Arguably the world’s biggest sales weekend of the year, Black Friday to Cyber Monday is a highlight on everyone’s calendar – consumers and businesses alike.

By Deshni Harricharan, national sales manager at Seacom

And while it’s crucial to get those sales campaigns and marketing strategies in place early on to stand out in a sea of deals, it’s equally important to consider the technical aspects of this commercial extravaganza.

If the past few years are anything to go by, Black Friday 2021 is going to be massive. According to Black Friday Global, interest in the sales spectacle has increased by a mammoth 9 900% in South Africa over the last five years, compared to 117% global growth.

In South Africa in 2018, sales on Black Friday were 1 952% more than they were on an ordinary day, making our country’s appetite for Black Friday discounts more than double the world average of 663%.

And with online shopping on the rise since the start of the global pandemic, it’s worth upping your web performance game and putting the right infrastructure in place to manage the inevitable spike in traffic.

For companies that want to take full advantage of Black Friday, the answer lies in preparation and planning. Let’s dive into how you can boost your technical capabilities, manage increased web traffic and customer demand, and prevent possible cyber threats.

Trends and predictions to consider

Looking back on Black Friday 2020 in South Africa, in-store sales took a serious knock, with physical retailers seeing some two million fewer transactions than the year before. In contrast, online shopping climbed by more than 60%, contributing to 300 000 extra online sales.

This wasn’t a complete shock, though, as shoppers avoided brick-and-mortar stores and packed malls out of fear for Covid-19, and with less money to spend due to the virus’s economic impact.

Similarly, PayFast processed a record 283% increase in total payment volumes, with 66% of these purchases being made on a mobile device. As such, retailers would be wise to invest in online and mobile payment methods and upgrade their online platforms for improved customer experiences.

Other trends to take note of? US sales data reveals that a longer Black Friday period is becoming more common, with brands announcing discounts from early November with deals that are staggered over the next few weeks, giving customers a larger window to snag a bargain.

Ongoing health concerns mean that many major US stores will be closed for Thanksgiving this year, making online a bigger focus than ever for Black Friday sales. And, with the notoriously chaotic videos of South Africans fighting to score a cheap TV, our own merchants should follow suit and minimise large crowds gathering in their stores. If anything, digital is the way to go this Black November.

Using technology to your advantage

We can all think of major websites that have crashed on Black Friday in the past. OneDayOnly and Takealot are two examples of well-known local brands whose sites simply couldn’t keep up with the influx of traffic.

So then, how can businesses enhance their web performance to not only make the most of the sales but also ensure they don’t suffer from the embarrassment – and reputational damage – of a site crash?

Site speed and optimisation, online backups, and constant analysis are a few ideas that can help manage increased volume this Black Friday. Be sure to research these techniques, determining what practical steps you can take to improve how users experience your site and putting an action plan in place if your site was to be compromised.

Fortunately, many helpful plugins and solutions can assist with the technical heavy lifting of building and maintaining a rapidly loading website. A caching plugin, for example, can be used to help improve your web page load time while dramatically decreasing server load.

On the other hand, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) boosts site speed by hosting files across a worldwide network of servers, allowing users to download information from servers close to them and decreasing page load time.

You can also leverage various flexible, scalable cloud-based services, innovative voice technologies, and online backups to elevate your company’s technical capabilities beyond the month-long mayhem. Fast and reliable connectivity that you and your customers can count on will also set you apart in the long run.

A final word on cybersecurity

The pandemic may have given rise to increased digital activity, particularly online shopping, but it’s also encouraged cybercriminals to prey on vulnerable businesses and individuals. As such, you’ll need to be especially vigilant during Black Friday sales.

From anti-virus and anti-spyware software to comprehensive firewalls and protection against DDoS attacks, there are plenty of security solutions on the market that can protect against web-based attacks. Be sure to investigate your options and pick the right cybersecurity services and partner for your company’s unique needs. That way, you can continue to operate with complete peace of mind during and after the Black Friday madness.