As the days count down to Black Friday on 27th November, Cyber Weekend 2020 is set to become the most challenging peak period ever for retailers, fulfilment providers and delivery companies. This November’s rush to snap up a Christmas bargain will see UK consumers splash out an estimated £7 billion across the four days*. Most of that will be spent on websites. Even in pre-pandemic 2019, when consumers were happier to shop in store, three out of four purchases were online and required doorstep deliveries.
In any normal year, this precipitous annual spike would stretch the capabilities of e-commerce brands, 3PL partners and carriers. But, as we all know, 2020 is far from normal. This year, deterred by fears of Covid-19, millions of consumers are shunning the high street and turning to the Internet for their shopping. As Christmas approaches and Black Friday’s tempting offers kick in, e-commerce fulfilment providers are braced for an unprecedented surge in orders, and the challenge of operating at full capacity whilst maintaining social distancing at their facilities.
How the pandemic created Black Friday every Friday
ILG’s planning for Cyber Weekend 2020 began way back in December 2019. But, like the rest of the world, nothing prepared us for the impact of this year’s pandemic. Since April we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in demand, with Black Friday order volumes every week. To keep our clients’ fulfilment on track we’ve had to rethink our business overnight. So, with orders expected to balloon by a further 100% over Cyber Weekend, we are busy introducing new measures to prepare for the steepest of peaks.
What is ILG doing to cope?
First of all, we are making the safety of ILG people our number one focus. All our facilities comply with social distancing guidelines and implement deep cleaning regimes to minimise risk and keep our operations running. But social distancing comes at a price, as adding more distance between warehouse staff means fewer people can work per shift. To compensate, we’ve restructured our shift patterns to spread the workload and even opened a brand new 48,000 sq ft warehouse so we have more space to operate safely.
Despite all this, our strict commitment to safe working limits the number of people who can work together at any one time and this means orders are sometimes taking a little longer to process.
5 Black Friday 2020 tips for e-commerce brands
One thing’s for sure, 2020 Cyber Weekend will smash records as more Covid-cautious consumers opt to spend online. But whether you’re running your own warehouse or outsourcing your fulfilment, there are plenty of things you can do to meet the extra demand and make your Black Friday a great success.
If you are outsourcing, tell your fulfilment provider about your plans for Black Friday. The more they know in advance, the better prepared they will be. Daily uplift forecasts will help them to plan resources and allocate the right staff. If they know the timing of your sales, they can have extra people in place at the right time of day and advise delivery partners of likely peaks. If they know which products you will be discounting, they can relocate them in their warehouse beforehand for easier picking and packing.
- Flatten the curve
We talk about Black Friday and Cyber Weekend, but in 2019 ILG saw sales ramp up on the previous Monday and stay at peak for almost two weeks. Uncertainty about when orders will uplift makes the timing of recruiting extra staff difficult to synchronise. In the past we have taken on a small army of temporary staff in anticipation of a surge in activity, only to find the spike failed to materialise.
Why not help to flatten the curve by starting your discount period earlier in November, or even October? Launching your offers early would differentiate your brand, spread the extra workload over a longer period and enable you and your suppliers to handle the pressure more easily.
- Less last-minute
At ILG we do our best to flex our resources to match rapidly shifting demand. But the more warning of changes we have, the better. When the dates and times of sales are switched at short notice, it puts us on the back-foot and may impact our ability to perform at our best. So, if you are outsourcing, avoid last-minute schedule changes and advise your fulfilment partners as early as possible.
- Smarter packaging
Why not organise your packaging in advance of Cyber Weekend? Let your fulfilment provider know which products are going on sale so they can prepare your cartons beforehand. Fast-moving items can be readied for quick processing and promotional gift sets pre-assembled to save time when the peak arrives. Could you simplify your packaging over the discount period? Small modifications such as removing a hand-tied bow might save precious seconds on each consignment and cut hours of critical packing time when repeated across hundreds of orders.
- Customer expectations
Be prepared to adjust your customer communication and service levels during peak. If your sale delivers 100% more orders than predicted, that’s great news for your bottom line but unexpectedly high volumes may take longer for to process. Set expectations by letting your customers know they may have to wait a little longer to receive their Black Friday purchase. Most people will understand that your need to observe social distancing in your warehouse and cope with extreme demand are good reasons for a slight delay.
Typically, the more orders you receive, the more returns you can expect. These returns incur extra time and cost to process, so when you offer a free returns service for discounted goods, your margin can take a serious hit. So why not consider withdrawing free returns on some or all of your products over the Black Friday period?
Watch a run-down of our top Black Friday preparation tips:
Have a great peak!
2020 has been a challenging year for us all. But this Cyber Weekend is still a huge opportunity to attract new customers and drive your brand awareness. This year, consumers will be keener than ever to shop online, seek out exciting products and bag a pre-Christmas bargain. Use our tips and enjoy a more prosperous and pain-free Black Friday peak.
*Radio Times 2020