Be honest about delivery times this Black Friday

Black Friday is very exciting for the industry and consumers alike and yet another US convention that has been exported to the UK very successfully. Taking place on 27 November this year, it has traditionally been an opportunity for High Street retailers to offload their slow sellers and excess stocks before Christmas, but with the rise in e-commerce, it has become a huge e-commerce phenomenon. Pureplay retailers have picked up on the event and see it as an opportunity to hold flash sales, but unlike the bricks and mortar stores they can and do oversell, because many don’t usually physically hold any stock and are effectively box shifting for manufacturers based on sales generated.

I had first hand experience of this after ordering a new TV in the 2014 Black Friday promotions, which was finally delivered after a one month wait and many irate discussions with the retailer’s customer services team. All this was in spite of my having pre-booked a delivery slot as offered. It was clear both the online retailer and manufacturer had been totally overwhelmed by demand and could not offer the service they had promised to their customers. They had no visibility of where the item was after the sale and were unable to tell me whether it had been picked or dispatched. Had I known the possible delays I would have sourced my new TV locally and probably just paid a bit more.

As a result of experiences like these, which were caused by exceptional short-term demand, consumers may be less inclined to believe delivery promises made online because they will have already had a negative experience. Last year a lot of retailers made similar mistakes and overpromised on their Black Friday offerings. I certainly won’t be making the same mistake this year on Black Friday. In the future, retailers and manufacturers need to be very careful when organising special promotions to ensure they can actually be fulfilled. New online review services like Reevoo mean an online retailer’s reputation can be damaged very seriously if customers post that they did not get their goods as promised when they placed the order.

Retailers need to be more realistic about what they can and cannot fulfill and they need to give their customers a more realistic and honest delivery projection. This way, the customer can decide whether they want to buy the goods at a cheap price but then have to wait for them to arrive, or go to the High Street, pay slightly more, but be able to take the item the same day.

To some degree, automated warehouse systems can help ease the strain of events like Black Friday by helping to pick and dispatch goods faster, but only to a point. If a business has been totally overwhelmed by an unprecedented level of orders, automation won’t compensate for a lack of forward planning. Equally, smaller retailers cannot justify spending many thousands on automated systems just to satisfy a handful of spikes in business volume - they would be better placed to devote that capex towards more general operational improvements to benefit the business as a whole over the year.

If retailers want to take advantage of Black Friday sales opportunities, they need to have a good plan in place, recruit any extra staff needed and have contracts with parcel carriers in place to enable them to fulfil orders in line with customer expectations. If delivery times will be longer than usual, they need to be honest with customers so they can decide upfront whether to place the order anyway because the price warrants a slight wait for the goods, or go elsewhere and possibly pay a premium.

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