using Magento Business Intelligence (BI) or Google Analytics, you can understand which localities traffic is coming from. A tool such as the performance tester from Sucuri can identify load times across different countries so you can recognise where may need improving. A Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Fastly or Cloudflare can then be implemented to serve content to these users faster and reduce latency, wherever they are in the world. We also recommend looking at your TTFB (time to first byte) to ensure you have no issues with code and the responsiveness of your web server.

Utilise content scheduling features: Content Scheduling and Preview is a feature within the Magento 2 Commerce platform. This feature builds campaigns and schedules site changes allowing you to easily organise and manage content. Scheduling can be managed from the Staging Dashboard and ensures your promotions are timely, relevant and engaging for shoppers.

For example, banners can be changed to highlight different promotions or relevant product categories can be created such as ‘The Best Black Friday 2019 Deals’. Using Content Staging, pages can be built that change automatically throughout the year making it an ideal feature for managing different offers throughout the festive season. Take a look at the example below from our client, Custom Plugs.

Over Halloween, various banners are changed across their website, different promotional codes are run, and content is regularly updated using Magento’s Content Scheduling and Preview features. Missguided UK also ran memorable Black Friday offers where a different online promotion was run every hour over the course of the weekend.

Your store’s security also plays a crucial role in preparing your website for the busiest time of the year. Ensuring your store is safe and secure should be a consideration all year round but becomes even more important as peak approaches.

Securing your eCommerce store

The peak period is a critical time for your business, and everyone knows it. Unfortunately, with heightened traffic comes an increased likelihood of cyber-attacks which usually include activities such as spamming, phishing or stealing customer data.

It’s even more important than normal to keep your visitors and your website safe and secure. Ensure your digital storefront has the latest security by running your website on the latest version of Magento Commerce and follow our security pointers:

Monitor fraudulent signals: Understand what trustworthy customers look like and let them through your checkout. Using payment gateways to look for suspicious cards can help detect fraudulent behaviour or implement a tool such as Sygnified to identify fraudulent transactions. Monitoring and reacting to fraudulent issues fast such as multiple high-value transactions going to similar addresses or 3D Secure not being filled in will help keep your eCommerce store protected.

Provide Secure Payments Processes: Provide a trusted payment solution such as PayPal, Braintree, Klarna or Ayden that consumers will feel confident and comfortable with using. It’s also worthwhile to test payment processing capacity to ensure your site can handle an increased volume of orders.

Limit Chances to Reconfirm Purchases: If checkout details are inputted incorrectly multiple times, lock-out checkout should be implemented to limit the chances of the wrong person making a purchase.

Have a Fraud Strategy: Planning is key to preventing the worst. Ensure you have a fraud strategy in place to prevent the chances of fraud occurring and minimise the outcomes if the worst does happen. Also, be sure to optimise fraud prevention for mobile shopping.

Customers expect a secure online store to shop on and with cyber-attacks occurring regularly, it’s become even more crucial to instil trust and confidence in your users. Using Magento’s out-of-the-box security features helps to reduce the chance of your website being targeted during the busiest time of the year.

Creating a plan is fundamental to success and an effective place to start when preparing your eCommerce business for peak. Once you have considered these factors and put provisions in place, it’s important to optimise the front end of your website for a frictionless shopping experience while ensuring your site’s security. If you would like advice on how to prepare your online store for the peak period, contact our expert team today.