The risks of the autumn code freeze and what retailers can do to maximise this year’s Golden Quarter

Alex Thomson
20 September, 21

This is a critical time for retailers as they prepare their websites for the onslaught of traffic due in the most lucrative time of the year. The aptly-named Golden Quarter is the peak sales period from Black Friday into Cyber Monday weekend at the end of November, hotly followed by Christmas. With sales volumes set to rocket over this period, retailers must ensure they don’t get caught out by an increase in traffic to digital stores.

The pandemic drove digital retail forward and produced massive spikes in online shopping, as lockdowns reset consumer attitudes to online shopping from convenience to necessity. In fact, our summer survey on 2021 shopping behaviours found that mobile shoppers plan to spend 9.46% more than their in-store counterparts at Christmas. But as consumers continue to demand more from e-commerce and increase the volume at which they use it, so too do retailers need to keep pace. Increasingly, the experience consumers have when shopping guides their loyalty and buying decisions. Shoppers are increasingly  expecting a seamless purchase journey – and retailers need to act now to ensure they provide a consistent experience even during busy periods.

Our survey found that this year, UK consumers are planning on spending much more on Christmas than they were pre-pandemic, driven by a perception that this Christmas is “more important”. This research forecasts that shoppers plan to spend an average of £489 each on gifts alone, an increase of 64% increase in spending on presents in 2020 year, a potential national economic boost of up to £31.9Bn.

Each year, the late-November sale seems to only get bigger and longer, with more and more retailers getting in on the deals action and slashing prices. Last year’s Black Friday was no exception, with an astonishingly high number of people shopping from their sofas, avoiding waiting in lines due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions. The total Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending in the UK increased from £5.6 billion in 2019 to £6 billion in 2020, demonstrating just how much the total spending grows year on year.

But as the majority of retailers use the time over July-August to implement code freezes to reduce the risk of site-killing bugs, they open themselves up to a potentially bigger problem: being unable to update their sites in line with customer behaviour during the busy holiday shopping season, therefore increasing the likelihood of cart abandonment.

Delivering a high-quality online customer experience was complex enough before the pandemic, but the additional virtual footfall has only piled on the pressure. Furthermore, a whole new level of competition online means retailers must impress quickly or risk losing customers to rivals. The retail sector has invested heavily in IT to support the growth of online shopping in recent years, however, a staggering 89% of retailers say their digital and e-commerce capabilities have failed to keep pace with the recent surge following the pandemic.

It may be contrary to ‘traditional’ code-freezes but adopting an agile, iterative approach to product development is essential across the sector. Ultimately, in an age where customer attention span lasts seconds, brand engagement is key. Attention is the new currency and the ability to be agile is the killer advantage retailers can implement to keep up with evolving trends, gain the attention of demanding shoppers and produce sales.

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