Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the age of Covid-19 – coping with the digital challenges


November 15, 2020 | By RetailME Bureau

Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2020 are almost upon us and their role in the success of the region’s retail industry cannot be understated. According to projections from Visa Middle East, by 2021, worldwide e-commerce sales’ share of total revenues will have doubled, from 8.6% in 2016 to 17.5%. Of course, Visa’s whitepaper was released in June last year when few had ever heard of Covid-19. It is not unreasonable to suggest that isolated, bargain-hungry consumers propelled by economic uncertainty may prove even more enthusiastic this year.

Study shows 49% UAE consumers shift to online shopping

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has shown the fastest growth for e-commerce compared with other regions around the world, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the hub of the action. The same Visa Middle East report cites the UAE as the most advanced e-commerce market in the MENA region and projects sales in the UAE to grow by an average of 23% annually between 2018 and 2022 (again, remember this was pre-pandemic!).

Revealed: The UAE reports highest online spend per shopper

Retailers constitute sizable shares of regional GDPs, and their performance will be a barometer of economic recovery. As such, the industry will be heavily reliant on the success of the forthcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday bonanzas. While born in the West, both events have travelled well and found significant engagement in the Middle East. In a 2019 global survey, 45% of Saudis announced their intention to participate in Black Friday that year, spending an average of SAR 899 (US$ 240). In the past, UAE-based Souq.com (now Amazon.ae) has offered Black Friday discounts as high as 70%. So, we can be assured that interest in the two shopping frenzies will be intense in
2020.

What the public wants
But in a fiercely competitive field, where e-shoppers can switch to a competitor with a single click, e-tail firms must ensure a digital experience that is slick, reliable, and engaging. In the US last year, more people shopped online than in stores on Black Friday. This year, we already see an online propensity governed by outside forces. So, the pressure on e-commerce platforms is all but guaranteed.

Across the region, many were caught off guard by pandemic-related demands on their technology tacks. Feasibility studies were quick-marched into production and projects slated to run for many months were accelerated to completion within weeks or days as evidenced by the recent AppDynamics The Agents of Transformation Report, where 86% of UAE technologists reported that digital transformation projects which would typically take more than a year to be approved, were signed off in a matter of weeks and 78% point to digital transformation projects that have been
implemented within weeks rather than the months or years it would have taken before the pandemic.

Online sellers quickly learned that the deluge would not pass and that application suites needed urgent attention. As global e-commerce began to grab a greater and greater share of total retail sales, business leaders had to face a new reality — their digital presence was now an integral part of their brand. And the applications that fed user experiences were no longer backroom tools, but vital operational components.

We can now see how an intense surge in consumer engagement can hurt your brand rather than build it, leading to an adverse effect on your bottom line. IT teams therefore need to be ready for event shoppers. If you lose a few impatient users due to high latency, social media outcries will do the rest. Black Friday shoppers take their deals seriously.

Strategy first
You need a plan; and yes, there is still time. Your IT team needs to be familiar with the baseline metrics used to measure the performance of your applications and websites. It is important to take a fresh look, as they may have changed from last year. It is useful if you can configure your environment to auto-scale itself to cope with surges in user engagement. Also take time to account for user behaviours. For example, casual browsers have a different impact on your resources than those searching for a specific product.

Real-time analytics that tracks revenue and alerts you to inventory locked up in shopping carts can also help you keep on top of the frantic pace of the weekend. Application-performance monitoring (APM) solutions are powerful tools for keeping an eye on the vital signs of your commerce platform and informing you in real time of issues such as heavier-than-expected traffic or drops in successful transactions.

Remember that link between technology performance and your brand. Remember to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. And remember that any degradation in performance could translate to a degradation in reputation. AppDynamic’s App Attention Index shows two thirds of consumers avoid brands known for substandard digital experiences. That means stakeholders must leave nothing to chance. A business’ technology platform is composed of several potential bottlenecks, from the presentation layer all the way down to the physical. Due care paid to each component will ensure a smooth ride for consumers.

Keep a watchful eye
Once the plan is in place and the right tools are on standby, all that remains is to make sure that you can react instantaneously in real time to any issues that arise. Proper monitoring can help with this, assuming your tools allow you full, rich visibility of your environment. While the wrong stance can be damaging to your brand, a good Black Friday and Cyber Monday performance gives you the opportunity to expand your customer base and build loyalty among existing customers. Get it right and watch the results.

David Noël is the regional vice president, Southern Europe, Middle East & Africa at AppDynamics

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