By way of introduction…
In the calendar year, there are many dates important for e-commerce, around which various types of advertising campaigns are often built, which are intended to increase sales.
Of course, depending on the specific products sold and the target group, different emphasis is placed on particular periods. It is hard to imagine that car parts stores would focus their marketing activities around the start of Academic Year, while for stores offering school supplies, it is an exceptionally busy season when sales bars have a chance to shoot up.
There are endless examples of such discrepancies in sales calendars depending on the specificity of the industry. However, there is one day in the calendar that, regardless of the industry, is marked red, namely the last Friday of November – Black Friday.
One and only Black Friday – buckle up!
Black Friday is the day when the shopping season before Christmas traditionally begins. And although this custom originates from the United States, over time it gained popularity all over the world. It is a special day in e-commerce for both consumers and stores; Customers can count on bargains, and store opening hours are often extended.
Stores can count on a real shopping storm, which, with a properly prepared campaign, translates into potentially huge sales results. This, of course, applies not only to brick-and-mortar stores, but also to online stores, where record results in terms of website traffic are often achieved during Black Friday.
And although it sounds a bit grotesque, because, as I have already mentioned, it is a day awaited by almost everyone, for the broadly understood IT department (even though it is still a date marked red!!) it is often a stressful day full of challenges, especially if appropriate measures have not been taken.
Of course, it is impossible to predict everything and it is difficult to completely eliminate the stress factor, but there are certain steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of adverse events.
In the text below I will try to present the topic from a developer’s perspective, although I will not focus fully on the technical aspects of this issue.
Step 1. What the heck happened…?
First of all, it is worth remembering that it is best to start activities aimed at next Black Friday… immediately after Black Friday 🙂
Analyzing what went well and what didn’t during the last Black Friday is crucial if only you want to avoid the same mistakes again!
Data from Google Analytics can be helpful here (we hope you already switched from UA to GA4 to collect the right data). You can read our experiences with GA4 and Magento in the article on Implementing GA4 to Magento.
After the busiest period passes, it is easier to assess the situation and draw conclusions for the future in a matter-of-fact way.
Step 2. Communication is a key…
Communication is a very broad subject. It is not without reason that in the IT industry, more and more emphasis is placed on soft skills, especially in teams that cooperate directly with clients or other company departments. In the context of Black Friday, appropriate communication between the store (sales department) and the programming team (IT department) is extremely important – both before, during and after the event.
Estimated store traffic on Black Friday
In an ideal world, the IT department should have clearly defined basic information about Black Friday plans – primarily about the estimated traffic on the website throughout the day.
Such data can be obtained based on the analysis of the previous season (see Step 1). If this is the first ever season, it is worth relying on the market experience of similar stores. At Panda, we always help with forecasting to help managers predict real growth.
Special offer for Black Friday
Data on specific discounts, special offer codes and what hours they will become available to customers may also be useful. The flow of information is key here. The number of promotional codes is particularly important for the IT department. Failure to inform the IT department, which will not prepare the appropriate infrastructure, may disrupt the action.
Access, access and once again, access
Make sure that in case of any issues, the IT department has all the necessary access to all the resources it needs. This is where detailed planning of the entire process and preparation of a checklist comes in handy, as it also brings out details that we might not think about in the abundance of information related to Black Friday.
It is also worth determining whether the communication channel between the IT department and decision-makers at BF is clearly defined. This is very important because the need for communication during BF is quite likely to occur, especially in crisis situations.
In case of Alert
Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that traffic on the website has exceeded expectations and the website is running very slowly, so you need to consider rebooting the servers, increasing resources (which may involve additional costs), temporarily suspending the implementation of new promotional codes or any other steps to mitigate the problem.
The decision should be made by a designated decision-maker, provided that he or she has been informed about all the advantages and disadvantages of a given solution.
It may happen that the decision will not be completely accurate, especially since it is made quickly under unexpected circumstances. That’s why communication after BF is also so important – when emotions subside, it’s much easier to discuss with a cool mind what happened and how to counteract it in the future (See step 1)
But it is still a long way to Black Friday…
It is good to prepare for Black Friday in advance, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is best to do it just after the previous one. If the website slows down significantly for some reason, some functionalities caused unexpected errors due to lack of resources, incomplete orders were created etc., it should be dealt with immediately.
It may turn out that the problem resulted from the application code itself and then actions can be taken to improve or optimize the code. In the real world, however, this is not always the case, because optimizations with normalized website traffic often have a lower priority (after all, with a small load it is not noticeable), and stores prefer to focus on implementing new functionalities rather than improving the current code.
However, given the limited human resources in the IT department, this may result in postponing the topic to the extent that corrections will be made at the last possible moment.
Step 3. Plan ahead
Below are some issues that are definitely worth taking care of much earlier. Efficient project management will be useful here in the long run. Planning everything realistically will help you avoid nervous “in five 12” moves. High season, by its nature, is stressful, so taking care to remove a few potential obstacles may be beneficial, so in the run-up to Black Friday you will face only the inevitable.
Topics that should be addressed well in advance:
Optimizing database queries
By using tools (e.g. NewRelic, Blackfire) you can locate queries that consume the most resources. Of course, it is not always possible to optimize queries, but if it is possible, it is definitely something worth doing.
Optimizing the code
By using the same tools, you can also locate endpoints that take a long time to execute. In such a case, analyzing the code in terms of performance and refactoring it is a good practice.
This is primarily useful in the context of external APIs. You should make sure that in the event of problems communicating with external APIs, you have an implementation prepared that will minimize the damage.
While the most reliable point of reference and “production performance test” is Black Friday itself, it is worth investing time to conduct appropriate performance tests beforehand.
There are many tools that can be used to simulate specific website traffic and verify application performance. This allows us to find application bottlenecks (which you can then try to optimize in accordance with the previous points) and generally verify how much traffic the application can handle.
These are just some of the aspects that can (or rather should) be paid attention to in the long-term preparations for Black Friday. It should be remembered that although there is a whole year to fix issues, procrastination in this respect is not advisable. It’s easy to fall into the illusion that eternity separates us from the next BF, only to realize a month before the last Friday of November that there’s not much time left…
Step 4. Black Friday home stretch
The short term in the context of preparations for BF is, of course, a relative concept and depends on the human resources of the IT department and the size of the online store. Regardless of whether it will be a month, a week or maybe a day, it is worth intensifying activities aimed at preparing for BF during this period.
What to pay special attention to?
Unfortunately, what often happens is that performance problems are fixed at the last moment (at the very last minute possible). This is not an ideal solution, but if this issue has been neglected throughout the previous period, there is nothing left to do but prioritize the problems that we are aware of and then optimize as much as possible using available resources.
Limit new functionalities
In the period immediately preceding BF, it is definitely not recommended to implement new functionalities (especially large ones) unless there are clear reasons for doing so.
New code, when it is very extensive and touches many critical areas of the application, always carries the risk of some bugs that may be difficult to control during BF.
Preparing servers for increased traffic
Taking into account the increased number of visitors to the website during Black Friday, you should make sure that the server resources are sufficient enough to handle it.
As in the case of long-term activities, these are only some of the activities that can be undertaken immediately before starting Black Friday. It all really depends on specific requirements and expectations, but the examples presented above seem to be the foundation of being well-prepared, which will pay off when the long-awaited day comes.
Step 5. Black Friday is here…
Calm down, with proper preparation everything should be OK.
“Should”, although, is the key word here, because something unexpected can always happen. This is why it is important to constantly monitor the situation during the day (and even at night) to be able to react quickly if necessary.
It’s hard to really give any clear guidelines because it is very case-specific each time. It may sound rather simple, but the most important thing is that in such situations (often very stressful), try to stay calm and solve the problems you encounter step by step (alone or with the help of a team, if necessary).
In a nutshell…
Whether Black Friday turns out to be a great success or a failure depends on many factors – not all of which we have an influence on.
However, it is worth focusing on what we can do to minimize the risk and avoid unnecessary problems. Appropriate preparation for BF is important not only in the context of the functionality of the application itself but also builds a sense of confidence and peace in the team.
It is worth investing time and money to ensure that these preparations are carried out reliably because there is a lot at stake. Success on Black Friday for a store is not only about sales bars. It is also about acquiring new customers, building trust and loyalty among regulars and promoting the brand.