Early in my career, a client in the home video industry asked if we could build a war room to combine and monitor real-time sales, replenishment and marketing data. The term conjures grandiose images of the NASA command center or the 80’s movie WarGames, where specialists monitor screen after screen of incoming data. However, a command center doesn’t need to be an actual command center like Gatorade created for their social media in 2010 (vanity project).

Getting your Black Friday preparation underway

By now, if you’re a B2C retailer, you have ordered all of your holiday products. Additionally, you’ve laid out your marketing campaigns, created all of your assets, and your agency and affiliates are set and ready to go. But how do you pull it all together, stay organized, and make timely, informed decisions to navigate the most wonderful and busy time of the year?

By building a Black Friday / Seasonal Command Center, that’s how.

Having worked in the retail industry, I can tell you that we share the same desire for a holiday season war room. But what you’re after is the ability to react in real-time and hopefully shift outcomes. It’s not a place but rather having the relevant information readily accessible to the right people and a comprehensive plan for monitoring and reacting when necessary.

How a BFCM Command center affects your retail business model

This year, unlike any other, there is much uncertainty across the market. B2C, B2B, D2C — any commerce-based business hoping for a holiday sales bump is more anxious than ever. In 2019, US shoppers spent $28.40 billion online, with $9.42 billion of that occurring on Cyber Monday alone, according to Adobe Analytics. Cyber Five, the five-day holiday shopping period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, determines your success.

Now more than ever before — the forecasts for Cyber Five are mixed. 39% of shoppers plan to decrease their spending during the holiday season. On the other hand, 56% of shoppers plan to purchase their holiday gifts online, according to the National Retail Federation. With mixed results, many companies plan to place sales throughout the holiday season to attract potential shoppers. Whether or not your team is pinpointing each new development on a wall of monitors, you’ll want to have the right elements of a command center together to make critical decisions.

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7 Steps to Building a BFCM Command Center

Step 1 – Preparation

  • Gather Information, document all planning, and make it easy to find and to understand for everyone involved.
  • Determine your communication toolsets & processes — chat platforms, emails, texts, calls — while also documenting team and group communication expectations, meetings, and escalation methods across promotions and tactics.
  • Standardize a single time zone for everyone to reference and keep communication easy.
  • Schedule status updates synced to a page where everyone can track campaigns, challenges, and wins.

Step 2 – People

  • Identify the key people who need to be on hand — either physically or remotely with a reliable network connection.
  • Create a contact sheet noting when people are available and how to contact them.
  • Create a resource bench for standing help if needed. For example, one retailer had to create a series of assets to rework a promotion mid-way through Black Friday. This task would have overwhelmed their internal staff and led to missed opportunities. Luckily, they had a full bench of designers available to recast the promotion in record time.
  • Clearly define roles — some roles change with your employees’ availability and access to platforms or data.

Step 3 – Process

  • Define and document your processes down to what data you’re tracking and who’s responsible for what.
  • Have a protocol on changes made based on the metrics or KPIs you’re watching and who’s responsible for making them.
  • Set a schedule for recurring meetings and check-ins.
  • Build escalation plans for IT, product management, marketing, inventories, etc.

A note on data: you may watch and react differently to how certain promotions are doing, inventories of product, or comments on social media. Find a common understanding of what data matters to your team and ensure that this data is reliable, double and triple-check.

Step 4 – Platforms

  • Define your technological needs via marketing and communication platforms, analytics tools, and development requirements.
  • Make certain you have enough server capacity to handle the increased volume.
  • Monitor and be comfortable with site speed and ensure that your site is optimized towards a mobile experience.

Step 5 – Product

  • Identify the likely winners for this season and make sure you have the inventory.
  • Identify which products are selling better now and during past holiday seasons before the pandemic.
  • Have a plan if something goes out of stock.
  • Have alternative delivery options identified.

A note on gift cards: this season more than ever, gift cards may be an attractive option — make sure to have enough inventory of the physical variety and options for eCards.

Step 6 – Promotion

  • Have all of your promotional information in one place to reference, such as coupons and discounts.
  • Ensure that all promotional items are tracking through test purchases prior to launch.
  • Have everything in place to adequately track and react to your marketing campaigns — tagging, data, refreshes, updates.
  • Have a unified view (a single pane of glass) on every channel — social, email, chat — using dashboards and automated reporting.
  • Have an agreed-upon protocol as to when and how you will shift your tactics. Make sure that you have discussed with your team what the triggers will be for making adjustments.

Step 7 – Post Mortem

  • When it is all over — conduct a post mortem of all tactics and strategies, highlight what worked and what didn’t. Believe it or not — the post mortem is the best time to capture the tactics for next year . . .


Where to next?

Do you need a physical BFCM / Seasonal Command Center to navigate the upcoming season? No. Most companies have put many of these steps into action already — it all boils down to how much the season impacts your business and how you approach it.

By adhering to the above checklist — or something similar — you’re more likely to stay agile during the most impactful sales period of the year, which is essential. A BFCM Command Center will also ensure that you’ll make more informed decisions that boost holiday sales. Even if you don’t have a bunker prepared for a rocket launch, at least you have the start of a solid plan for the holiday sales season.

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