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Five year-round lessons to take away from Black Friday 2014

Black Friday received a lot of media coverage a couple of week ago, and not all of it positive.

It was reported that several large retailers were not fully equipped to deal with the demand the event generated, leading to chaotic scenes of frantic customers battling over discount stock that sold out in minutes.

None of this can have made for a very good customer experience. As such, the example of in-store chaos on Black Friday has provided online retailers with some valuable lessons that can be applied to sites year-round. Here are 5 of the most important.

Prepare for peak times

Perhaps the most serious failing of some retailers on Black Friday is that they simply weren’t prepared for the number of people that would flood their stores. Effectively, this resulted in stores being ‘crashed’ – staff were so overwhelmed that customers were prevented from doing their shopping.

To avoid your site being crashed at times of peak demand, you should regularly perform load or stress testing to make sure it can cope with high levels of customers accessing it. This is particularly advisable after a new release or update, or before a big sale or event.

Ensure adequate security

Just as being jostled and trampled represented a threat to Black Friday shoppers’ personal safety, security flaws represent a risk to customers’ safety online. This is something of which consumers are keenly aware – a recent study has shown that 45% of US online shoppers are unlikely to do their Christmas shopping with a company that has suffered a data breach this year.

Performing security testing is therefore necessary to ensuring your customers’ data is protected. This is vital, not only to your customers’ online safety, but to your own long-term profitability.

Meet demand with stock levels

Around 200 shoppers reportedly refused to leave a store in Middleton on Black Friday despite being told that all the stock had sold out. Undoubtedly, this was because customers’ expectations were disappointed, leading to a great deal of discontent.

A similar outcome might result from your site advertising products that are no longer in your warehouse. To avoid disappointing customers, either ensure stock levels can meet demand, or update your website to remove items as quickly as possible.

Guarantee a smooth customer journey

Even the customers who did get away with a new TV won’t have enjoyed the most pleasant retail experience – as well as the size of crowds, staff were sometimes taken off tills to help with security, leading to longer queuing times.

To guarantee that your online customer experience is quick, easy and enjoyable, you should perform rigorous functional testing to root out any harmful bugs. The aim is to get customers smoothly from product pages to the checkout, and a broken shopping basket won’t help matters.

Protect your brand online

Some retailers were criticised in the media for failing to adequately prepare for Black Friday, leading to negative PR on what should have been a day of celebration for any retailer offering discounts.

Similarly, bugs on your site harming your customers’ online experience can generate negative coverage and damage your brand. But by partnering with a crowdsourced testing company, such as BugFinders, you can protect your reputation online by testing your site across a huge range of unique mobile devices. This will enable you to identify business-critical bugs before they can cause any chaos, and give your customers the shopping experience they expect.

Martin Mudge is the technical director of BugFinders.

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