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The four short years since Black Friday first took the UK by storm have been a steep learning curve, with retailers having to respond to a spike in demand that has come to surpass the traditional December Christmas sales boom. We’ve seen some opt out altogether, fearing a degradation of their brand, while others have not only embraced Black Friday but extended their sales to Cyber Monday and beyond.
Now, as we approach our fifth Black Friday, it may still be a guessing game to predict exactly how consumers will behave but we do have a much clearer idea of the fundamental principles and tactics of fulfilment and logistics that all Black Friday participants should follow for the best chance of success.
So without any delay, here are our seven tips for making sure your retail business is geared up for the busiest sales period of the year.
Black Friday falls on 23rd November this year, but why limit your offers to one frenetic day? By stretching them out over a week, or even the whole month, as more and more retailers are doing, you will not only extend the sales and promotional benefits of Black Friday but you will spread the workload too, making it easier to deliver the standard of service your customers expect.
The more you can prepare ahead of the big day the better, and packaging is one area where you can really get ahead of the game. “A lot of our customers go down the route of identifying the products that they’re going to put on sale so we can prepare cartons in advance,” says Tom Ashley, ILG Client Services and IT Director. “There are two benefits to this: firstly, you can relocate fast moving items in the warehouse reducing the steps your team need to take and making them easily accessible; and also there might be an opportunity to pre-pack gift sets, rather than having to assemble them as the orders flood in.”
Consider whether your packing can be toned down for the busy period. “Consumers are looking for a bargain,” says Tom, “so is there an opportunity to simplify your packaging within reason? You don’t want to destroy the unboxing experience but, for example, not putting a hand-tied bow round the product can save 30 seconds on every consignment which really adds up across a large volume of orders.” Anything that speeds up the packing process, as well as saving you money, is worth considering for Black Friday.
Black Friday deals are great for attracting new customers, so make sure you put something in the box to turn these newbies into loyal devotees. Free samples, vouchers for second purchases and literature welcoming them to your brand and telling them about all the amazing products you sell are all good ways to secure repeat business, so plan them in advance and make sure they’re ready with your fulfilment partner in good time.
Speaking of which, communication is crucial at this time of year. Tell your partners and suppliers about your Black Friday plans and give them an idea of the scale of the uplift you’re expecting if you can. Delivery partners will appreciate the advance notice as it will enable them to plan their logistics accordingly.
Communicate with your customers too, in order to manage their expectations at a time when the odd hold-up is likely. “This can be as simple as including a notice in your order confirmation or dispatch email, advising that orders may take longer to process at this busy time,” says Tom. Customers who have been pre-warned are much more understanding than those who have delays sprung on them.
Consider the carriage options available and decide whether you might do better putting all your orders on a 48 hour service in the UK or by road in Europe to save on cost. Consumers will be more prepared to settle for a less premium delivery service if they’re getting a bargain. Just make sure you manage their expectations by making this clear in your communications.
To avoid the nightmare of a delivery partner letting you down, use an agile shipping system that allows you to switch carriers if one carrier starts to fail consistently for your customers. “Some carriers perform better than others,” says Tom. “With our Net Courier system, we’re able to switch carriers very quickly, or to split volume between carriers, for the most efficient solution.”
“There have been some fairly high-profile cases of websites that have crashed under the pressure of Black Friday,” says Tom, “so if there’s a chance to do some load testing in advance, that’s a good idea. You want to make sure that the systems you’ve got in place are scalable. If you’re having to update orders manually and manage stock manually, then that’s going to become quite cumbersome with high volumes.”
The systems ILG has in place update this sort of information automatically, which reduces the amount of communication you have to have with customers, because they’re being kept up to date on the progress of their orders.
The impact of returns for online retail has been well documented. This is a perennial challenge, particularly for fashion retailers, but it escalates out of all proportion in the wake of Black Friday. Figures from 2015 show that Black Friday returns cost UK retailers £180m. If you offer a free returns service, you might consider withdrawing this from your Black Friday offers to limit the financial hit on already discounted goods.
Make the returns process as easy and efficient as possible, though, so you can get the goods back on sale again as quickly as possible. Ensure that your systems are geared up to handle returns just as efficiently as new orders and consider every step of the handling process to reduce delays. Packaging can play a big part in this. “Innovations like the double seal have helped the returns process a lot,” says Tom. “It’s good for the customer because they can quickly and easily use the same packaging to return their items, which in turn speeds things up for the retailer. It’s good for your sustainability goals too, vastly reducing the amount of packaging that gets thrown away.”
Black Friday is a great opportunity to raise awareness of your brand and attract new customers, as well as clearing out old and non-moving stock which is costing you money in a warehouse. The key to success is to start preparing in good time; at ILG we’re already gearing up for the November rush and we’re talking to our customers to help them make sure they’re ready too. These seven tips are a good basis for your preparations and if you want to discuss your Black Friday tactics, don’t hesitate to give us a call.
ILG is a market leader in outsourced fulfilment, warehousing and logistics services. Call us today 0843 212 1065