Yesterday, we all watched as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp crashed, taking $7 billion dollars with it as stockholders rushed to sell. But outside of Wall Street, how much business was lost for folks who primarily use those platforms to sell online? For those merchants, yesterday was a catastrophe, but had nothing to do with how well they’ve set up their Shopify store or fine-tuned their email marketing. In short, there’s simply no way to predict an outage like that… but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.
This year, despite a somewhat more “open” retail scene across global markets, BF/CM 2021 is likely going to be another shopping season fueled primarily by eCommerce. What’s more, current estimates put this year’s BF/CM spending 11% higher than 2020, with almost 40% of customers beginning their shopping spree earlier than ever before.
It’s impossible to predict the future, but if you’re a D2C brand heading into Q4, now is the time to test your store, get ready for potential disasters, and ensure you can hold up to increased demand. Here’s 5 ways to do exactly that.
1. / Creating an early detection system.
First of all, you’ll want to set up some kind of early warning system that can let you know as soon as things start to go awry. In “the old days” companies would actually have screens displaying real time traffic volume in the office. Often, alerts would be scheduled to go off when a certain level of volume was reached.
Today, that’s often not the case. Especially when so many D2C brands run smaller, tighter crews with many of the team members working from home. However, there’s still plenty of opportunity to set up automated warning systems that will alert the team when something goes wrong.
Get started, by determining what metrics you’re going to be monitoring and at what point it’s time to start worrying. A great place to begin focusing your attention would be Google’s Four Golden Signals. You can use your data from last year’s BF/CM to benchmark acceptable levels of each signal. From there, use monitoring tools to create a warning system that will automatically alert your team when resources are strained.
2. / Understand your architecture and know how to scale.
Back in the early days of eCommerce, when your store was housed in a single datacenter, your team would have to physically allocate more resources during a traffic surge—sometimes even needing to install more hardware on the spot! Fortunately, every hosting service in today’s world touts an ability to “scale with demand”. In other words, they’ll be able to assign you more resources on the fly, as soon as an outage is detected.
However, there’s a major difference between knowing this fact and actually knowing what it’s like to scale up on the fly. Have you tested this yet? Will it happen entirely automatically, or do you have to approve the request from your host first? How long does it take to go from detecting a problem, to allocating more resources, to resuming service as normal? If your store goes down, will everything work 100% normally when restored or do some systems need manual attention?
Right now, in October, you should be testing your site to see how it performs under extreme pressure. Just because you have the capability to respond to increased demand, doesn’t mean everything will respond perfectly when the time comes.
3. / Offload as much as possible from your Customer Service team
Aside from the purely technical side of increased BF/CM demand, you’ll want to consider the impact on your customer-facing team members. When someone makes a purchase, it’s not uncommon for them to have questions. Right now, you may be addressing those inquiries through a phone line or a live chat option.
Will that be enough on BF/CM?
A better idea—look at setting up a chatbot to handle some of the more common questions. Just like you would with site performance, go through your backlog of customer questions. What are some of the most common issues your CS team will need to deal with? Look at setting up a flow that walks customers through these common questions before being matched with a rep.
But don’t stop there. Consider implementing a fallback solution for when your representatives are simply too swamped. If a customer is unable to reach a rep after a given time period, see if you can follow up with them through email or SMS. This way you can both capture first-party data from your customers while also offering a solution during peak holiday demand.
4. / Set up redundant systems.
There’s an old military saying, “two is one, one is none.” In other words, if you don’t have a back up plan, you may as well not have any plan. As we mentioned in the introduction, Facebook going down yesterday was not something anyone could have foreseen. If your back up plan when FB Messenger goes down is to simply use WhatsApp—you were entirely out of luck yesterday.
It’s impossible to predict what will happen this holiday season. Consider everything you need to make a sale happen—payment systems, customer service tools, your storefront, etc.—and ask yourself if you have a real back up plan in case something goes wrong. If Paypal finds themselves overwhelmed, do you have another way to process credit card payments? If Klarna runs into trouble, how else can you offer BNPL solutions to your customers? If you’re unable to sell through your eCommerce store, can you at least mitigate losses by selling through Amazon?
5. / Use your FAQ, return policy, and other pages to address customer concerns.
Finally, you’ll want to update your FAQ, return policy, product pages, affiliate program pages, rewards program pages, and more. Make sure there’s enough detail in each so that everything is clear and easy to understand for customers. Your goal here is to make it easy for customers to answer their own questions, without requiring help from your busy team.
Just like you did in #4, go through your backlog of customer questions. However, you’ll also want to consider answering queries that haven’t been asked yet. Take a hard look at your holiday return policy—is it as clear as possible? How about your subscription program? Are the links to these pages clearly visible? Are they included at the right places in the customer journey?
BF/CM 2021 is going to be a challenge. Prepare now.
Last year, the eCommerce world was awash with headlines like, “this is the most challenging holiday season yet,” or, “how to plan for a BF/CM like no other!”
We’d wager that 2021 is going to be even more difficult. This year, the world is running low on everything from shipping containers, to products to put in the containers, to truck drivers and dock workers responsible for getting those goods into the market. There’s also more confidence in eCommerce among customers, meaning the surge in D2C demand we saw last year is likely to continue.
For a lot of brands, this year’s holiday season will be a trial by fire—prove yourselves here, and you have a chance to race ahead of your competitors as we enter the new year. Need help? Talk strategy with us as you disaster-proof your eCommerce store, by booking a free call with our team.
Photo by David Pupaza on Unsplash