It's July, time for Black Friday prep  

Online shopper
Retailers need to align the online and in-store initiatives and experience. (Getty/Poike)
Camilla Ley Valentin

It's that time of year, when retailers have the winter holidays creeping into their thoughts in the midst of the summer heat. FierceRetail sat down will Camilla Ley Valentin, CCO and co-founder of Queue-it, to discuss what retailers need to be doing today to make sure their e-commerce sites weather the busiest selling season of the year. 

FierceRetail (FR): When do retailers need to start preparing for Black Friday?

Camilla Ley Valentin (CLV): Between three to six months in advance of Black Friday. This allows time for functional and load tests, implementation of new software, components and security updates. Our [Queue-it's] system, however, can be implemented in as little as 30 minutes if need be.  

FR: What do preparations primarily include (both in store and online)?

CLV: For the upcoming holiday season, retailers need to align the online and in-store initiatives and experience. An online sale/campaign with high traffic requires a high unification of the technology implemented, from load testing to learn the ideal capacity, to understanding the capabilities of, or any limitations of, the transactional database and the payment gateway system. Creating a smooth process between browsing, adding to cart and checkout will not only increase the ROI of the marketing efforts, it will also create a positive customer journey and brand experience. For example, when shoppers are experiencing the virtual waiting room service, it is possible to post meaningful messages to the people in queue. This helps provide an informed experience and a controlled situation for holiday peaks. 

FR: What are some of the most common mistakes that you see retailers making when it comes to Black Friday?

CLV: For key campaign days, retailers sometimes underestimate the importance of website testing, which should include both functional and load testing. Understanding the difference between what server scaling provides and what transactional operations on a website require is also important in choosing the right solution. While server scaling does help increase capacity for browsing, it cannot maintain the right capacity from a transactional point of view since it does not come close as a solution to the backend system unification requirements and the other steps taken during a customer journey, besides browsing (ex: adding to cart or checking out). 

FR: Can you give us an example of a Black Friday retail blunder? 

CLV: Micro Kickboard is one of the biggest distributors of scooters, kickboards and other products used for urban mobility and recreation. For National Scooter Day, which the company builds one of their key annual campaigns around, the brand had a few technical challenges in regards to their website's capacity, which caused them to not be able to handle the high number of customers their promotions attracted. On that day, 30% of Micro Kickboard's customers were not able to make purchases on the website, which they calculated out to costing their company an estimated $15,000 in loss that day. In similar situations such as Micro Kickboard's, acting on the spot takes too much time, quite a lot of operations on behalf of IT, and the variety of solutions which can be implemented on a short notice are not addressing the problem on the long term. In this company's situation, their IT team was able to restore the website, although at a very slow pace, which is the opposite of what a retailer should wish for during a campaign day. These days are crucial for online retail websites to prove to customers that they can trust the site to complete their purchases without issue. 

After this episode, Micro Kickboard implemented Queue-it's virtual waiting room during Black Friday, another key event for them, experiencing a 500% increase in traffic and a very low bounce rate. With the help of Queue-it, Micro Kickboard shifted from losing 30% of their customers, to converting over 95% of the significantly increased traffic during one of their key campaign days. For Micro Kickboard, implementing the virtual waiting room eliminated bottlenecks and contributed to being able to deliver to their customers on one of their most important days of the year. 

FR: What is unique about Queue-it?

CLV: By adding Queue-it to a website, end-users exceeding the website capacity limits are offloaded to the virtual waiting room. Queue-it then redirects the end users who waited in line back to the website in the correct, sequential order and at a pace the site can handle. This improves the shopper’s experience and, ultimately, the bottom line of sales during key retail campaign days.

FR: Looking ahead, is there anything you anticipate being different about this Black Friday than in the past?

CLV: The trend on the internet is that peak traffic grows faster than traffic in general, and online retailers need to both prepare for this and capitalize on this for Black Friday campaigns. This trend supports our expectation that more shoppers than ever before will be turning to mobile and desktop to do their holiday shopping, which will result in even more dramatic increases in website traffic. What is important for retailers to keep in mind is to prepare well in advance, and that server capacity increases alone will not take care of the problem. 

FR: What else can you tell retailers about Black Friday prep? 

CLV: Communication is key. One of the most important—and sometimes missed— elements of preparing for Black Friday and the holiday season sales, in general, is internal communication. The importance of aligning expectations and plans between the commercial side and DevOps is critical in a successful Black Friday execution, and will maximize revenue and consumer experience. So, get together well in advance to prepare for testing, platform updates and an optimized online queuing strategy.