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Editor's Comment: Online steals the day but retailers forced to send traffic away

After the hype, come the results. And without a doubt, online has come up trumps.

The UK high street on November 27 was – thank goodness – spared the riots and mass mania of last year’s Black Friday. Savvy customers chose to avoid the crowds and the terrible weather, and instead opted to shop from the comfort of their own home (see page 49). However, this did not come without problems for retailers with many sites struggling under the traffic numbers. Retailers have seen this many times before when launching a new collaboration (think H&M) or going on sale but it still seems a challenge for even the best multichannel retailers to prepare for the sheer volume of online traffic.

Many of the ecommerce experts I spoke to this week were surprised that retailers are still battling with site capacity when the high traffic volumes exceeded expectations. One pointed out that retailers always seem to be playing catch-up – they plan for these surges in demand for months but when they actually arrive, they always seem to be caught out by the sheer numbers.

One solution is to use a “waiting room” system that restricts the number of shoppers accessing the site to ensure that, once they are there, they have a quick and successful shopping experience. Those that cannot get on to the site immediately are given a message that they are in a queue.

This method emulates the in-store experience: if it is busy, customers have to queue for longer – except, of course, that it is much easier to leave an online site and “pop next door”. So unless the waiting room is adopted by all retailers online, the customer will always look for the site that offers the quickest and most seamless experience.

Although sales are not expected to have reached quite the same volume of Black Friday, Cyber Monday puts more pressure on digital propositions. The next challenge of course, is dealing with returns, while also preparing for the Christmas period. The success of the entire period from Black Friday to January Sales – and the balancing act between sales, returns and margin – will no doubt set the Black Friday strategies for many retailers for 2016. The general feeling this year is that many wish it had never crossed to our shores, but equally many feel that it is a proposition they cannot afford not to participate. I suspect next year could be the turning point – and the turning of their backs – for many.

In the midst of Black Friday mania, the other news that has also finally been announced this week is the sale of footwear retailer Office to South African fashion retailer Truworths International. Truworths has 650 stores in Africa and 40 in the rest of Africa, so it will support the 34-year-old Office’s expansion internationally.

It will be interesting to see if it develops more own-label product as part of this expansion to set a unique identity on a global level. After the buy-out of New Look by South African Christo Wiese, followed by the launch of Pep & Co by the same investor, this latest purchase from another South African business shows the strength of UK businesses as international investment opportunities.





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