It’s the day of your big online sales event. You hit send on the email and social posts and watch as the traffic floods in. Suddenly, the traffic stops. No one can get on your website. Your servers were overloaded due to the increase in traffic, your website is down, your brand is losing sales by the minute, and now the angry emails and complaints on social media begin.
This might sound like a doomsday scenario, but it’s far from uncommon for eCommerce brands running sales events. And overloaded servers and crashed sites are far from the only things that can go wrong. For brands considering the launch of a new sales event, it is essential to learn about and protect against the following risks first.
1. Plan for Peaks in Traffic
When it comes to sales events, there is such a thing as being too successful.According to the team at Queue-it, sales traffic can far exceed a retailer’s expectations. When this happens, it can bring your website crashing down. The result is money left on the table and an extremely negative perception of your brand by consumers.
Huw Edwards, CEO and Co-Founder at insurtech CyberFortress, offers several reasons why website downtime may occur during a sales event. “Your hosting service might experience a technological glitch, or the server you’re hosting on might not cope with surges in traffic,” he says. “Or perhaps software attached to your website, such as a plug-in, fails and takes the website down with it.”
Third-party apps are a particular nuisance especially for major brands on the biggest shopping days of the year. According to Dan O’Shea at Retail Dive, slow third-party apps are one of the top five issues for major retailers. Experience monitoring company Catchpoint has found that both Lowe’s and Macy’s have suffered major outages in recent years. Other culprits are “poor-performing APIs, overloaded web pages, lack of server scalability, and the tendency of retailers not to drill down to monitor regional performance,” he writes.
2. Do Not Let Sales Undercut Your Brand’s Value Proposition
A poorly managed sales event can have a negative long-term impact on your brand if retailers do not employ sophisticated eCommerce strategies. When discounts or promotions become de rigueur, consumers may question the value of your brand, explains Chris Giddins, Co-Founder and CEO at promotions engine Uniqodo.
Discounting works best consumers have a firm impression of the quality of your product, says the team at Killian Branding. Price and quality are almost always tied together in the consumer’s mind. A drop in price can lead many to think there’s been a drop in quality. Maintaining an elevated brand perception is the main reason DTC brands are reluctant to offer sales.
Caraa Founder Aaron Luo says constant discounts can mess up the message: “DTC’s whole value proposition is that the prices are lower because the margins are lower, because they’re selling directly to the consumer. If you start discounting, it sends the wrong message to the customers. You train them to only buy when stuff is on sale, and then your revenue tanks. So for many years, we’ve resisted the urge.”
3. Carefully Plan Shipping and Logistics
Retailers that do not have scalable, nimble and effective logistics partners in place may struggle with the excess strain placed on their supply chain and warehouse operations during a sale event. “Your website or system can crash and cause you to lose orders,” says strategic marketer Jillian Hufford. “You can oversell inventory. Order fulfilment can become too slow and cause delayed shipping times.”
Getting orders to consumers can become a particular issue for brands without a flexible supply chain in place, says Andrew Tavener, Head of Marketing at Descartes UK. Higher order numbers place a heavy burden on shipping companies due to the increased number of deliveries needed to be made, particularly on days when multiple brands are holding sales on discount days.
“For retailers to succeed in these changing times and comply with their customers’ evolving needs, they must ensure they have the supply chain infrastructure in place to plan effectively for peak demand generated by sales and marketing campaigns, and to meet the expectations set by them,” Tavener writes.
Inventory levels also present a problem, says the team at Dotcom Distribution. “If you haven’t accurately forecasted required inventory levels, you’ll leave large numbers of online shoppers disappointed and they won’t come back anytime soon,” they explain. The worst scenario is not potential lack of orders. The real concern retailers must worry about is selling out of stock soon after opening their virtual doors.
There is also the issue of returns. When retailers use urgency to drive conversions, it stands to reason that the added sales will result in more returns. The result, says freelance copywriter Oliver Kennett, is that brands will need to cover the cost of returning the items, give the customer a full refund and then sell the returned items at a later date. This results in big losses when the original intent was to drive revenue and win new customers.
4. Anticipate a Swarm of Bots
It’s not just your own eCommerce operations you have to worry about when launching a sale. Brands also need to have a strategy in place to deal with malicious individuals who flood high profile sales with bots that clear out your inventory before any real customers have had a chance to make a purchase.
Bots are automated tools used by bad-faith actors to scrape websites and gobble up inventory before real, loyal, engaged customers have a chance to click “add-to-cart.” Anyone looking to make a quick (and illegal) buck online via resale markets can buy and use these bots without any coding knowledge.
Shopping bots have become a lucrative market in their own right, says the team at DataDome. “The market value for most sneaker bots ranges from $100 for a lifetime subscription to around $1K for 6 months,” they write.
Ironically, the very best bots have also become limited editions. “Buying them directly from the publisher has become difficult, and the second-hand market is buzzing. A license for one of the most popular bots can trade for well above $1K,” according to DataDome.
Stopping bots as an eCommerce retailer isn’t easy. Most technical solutions are ineffective, writes the team at Netacea, a bot management solution provider. Web application firewalls are easily circumvented. ReCAPTCHA isn’t foolproof. Instead, the team recommends a series of low-tech solutions like holding raffles or limiting exclusive promotions to brick-and-mortar stores.
Many eCommerce stores and their back-end infrastructures are not capable of handling the increased demand, customer experience issues, and supply chain strains that are part and parcel of running a sales event. Partnering with an enterprise eCommerce solutions provider is an excellent strategy to avoid sale pitfalls and instead capitalize on the profits they can bring. With the right platform, technology, and expertise it is possible to scale and launch your next specialty web store or outlet site for your next flagship sale event.