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Are retailers ready for Black Friday?

A man puts South African currency, the Rand into his pants back pocket. Picture: Karen Sandison/ Independent Newspapers.

A man puts South African currency, the Rand into his pants back pocket. Picture: Karen Sandison/ Independent Newspapers.

Published Nov 18, 2023

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With Black Friday around the corner, South African retailers are gearing up for one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Most are ignoring a vital element in ensuring they are ready for the influx of shoppers, says Leela Putten, Performance and Security Testing Advisor at iOCO.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become staples of the South African calendar, with shoppers spending billions of Rands on deals.

According to The Bureau of Market Research (BMR), local shoppers are expected to create an additional retail turnover of R26.6 billion for South African retailers during this year’s Black Friday, much of it through online sales.

While South Africa’s online shopping habits lag behind the rest of the world over the Black Friday period, this is changing rapidly.

Market research company GfK found that online channels accounted for around 15% of sales in 2022, up from 8.7% in 2018, with online payment gateway PayFast indicating an increase of 34% in transaction volumes and a 30% increase in new buyers.

PayFast also noted a 30% increase in total purchase values overall – highlighting a long-term shift in consumer behaviour[2]. These numbers will only increase as local consumers become more comfortable using online channels.

Quick fixes keep failing

The run up to peak shopping periods like Black Friday or Christmas is a time of frenetic activity for retailers, who have to ensure they have the ability to fulfil orders and meet customer expectations at all times. From advertising specials, to inventory management, to fulfilment and delivery, there are numerous processes that have to be put in place, and much work to be done behind the scenes.

Retailers often miss one of the most important considerations: performance testing their online environments.

Most companies have invested heavily into establishing user-friendly online stores, but too many fail during peak traffic periods like Black Friday when a multitude of people try to use the platform at the same time. Ironically, it’s at times like these that performance really matters in terms of customer satisfaction, and yet this is when consumers are faced with incredibly long loading times, or they are unable to complete their purchase, or are even able to access a site in some cases.

Historically, retailers have tried to solve the problem by adding more hardware such as memory or server capacity to deal with the amount of data being processed. Quick fixes like buying more infrastructure or throttling traffic inflow are not only a short-term solution, they can also cause customer dissatisfaction and extra IT spend that could have been avoided with a continuous performance engineering approach.

In a world where customers expect their experiences to be continuous, constant, customised and cross channels, retailers can no longer afford poor performance during peak shopping times. In fact, just a one second delay in response times can cost a company millions in annual revenue. Performance testing should therefore be a part of their strategy, not a last-ditch resort after multiple customer complaints and performance crashes.

Performance testing doesn’t have to be complicated

There are many reasons companies neglect performance testing. Some are unaware that their existing solutions will not allow them to effectively manage overwhelming and unpredictable peak loads, while others don’t have the skills or the budget to make this vital process an integral part of their operations. Many retailers are also under the impression that their environments have to be live for performance testing to be done, so it is left out of development planning.

Despite the fact that it’s commonly perceived to be a complex and expensive undertaking, performance testing can easily be integrated into the day-to-day operations of a company. In fact, retailers must constantly prepare for expected and unexpected demand, so they should continually be performing stress tests throughout the year. Leveraging the expertise and experience of a partner like iOCO can make this far simpler and more cost effective than any solution currently being used to help accommodate peak traffic.

Black Friday is an extreme example of major shopping days that happen practically every month. These periods provide the ideal opportunity to perform the appropriate tests to gauge how well a retailer’s sites and applications handle a sizable amount of traffic, so when it’s time for a massive influx of traffic, companies are ready.

Retailers that are unable to cope with increased demand put their profits and reputation at risk. A broken website on the biggest shopping day of the year is an absolute nightmare. Not only does it potentially risk millions in revenue, customers that are forced to find products somewhere else are unlikely to ever return to that particular site. This Black Friday, retailers can avoid all of this through the implementation of a performance testing strategy that can ensure the optimal performance of applications, back end systems and infrastructure at all times.

BUSINESS REPORT