Irish businesses have come on in leaps and bounds in the last year or so when it comes to online activity. Campaigns such as Black Friday originated in the US, but now Irish online retailers have jumped on board by promoting their businesses around this time.

But have Irish retailers jumped the gun in rushing these campaigns?

This blog post takes a look at this and asks the question – Are Irish online retailers putting the shopping cart before the horse.

Black Friday

The success of online flash sales for larger international companies means Irish retailers looked on with jealousy. They saw Irish Euros going out of the country by shoppers taking advantage of the large discounts available online.

Irish retailers have begun to fight back. They have started to put a lot of effort into trying to capture some of this market.

I run an online marketing business of my own, which includes designing websites. So, whenever I am online for personal use I usually take note of how the User Experience is, to learn from a professional perspective.

Whilst shopping online around Black Friday, I was interested to see how Irish retailers were performing against their more established overseas competition.

Rather than browsing, I was interested in two particular products, a jacket and a pair of shoes. In each case, I searched for the item using the brand name and the style.

I was pleasantly surprised to see some regional menswear stores appear on page one of the results. Again, with my professional hat on, I was impressed with their SEO performance which meant they ranked that highly.

In both cases, I was presented with a nice looking website, easy to use. Both stores offered a nice discount as part of their Black Friday promotion. The products I was looking for were duly placed in the shopping cart.

On both sites the checkout processes were simple, and transactions were completed in a matter of moments with no issues

So far so good……

Stock Levels

Earlier that same week, in the course of my own work, I was speaking with a client who is upgrading their website to a fully functioning e-commerce site. We spoke about the importance of having online stock levels synched with offline stocks.

There are two main options when it comes to managing stocks online

– Have separate online and offline stock so there is never an overlap between them.

– Or else you must ensure online stocks are updated live, in line with offline stock levels.

The last thing you want, I told my client, is to have a customer place an online order only to have to call them to say the item was actually out of stock.

Sure enough, the day after I placed my order for the jacket, I received a phone call from the store. The staff member informed that they had experienced high demand on Black Friday. Therefore, the jacket I had ordered was not actually in stock, despite the website saying otherwise. We agreed on a refund and that was that.

Within 15 minutes my phone buzzed again. It was an employee of the second store to tell me that my shoes were out of stock, that there had been a ‘technical issue’ with the website and it should not have stated that these shoes were available.

This time the staff member offered me an alternative product of equal value and similar style, but again I just requested a refund.

So my Black Friday experience was a complete washout.

Two stores, from provincial Irish towns, had initially won my business from the larger online retailers.

They did this by great SEO strategy to ensure they were visible in the first place and good UX and site design meant the purchase process on their website was pain-free.

Yet, this counted for nothing in the end as they didn’t have the ability to fulfil the order due to incorrect information on the website and/or bad stock management.

It may have been a coincidence that both my orders had to be cancelled. It is possible that my two orders were the only such mishaps amongst thousands of successful transactions for Irish retailers over the Black Friday campaign.

The truth, I would suggest, is somewhere in between and the phone calls I received were not the only such calls made by retailers around this time.

Why did it happen?

In the rush to jump on the bandwagon, these stores put all their efforts into their Black Friday promotion.

They made sure they were visible online and had an efficient process on the website to take orders and payments.

Unfortunately, these retailers slipped up when it came to having the correct infrastructure in place to cope with the increase in orders these flash sales can bring. If any element of the sales process falters, the whole process can fall down.

What does it mean?

Having failed in my attempts to order through Irish retailers, I ended up visiting a larger international retailers site and successfully purchased the jacket and the shoes from them.

There is a lasting effect of an experience like this on a customer. It could mean they won’t place an order with you in future for fear of getting that dreaded phone call again.

The bottom line is that, for Irish retailers to be successful online they must ensure that all aspects of their online business are set up correctly. It is more damaging to get the customer to place an order that can’t be fulfilled, than not getting the order in the first place.

In my Black Friday experience, the retailers were too fixated on getting more products in their online shopping carts. They forgot to ensure they were able to deal with the pressure this may bring.

It is true that Irish retailers have come a long way in promoting their business online. But there is still some way to go before they can be a genuine alternative to the larger established stores.

The opportunity is there for these retailers. But only as long as they don’t rush ahead of themselves.

They must ensure they are properly set up to take advantage of these opportunities that present themselves online.

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