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They’ve become the biggest events in the ecommerce calendar, rivalling Christmas for sheer spending power. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and, for Amazon customers, Prime Day, offer shoppers phenomenal savings on a huge wealth of products, delivered straight to the door with a few clicks.

Retailers love the sales days, so do shoppers, and for the thousands of logistics firms, manufacturers and warehouse operators who keep the supply chain running, they are the drivers of huge sales and profits. 

And on the surface at least there is even more good news this year, despite the many trials. Numerous surveys show that shoppers are planning to spend even more online in 2020 than in previous years, driven by anxieties about going into physical stores. 

Last year the surge from Prime Day alone led to an astonishing 6.9% year-on-year increase in total online sales for the UK, according to official figures from the Office of National Statistic (ONS). 2020 looks likely to have exceeded this, by some distance.

But while there is seemingly everything to celebrate and nothing to fear, as always it’s essential to remember the golden rule: retail is detail. In order to be ready for the huge spikes in sales, retailers – whether they are multi-channel or pure-play online operators – must be fully prepared.

As the stakes go up, the margin for error goes down. Shoppers won’t hang around for a website that’s stuttering under the sheer volume of traffic, so brands need to be ready to ensure there are no snags. With Black Friday, and Cyber Monday just round the corner, merchants need to have everything working seamlessly and smoothly – that means solving everything, from poor load time, to broken links, to issues over navigation and image quality.

Behind the scenes there is even more to consider: not least in the all-important area of supply chain and logistics. Every opportunity is a challenge, and vice versa: increased spending power means increased competition, and extra pressure on supply chains, especially in the vital ‘final mile’.

To this end, brands should think very carefully about which carriers they use in this exceptional year. And they should think outside of the usual parameters in making their decision: not least bearing in mind that doorsteps could be one of the most important places in many people’s lives this winter.

2020 might represent an unprecedented opportunity for retailers, but there’s no escaping that it’s also been a year of unprecedented adversity. If retailers had been told a year ago that they’d have to close all of their stores in spring 2020 for at least four months, and that when they reopened shoppers would come back in nervous, unpredictable waves, they’d scarcely believe it. 

The big sales events may well be record-breaking across the board this year, but for so many brands it’s likely to be a question of recouping lost revenues, rather than cleaning up. It’s a galling prospect, but a potentially real one, that the big discounts events might be a question of running just to stand still again. For certain brands in key sectors it might be even more serious than that: a fight for survival. 

In all of these cases the solution is good fundamentals, perfect processes and procedures under-the-bonnet of their sites, and brilliant skills of communicating with customers. 

The success stories, and the failures, of the past decade, show what it takes to get that right. Whether it’s in the phenomenal DTC sales growth of brands such as Nike, or the rapid adaptability and agility of Uber Eats, there are ways to cope with adversity, and turn challenges into opportunities.

The fact that people are planning to do more shopping online, and avoid the stores, is now a given. A report by data and tech insights provider Maybe*, based on a survey of over 14,000 UK social media users, revealed that 58% of shoppers are planning to do all of their Christmas shopping online this year, with Covid safety cited as the highest single factor in their decision of which physical stores to visit.

The question that all brands will need to be addressing now is how those people will shop, both in store and online, that is different from previous years. These micro shifts will be subtle, but important, and will vary from sector to sector. 

A report by online platform integration specialist Red Brain at the end of September revealed that there “signs of a return to more traditional gifts, and investments in larger, more expensive products which will deliver lasting engagement for children and adults alike”. These are the sort of nuances that all brands must be aware of now.

There’s no doubting that these are trying times. But adversity can lead to great innovations, and present major opportunities for the prepared mind. The big sales events are here, whether retailers are ready, or not. In 2020, perhaps more than ever, brands need to make them count.