For retailers to capitalise on the Golden Quarter of the year, which is typically the most financially profitable, they must overcome a range of challenges that ecommerce presents, particularly at such scale. It is imperative, for example, that brands consider the growing risk of cybercrime, the anticipated increase in site traffic, and how they can maintain high standards of customer service without face-to-face interaction.

Customer service in the time of coronavirus

Maintaining a loyal customer base is a priority for retailers this year as online competition is increasing.

Sungard Availability Services senior vice-president SVP EMEA & India Chris Huggett says: “In recent years, small and agile start-ups and digital challenger brands have proven themselves capable of taking longstanding market share from traditional companies. Now that consumers have a much wider pool of retailers to choose from, it’s simpler to cut ties and shift to a competitor if a brand fails to meet expectations.”

Freshworks general manager UK and Ireland Simon Johnson adds: “Research has found that 69%of customer service leaders in the UK have seen an increase in customer expectations since February 2020 as many of us turn to online channels to speak to customer service teams or to secure our goods”.

That’s because “every interaction matters,” according to VMware Tanzu field CTO EMEA Marc Zottner. “The first time a customer goes through the entire online checkout process, only to be told their items are out of stock, might be the last time they visit a particular site.”

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To prepare for Black Friday, Zottner emphasises that retailers’ backend teams must ensure their software is prepared for upcoming traffic spikes, so they can process orders during peak times and deal with any troubleshooting in real-time.

Technology aids excellent service

With an increase in online sales comes an increase in phone calls from potentially frustrated customers.

Natterbox CEO and co-founder Neil Hammerton explains: “One of the most important steps to take as retailers and their contact centres prepare for Black Friday is to ensure they have the right collaboration tools in place so agents are equipped to provide the best customer experience, and that they can work effectively and productively when at home.”

According to IPsoft company Amelia head of AI banking Stephen Harcup, artificial intelligence (AI) could be a great aid to contact centres, emphasising the correlation between excellent customer service and technology.

“Customers don’t like to wait in queues, they want help right away,” he says. “Conversational AI is creating new digital doorways, creating a frictionless experience and ultimately new levels of customer experience.”

Cybersecurity is at the heart of a successful Black Friday

With more consumers shopping online this year, cybercriminals are going to be on the prowl. F5 senior threat research evangelist David Warburton warns that: “One of the most common threats now facing online retailers is formjacking, which siphons data from online forms to an attacker-controlled location.”

Darktrace director of threat Hunting Max Heinemeyer also highlights that retailers can’t let their guard down as “cybercriminals are increasingly opting to launch their attacks at night or on weekends – when response times of security teams will be slowest.” Heinemeyer explains that robust cybersecurity can be aided by AI, which he explains “is already a crucial ally for the retail sector across the world.”

An additional issue which is more prominent this year than ever before is shoppers using work devices to complete online retail transactions. CyberArk EMEA technical director David Higgins explains that the corporate devices “are a potential gateway to more lucrative data and assets. Even a basic ransomware attack on an employee’s device via social engineering, or malicious code hidden in a website, has the potential to cause devastating damage.”

The market is shifting

Qlik senior manager Adam Mayer believes it is impossible to ignore the seismic shift in the retail industry that has taken place this year. He explains: “Consumers expect a seamless, effortless experience online to make up for brick and mortar stores being closed. For businesses looking to capitalise on these changes and ensure business continuity, it is integral they have a business strategy in place to spot trends ahead of any competition.”

Celonis chief product officer Hala Zeine advises that AI-powered technology can be vital here, by helping to “analyse the whole supply chain and flag up any potential problems early in the process.”

She adds: “In turn, this breeds greater customer satisfaction and saves businesses money – a win-win, especially when demand and competition in the marketplace are so high.”

The ageing online shopper

Every demographic has differing expectations and with no one currently able to visit retailers in-store, it isn’t just younger customers that retailers should be targeting online.

Cognizant head of product and resources Rohit Gupta says: “What sometimes gets overlooked is experience and accessibility for every shopper. Most online stores today highlight the fundamental inequalities in our current digital world, in which ecommerce experiences are built for a user-normative experience. In these current economic conditions, demographics for online retailers need to expand to include people who would have never shopped online and therefore may not be familiar with ecommerce.”

Civica executive director local government Tony Hughes agrees, citing the company’s recent study, ‘A Word from the Wise’, based on research and focus groups with people aged over 70 from across the UK. It showed that the elderly population is more tech-savvy than some retailers give them credit for think. Over half of the UK’s over-70s own a smart TV, two-thirds use a smartphone daily and 70% go online to find information. However, Hughes explains: “Making small adjustments to online products and services to refine them for this audience, such as enlarging font size and simplifying website designs, can be effective and can allow organisations to make the most out of the bumper sales weekend.”

Next steps to success

Ultimately, for retailers to thrive this Black Friday and make the most of this lucrative sales opportunity, they will need to ensure that they are prepared to cope with unprecedented online demand. No matter what the issue, technology will be key in helping them do so.