Following the second lockdown announcement, it is clear that we will all have to stop clinging onto the idea of the new or the next normal. It’s new, it’s next, but in no way is it normal.

Within hours, some consumers had done a mental reset back to March 2020 and shot down to their nearest supermarket to clear the shelf of toilet roll and tinned soup, prepared again to face their own version of the apocalypse. Others rushed to book online grocery slots or rushed to make pre-lockdown buys.  On the flipside, some shoppers did not follow suit in a return to panic buying, so it is already clear that what may once have looked like predictable behaviour by the UK citizenry is now anything but.

However, history judges these wild variations in behaviour in years to come, right now, retailers look for any opportunity to prepare for unplanned demand, whatever form it takes. And unplanned demand triggers were becoming more common even before the pandemic.

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For retailers, demand of this type cannot be built into their schedules because it is almost always unannounced and therefore unplanned. Since the pandemic and the meteoric rise of new commercial channels, such as TikTok, more and more demand is unpredictable. Figures showing how TikTok influences purchase are not yet available but there are figures for how influencers influence purchase.

According our research of 2,000 UK adults who shop online, 22% of fashion shoppers had been prompted to search for a product online after seeing a celebrity wearing a fashion item, rising to 29% among 18-24 year olds. A further 29% had been prompted to make a purchase based on endorsements by celebrities, while 41% had searched for a product online after seeing it being promoted or endorsed by a celebrity or social influencer, rising to 57% among 18 -24 year olds.

Unplanned demand has other influencers behind it; in addition to the spikes that occur as soon as the Government or health authorities announce bad news, the Tribe research also cites that most unpredictable of influencers, the weather; 22% of respondents said they had gone online to search for a product due to unexpected weather fluctuations.

Deri Jones, CEO of ThinkTribe

Here are five ways retailers can capitalise on demand that just won’t sit still

Walk in your customers’ shoes

A user-centric approach to testing ensures that user interface errors, bugs and performance issues are identified and addressed long before the application is live, and has the chance to have a negative impact on the customer experience and, potentially, brand perception.

Try to break it

But get someone else to do it, rather than mark your own homework. We are talking about continuous 24/7 testing, because even the smallest changes to the website can create complications that threaten performance across all channels, not just desktop or mobile.

Get more content, but don’t trust it

Third-party plug ins add depth and personalisation through content and that’s good for your customers, but it may not be good for you if the plug ins mess up your website performance. When third parties change code, as they do frequently, the integrations will need rehooking, testing and monitoring to check that updates don’t cause unforeseen faults.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

While websites needs to be optimised for capacity around peak demand, this has tended to result in a disjointed approach from many retailers; so, while they are able to manage traffic, they cannot fulfil on the demand because they do not have the stock. It makes sense therefore to balance promotions, inventory and fulfilment capacity across the organisation in order to deliver on promise.

Speed up

Ensure your web pages are optimised for fast loading. We are now way past the ‘53% of mobile users leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load’ statistic from Google back in 2018. With the rise of social media sites, it is estimated that 30% of traffic is lost for each second it takes a page to load. Add to this our research which said that slow loading websites were UK shoppers’ biggest bugbear when it came to things that frustrate them when shopping online (48%). On average shoppers would give up on a purchase in just 27 seconds if a website was slow to load – nearly half (47%) would wait less than 10 seconds before giving up due to slow loading web pages.  Almost a third (31%) wouldn’t tolerate a wait of more than 5 seconds.

Deri Jones, CEO of ThinkTribe