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Why Are Some Retailers Testing Through Black Friday?


For retail companies—both physical storefronts and ecommerce sites—the holiday shopping season represents the period of highest visitation, sales volume, and strain on staff and systems. To handle this strain and maximize the revenue potential during this critical period, many ecommerce sites institute a “code freeze” leading up to the big weekend, hoping to prevent server crashes and broken sites. It is certainly a safe strategy and in that way, it makes perfect sense.black friday

Unfortunately, for many sites, this means that testing and targeted offers must be shut down—exactly when they’re needed the most. But some retailers are using the increased traffic during the holidays as an opportunity to accelerate testing and continue optimizing their online offerings.

Testing through the holiday shopping season—including Black Friday and Cyber Monday—poses some interesting challenges beyond maintaining site stability. One of the biggest is that both traffic and conversions during this period are inflated. As a result, it will be hard to generalize results across customer groups or throughout the year.

Another issue is that the opportunity cost of a losing variation is much higher. While it is typically beneficial to let tests run for extended periods even if they are flat or even losing slightly, this may not be the case during the critical holiday shopping season.

Though challenges clearly exist, there is a compelling argument for pushing ahead. With elevated traffic and acknowledged seasonality, tests can potentially reach confidence sooner—and a prepared team can push test velocity to maximize results. Testing multiple offers, too, allows retailers to leverage the most effective—ultimately reducing the unrealized loss of blindly running with one idea untested.

An Ideal Opportunity for Tag Management

The struggle between stability and optimization often manifests as a tension between IT, development, or product teams and the marketing team. Having a testing team—or at least a tool—in place helps erase this tension. And a tag management system can help transfer control over critical front-end content and site elements to the marketing team.

While many testing tools offer a WSIWYG interface for creating variations and launching tests, a tag management system gives marketers the ability to change the location of testing tool elements—like mboxes—or implement winning content without the involvement of developers—and outside the bounds of a code freeze.

Want to Keep Testing? 3 Things to Consider

If you’re ready to join the growing group of retailers eager to keep optimizing through the most important sales season of the year, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  1. Ensure the technology is rock solid. Work with developers and IT in advance to make sure all systems are properly implemented and the site is ready for a heavy influx of traffic.
  2. Have a clear plan. It’s critical that you have a detailed, clear plan leading into this stressful time of year. Have several offers, variations, and tests already outlined—and a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.
  3. Measure, measure, measure. There is a lot at stake and only vigilant measuring and monitoring will ensure mistakes or losses have a minimum impact.

For ecommerce sites, the holiday shopping season is the most important period of the year. There is no reason it should be left to chance—and testing is the best way to minimize guessing while maximizing returns.