It seems that, as well as falling for Black Friday, the UK's ecommerce sites staged some big Cyber Monday promotions. 

Most sites have sales on today, so how are they dealing with sales? Are they providing a good user experience? 

Sales are sales, and ultimately customers want a bargain, but there are different ways of presenting them.

They can provide a poor user experience at times, especially if retailers haven't provided enough navigation and filtering options to narrow their searches.  

Simply providing a long list of products and making customers hunt for a bargain isn't good enough, while some present a poorer version of the normal site for sales. 

Next is one example of this. The design is totally different to the 'normal' site, which is immediately more confusing for customers. 

There are a number of problems. For example, since stock is limited, using the filters often returns no results, which is frustrating for customers. 

Also, while Next's product pages provide a range of zoomable images from different angles, on the sale site you get just one image to help you decide.

If you're looking to attract customers to your sale, and encourage them to buy, then the user experience shouldn't be neglected.

What do customers want from sales?  

They arrive at the sale, whether from an email, an ad, a search or word of mouth and they will have a number of questions: 

  • Where are the sale products? 
  • How do I get to the sale? 
  • How much can I save on each product? 
  • How do i get the saving? 

How retailers present this varies, so here are a few examples from Cyber Monday... 

House of Fraser

Many customers arriving at the site today will be hunting for bargains, so House of Fraser makes it easy for them to get straight down to business. 

The sale is highlighted clearly, and the 'shop live offers' call to action removes any cause for confusion: 

Once on the sale page there are more than 3,000 products on offer. 

Here, House of Fraser offers the same user experience as normal, which means that users can filter and sort by price, brand, section, review score and so on. 

I also like the way House of Fraser split its sale into three five-hour periods to maintain customers' interest throughout the day. The countdown timer also adds a sense of urgency.

Argos

Argos didn't really acknowledge Cyber Monday as a thing, instead carrying on with its Black Friday promotions.

Still, the messaging was clear, and the site held together after its hiccup on Black Friday. 

 

Deals were clearly presented though discounts weren't shown for all products. 

Tesco

Tesco went for the Cyber Monday thing, with robots and everything. Visitors to the site were in no doubt about where the sale was. 

It had an interesting way of presenting the sale, with discounts on everything if you hit spending thresholds rather than a selection of reduced products. 

This has its benefits, as customers can just navigate the site as normal and apply discounts at the end.

The only slight negative is that customers have to remember a discount code, and these codes weren't memorable. 

Macy's

Yes, there was a sale on at Macy's...

Thanks to standard navigation and filters the sale items were easy to find, while reminders of savings on search results are useful for shoppers. 

Gap

No mistaking the fact that there's a sale on here, and Gap explains the terms of the sale simply - 40% off everything with a discount code. 

The advantage of such a sale is that there is no need for a separate section, so customers can navigate as normal.

The offer is reiterated throughout the site, while the code (CYBERGAP) is easy enough to remember. 

In summary

There are a number of approaches here, and much will depend on the priorities of the retailer.

I like the simplicity of offering a discount off everything, as that means customers can just shop as normal and apply the code at the end. 

However, I also like the approach from House of Fraser. Splitting the sales into sections gave customers a reason to return to the store throughout the day, and also meant that those logging on in the evening hadn't missed out on all of the bargains. 

I should also mention Amazon here. As Ian Gregory explained in an earlier post, the retail giant's lightning deals promotion was an excellent example. 

Graham Charlton

Published 2 December, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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MAX EAGLEN, DIRECTOR at PLATFORM GROUP

Interesting article @gcharlton. How brand guardians keep their brands' consistency, coherence and integrity especially with sales communication can be a challenge. At Platform we have found that ensuring that all customer touchpoints are positive, especially at sales times, is essential, as often this is the first entry point for a new customer to your brand. The customer journey, and experience, needs to be clear, easy and still communicate your brand values, ethos and proposition. Often sales can attract customers into your brand through price, but it is the customer experience that will retain them for future.

almost 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

I can totally see the thinking behind Next doing a simpler site, during high traffic spikes -I Kn Boden have done the same in the past too - not sure about recent years.

Next have regular experience of big traffic peaks: seasonal sales that are hugely popular, and I've even heard talk that power-shoppers set up browser scripts so that they buy their bargains in seconds of go-live! That creates huge infrastructure peaks.

It'll be interesting to see next year: whether more retailers try to be ready to 'handle anything' through Black Friday / Cyber Monday, by running simpler sites.

That always has the challenge, that unlike the regular site, you don't get to try it out until the big weekend itself: so there is extra need for caution, and realistic load-testing in advance - else it can backfire with the simpler site handling the high usage less well than the regular site would have done!

almost 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Deri, I'd also say, don't leave load testing until October. Try and load test monthly, so performance issues can be picked up early and handled rationally. How about running jMeter as part of a continuous integration environment? Do you see anybody out there building scalability in to their everyday development?

almost 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Stuart - you're spot on, load test early and often is the ideal.

In answer to your question, we do see a wide range of development practise: some retailers do no load performance tests at all in their releases ; some do very basic things: just testing a couple pages like a product page and home-page or etc.

It then becomes alot harder to do load testing built round realistic user Journeys; with their semi-randomness, and need to produce traffic that is genuinely representative of true peak usage - and some are on this route.

It was Clarks Shoes who summed up the overall challenge for retailers:
- 'what size is our online Store?'

Which is a question with a different answer after every release.

Of course load testing is not the only performance tool - we have other clients who do good early-warning from the 24/7 monitoring that suppliers like us run of User Journeys: again, the secret is the realism: journeys that 'do what the customer does': and our tool also provides Site Release monitor reports: flagging up what journeys have sped up or slowed down since the release.

Ultimately most eComm directors don't want to be involved day-to-day in their web speed performance: but they definitely do want to know that it is being well managed, and setting up the right tools and approaches does ensure that it's being well managed and still require the minimum management time.

You're probably an unusual beast Stuart - more knowledgeable in this space than most of your peers!

almost 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Deri, I think one of the hurdles to be overcome is that many "just want it to work at peak", but then typically pay no attention to it for the rest of the year. Some of these big sites that went down should be conducting load tests every month in 2016, with the results being published at the highest level. They should be looking for their infrastructure to cope (just) with twice the concurrent users of this year. That way, they have plenty of headroom for spikes.

In a previous life I used to start to worry when my capacity was over 50% utilised on the busiest days.

They also need to put strategies in place to allow their sites to respond in a better-than-linear way to load. Up to a point, a well designed architecture might actually speed up as they get busier.

almost 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Your comments are all spot on - but at the same time some of the large organisations do have very sizeable infrastructure - and getting budget approval to double it up for 'headroom' is not always easy.

I think it's getting easier in those companies where the Mktg teams and tech teams are working more closely: there is a brand-protection insurance value to having headroom, which can make sense to FD's, when presented by marketing too.

But those retailers where the Mktg guys don't feel comfortable getting 'too close' to the tech teams: they find it harder to invest wisely, and are at risk of the FD seeing infrastructure as just overhead to be minimised.

At the end of the day it's a question of culture - who feels responsible for website performance.

almost 3 years ago

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