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Holiday shopping is intense

This year’s holiday shopping season is just around the corner. Most retailers are already announcing their rock bottom deals for Black Friday, when millions of shoppers will descend on stores and websites. . . which means retailers will also have to plan for spikes online and off.

And it’s not just Black Friday. There’s also now Cyber Monday, Cyber Weekend, and, the latest entrant, Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas. The battle for holiday spending is intense and getting bigger.

NRF reported that the average spending was over $380 during Black Friday 2014 weekend for both in-store and online sales. And consumers spent $42 billion dollars in all on Super Saturday, according to Customer Growth partners.

But the more engaging the deals, the greater the risk of potential emergencies. Retailers need to anticipate, and plan well in advance to manage risks during those intense spikes of holiday shopping activity and how to avoid loss of sales or brand reputation.

Managing retail emergencies

A recent BBC documentary focused on how doctors avoid fatal mistakes during emergency situations in a hospital operating room. They discovered that despite the revolutionary advances in science and medical technology, human error IS the main cause for unanticipated failures in the operating room. Human error stems from a loss or lack of situational awareness: losing the context in favor of the task at hand.

After being inspired by how fire fighters and pilots control critical situations, Professor Atul Gawande invented a checklist-based framework that is now used during surgical emergencies in order to save lives and improve teamwork. The checklist concept can also be adapted for retail: here are suggested items to include:

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#1 Plan as a team. Prior to the holiday shopping peak, all teams – marketing, web, content management, PR, security– must work together in sync. Rigorous planning and coordination are crucial between departments to influence business results before, during and after the shopping season. Top executives need to be aware of likely emergencies and define each team’s responsibilities and equip them with the right tools and autonomy to do what’s best for the customer.

#2 Focus on security. As shoppers plan to take advantage of Black Friday online offers, cyber security breaches will be at an all-time high. Hacking or credit-card fraud are prime candidates for wreaking havoc on shopping websites. In-store security will also need to be alert for potential risk of shoplifting, over queuing and concessions. Many shoppers might also buy online and collect in store, creating extra foot traffic at the point of sale.

#3 Listen to real-time social chatter. Customer-service, social media and PR teams can anticipate and control crisis-management situations before they mushroom out of control and damage the brand. Realtime social listening will help identify advocates and influential brand ambassadors to create affinity and word of mouth opportunities while dealing with complaints.

#4 Test infrastructure. Unanticipated spikes in website traffic can bring down a website and destroy trust in a brand in one day. Early rigorous IT infrastructure stress testing by technical teams and monitoring by the analytics team can aid brands to predict trends. These activities will ensure that the backend and needed e-commerce platforms sustain as many simultaneous spikes as needed.

#5 Use analytics. More retailers are using analytics solutions and big data to predict holiday shopping trends. Those tools track and store shopping data that helps retailers have better insights into customer shopping behaviour and to discover emerging opportunities. Teams and agencies handling research, UX, logistics, online analytics, and search engine optimisation need to ensure that all tracking mechanics are in place weeks in advance to avoid inaccurate data.

#6 Foster culture. On the other hand, a crisis is a unique situation when a corporate culture is tested to the max.  How a brand acts in times of stress is key to survival. Management needs to encourage a culture of shared responsibility, accountability, flat hierarchy  and real-time decision making during a time of crisis. It’s essential for brands to also keep an open channel of communication between teams that encourages out-of-the-box creative ideas, spotting opportunities, identifying concerns as they happen to provide quick fixes.

What’s on your checklist? Did you check it twice?

Each retailer should consider creating their own Black Friday-Cyber Monday checklist framework to anticipate and be prepared to handle any last minute emergencies.  It’s the little things that we can learn from surgical rooms or competitors that can make a difference in the customer experience and save the business from a threatening catastrophe.

Mo Elnadi

Mo Elnadi

A seasoned commercially minded, multilingual digital marketing strategist with solid hands-on experience. Working with brands and startups to build integrated digital campaigns... Read more