Are you ready for all that extra Christmas traffic?
There is no doubt that we live in the age of e-retail. While high street stores lay empty on Black Friday, online retailers reported record levels of demand and unprecedented transaction numbers. It’s been estimated that a quarter of UK parcels are sent in November and December, and online sales in the UK exceeded £100 billion during 2014 for the first time ever. This year’s figure is anticipated to be £116 billion.
Even retail giants struggle during the run-up to Christmas. Last year, Marks & Spencer admitted to delaying online orders by a fortnight due to a spike in demand caused by an online retail campaign in early December. The ASOS website crashed on Black Friday, and even Amazon – surely the standard-bearer for e-tailers – were reporting delays this time last year. Yet these headline announcements mask the huge efforts made by online trading companies to meet the expectations of their customers, and even small startup enterprises can learn a few lessons from the industry leaders about coping with festive demand:
- Don’t overpromise.
It’s human nature to want to sound impressive, particularly in terms of making optimistic pledges when custom is at stake. Some public sector organisations actually do the precise opposite – they make overly pessimistic predictions of what will be accomplished. That way, they can be confident of delivering ahead of schedule and apparently exceeding customer expectations. While it’s unwise to ask customers to wait 28 days for an item’s delivery when an order is placed in mid-December, calculate when it’s likely to arrive and then add 48 hours to allow for unforeseen delays.
- Remember your business is only as good as its delivery company.
Even if you dispatch every customer’s exact order the moment it arrives, that will count for little if the items are delayed or damaged – or even lost – en route. Every online retailer needs a delivery partner, from Royal Mail to specialist parcel companies. Focus on customer service and logistics rather than outright speed or cheapness, because damaged or lost items are a huge revenue drain as well as potentially harming your company’s reputation.
- Do your research to predict peak demand.
Curiously, demand for different products rises at different times. While wallpaper orders reach a crescendo in the first four days of November, orders for Nintendo Wii controllers peak in the final four days of the month. Marketing companies and historical surveys can provide clear guidance on when a particular product line or service might achieve maximum orders, enabling companies to prepare by increasing staffing levels or stockpiling key products in advance.
- Construct a stable website.
From endlessly expandable cloud servers to a robust and comprehensive database, it’s now possible to ensure websites don’t collapse under the pressure of high visitor numbers. However, this can only be accomplished by investing in the right infrastructure at quieter times of the year. Sites should be able to cope with 50 per cent more traffic than the highest level they’ve ever recorded, and web hosting companies like UK2 can offer expert guidance on how much bandwidth and other resources an online brand may require.
- Consider click and collect.
Major retailers have seen a surge in demand for this, with the added advantage that customers are then in-store to be tempted all over again with other products. This is not always proprietary – Argos host eBay collection points, while Doddle offer click-and-collect services in train stations. Even fledgling companies can take advantage of similar facilities, with companies like CollectPlus and the Post Office’s rival Local Collect service using high street stores as flexible drop-off/pick-up points that don’t require someone to sit at home all day waiting for a delivery driver.
From everyone here at UK2, we’re wishing you a prosperous festive period! Make sure you business website can handle all the extra traffic over the holidays with a dedicated server from UK2.