Black Friday presents a new window of opportunity for Australian retailers this year. Demand for the annual November shopping holiday is projected to be higher than normal due to shifts in consumer behavior stemming from COVID-19. E-commerce sales, which were already growing before the pandemic, are up 73% year-on-year as consumers have pivoted to online shopping during lockdowns. The convenience of capitalizing on generous sales from home will more than likely boost spending and alter purchasing habits for the holiday season — starting with Black Friday. 

From strengthening supply chains to handle peak surges to improving their own inventory management and e-commerce fulfillment capabilities, retailers need to prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. With some smart preparatory work, retailers can gain an advantage in the upcoming digital Black Friday. However, any increased focus on e-commerce should extend beyond the current holiday season — online purchasing is the way of the future.

Standing out from the crowd

In reality, some retailers won’t be ready to handle Black Friday this year, so the companies that make the right moves now will be better positioned to rise above their competition. First, retailers should start their sales earlier to flatten the curve of peak demand and make logistics easier on their supply chains. Abiding by typical sales durations of the past (traditionally 3-4 days) will overwhelm supply chains, making empty shelves and missed sales opportunities inevitable. 

If there’s room in the budget, retailers should also hire temporary employees to aid their in-store and e-commerce fulfillment staff during high periods of demand. Another smart investment would be in advanced technology solutions that can monitor consumer spending habits in real time and drive supply-chain excellence. 

Reaping the rewards 

In the retail sector, the leaders of the pandemic have been the companies that were quick to embrace e-commerce and digital innovation. For example, Amazon Australia hosted the world’s longest Prime Day (66 hours) in an effort to capitalize on the e-commerce wave, and is also planning to build a “robot warehouse” in Melbourne that will utilize automated intelligence to streamline its supply chain. Throughout the pandemic, the e-commerce retail giant has generated the largest profits of its 26-year history

Another example is Kogan, a Melbourne-based online retailer that increased its sales rates by 40% from March to May, leading to a 130% gain in profits over the three-month span. Also in May came the success of Australian furniture and homeware retailer Temple & Webster — the company reported year-to-year revenue gains of 68% yielding $151.7 million in profit. On a smaller, boutique-retail spectrum, the Australian cycling company 99 Bikes has reported record sales during the pandemic, mainly due to a nationwide surge in cycling popularity and its own e-commerce capabilities. In April, 99 Bikes sold as many as 1,500 bicycles per day while online revenue for the month exceeded $3.1 million — doubling revenue from its biggest sales month of 2019. In the span of 30 days, the company’s online sales also rose from 5% to 11% of its total revenue. The Black Friday winners will be the retailers that follow a similar blueprint of prioritizing their e-commerce fulfillment capabilities.  

Adjusting on the fly 

The spike in e-commerce popularity hasn’t made in-store shopping irrelevant. Some consumers will always prefer the in-store experience — if they aren’t already back to shopping in public, they surely will be once the pandemic is over. The holiday shopping season will still have its fair share of in-store customers even while e-commerce demand surges. As such, retailers must still be equipped to handle in-store demand volatility while providing seamless and safe customer experiences.  Leveraging advanced analytics technology can help streamline that process by improving inventory management, store layouts, shelf layouts, operational efficiency and COVID-19 safety compliance. 

Preparing for the future 

By embracing e-commerce to its fullest potential, Australian retailers can position themselves to withstand the remainder of COVID-19, while also sustaining long-term success in an uncertain post-pandemic environment. It’s important to view the pandemic as a window of opportunity rather than an ongoing cycle of doubt. There will indeed be brighter days ahead, and a willingness to adopt digitization will determine which companies are able to capitalize on them. 

For more information on how integrating the use of advanced technology can help retailers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, schedule a free demo with Zebra Analytics today. 

Guy Yehiav is general manager at Zebra Analytics