"Shop ‘Til You Drop" Could Take on New Meaning in Online Black Friday Sales
November 23, 2021

Karthik Suresh

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The holidays are almost upon us, and retailers are preparing well in advance for the onslaught of online consumers during this compressed period. The Friday following Thanksgiving Day has become the busiest shopping day of the year, and online shopping has never been more robust. But with supply chain disruptions limiting merchandise availability, customer experience will make the difference between clicking the purchase button or typing a competitor's web address.

Opening much earlier than usual and extending their evening hours, it was a common expectation for retailers and their sales staff to face crowds of waiting customers excitedly pressing against tempered glass doors. Once they opened the doors and stepped back, a sea of humanity would sprint down the aisles, eagerly searching for the best deals. To ease the madness and congestion of Black Friday events, retailers have started their sales weeks earlier. With increased consumer demands and an upward spending trend, retailers are cautiously projecting a banner year for holiday sales. The climate seems ripe for consumers to cast off the restrictive woes of the long pandemic and spend.

Plenty of Cash to Spend

The shock of the pandemic left over 40 million Americans unemployed and created an economic downturn that hadn't been seen since the Great Recession. Job loss and scores of retail business closures put a major dent in consumer spending.

Now the American economy is once again on the upswing, with jobs coming back and people ready to spend their accumulated savings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, there was a sharp increase in savings as a percentage of disposable personal income, from 7.2% in December 2019 to a record 33.7% in April 2020. From March to April of 2020, the savings rate nearly quadrupled.

Black Friday is business-critical for retailers, with 30% of retail sales occurring between Black Friday and Christmas. Online Black Friday spending in 2020 reached $9 billion, growing by 22%, and $14 billion for the entire Black Friday weekend. Overall, the 5-day Black Friday to Cyber Monday period brought in $34 billion, accounting for 18% of total online sales for the year.

In Online Retail, "Shop 'til You Drop" Leads to Lost Revenue

Consumers have become weary with the effort involved in a trip to a physical store. Filling the car with gas, waiting at traffic lights, slowing down on congested roads and freeways, finding parking, and wading through crowded aisles can seem tedious and time-wasting in this digital age. During the most restrictive phase of the pandemic stay-at-home orders, consumers turned to their digital devices for everything from groceries and basic essentials, to clothing, home furnishings and more. With this astronomical increase, a new era of digital commerce has commenced. However, online shopping has its own challenges.

When we physically enter a store, there are customer service representatives present who may or may not enhance our shopping experience. Shopping online, the app or web interface is the service representative. Consumers click, swipe and tap on their smartphones, tablets and laptops to find, select and purchase. When retailer's apps and websites cause friction, are unavailable or too slow, shoppers will drop the connection and move on to a competitor. Their journey across cyberspace has many potential hazards and impediments that go unnoticed until customers experience slow connections, web pages that won't open, and websites with virtual front doors temporarily closed.

When consumers shop online, they travel from their last-mile local ISP, and crisscross a vast web of interconnected long-haul carriers with peering relationships that might not be friendly for some. They're handed off to any number of content delivery networks and DNS providers until they finally reach the retailer's website. But their digital journey doesn't stop there. Behind the scenes and under virtual covers, consumer browsers and apps interact with the retailer's backend servers, network equipment, databases, data analytics, and third-party services.

Web and mobile apps are one piece of a complex and highly distributed technology ecosystem that must deliver a quality user experience. Managing this technology ecosystem takes time, resources, multi-domain expertise and money. Ensuring the user's experience is positive requires end-to-end endpoint and network monitoring.

Monitoring the User Experience Pays Dividends

A key technology and service that helps ensure a quality online experience is monitoring endpoints and network traffic. Having visibility to see where performance or availability issues are, allows them to be resolved quickly before impacting users. If you recently experienced a 404 – Page not found response from Google while accessing your favorite retail site, then please know that it was due to Google Cloud outage. Sites using Google Cloud Platform were impacted due to an issue with Google load balancer.

Protecting and optimizing the user experience is necessary for success. In today's digital economy, online retailers have the extraordinary advantage of acquiring buyers from anywhere around the world, just with a couple of clicks. This makes it all the more important to have geographically distributed monitoring that can scale and support consumers wherever they are. The bar for the user experience has been set, and user demands are high. Meeting user expectations requires supporting device and network diversity. It necessitates proactive detecting, identifying and validating user and application reachability, availability, performance and reliability across an increasingly complex digital delivery chain.

Retailers have traditionally monitored CPU utilization, errors, and latency to correlate the consumer's experience with infrastructure performance. Today, they also monitor multiple user experience metrics with KPIs, including Google's core web vital metrics, like Largest Contentful Paint, Cumulative Layout Shift and First Input Delay.

Online Commerce has Forever Changed

As technology continues to evolve, retailers recognize that web and mobile apps can dramatically increase sales, while creating more personalized and dynamic customer experiences. Smart retailers take advantage of technology to accelerate their business growth, and improve their agility and competitive differentiation. Far from being a short-lived blip in how consumers purchase, the pandemic has forever changed the way consumers shop, and how businesses run their operations and manage supply chains.

Black Friday online sales are sure to steadily grow, and retailers will need to continue to adjust processes to meet the rising consumer numbers and needs. Undoubtedly, the success of this shopping model will lead to expansion, from the day after Thanksgiving, to five days between Black Friday and end-of-the month Cyber Monday. Perhaps one day it will simply be called Black November.

Karthik Suresh is Manager, Professional Services, at Catchpoint
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