2020 leaves another sting in its tail for UK retailers today, among them Currys PC World, John Lewis, and Very.com (even Amazon had some trouble). After navigating the unexpected (and unprecedented) peaks and troughs of digital demand during 2020 pandemic lockdowns, it’s the planned launch of the PlayStation 5 that has managed to crash the e-commerce websites of some of the UK’s largest retailers.

For many UK consumers, going online today must have felt more like 2005 than 2020 (for perspective, the first iPhone was launched in 2007). Consumers were put in digital queues or were met with technical error messages when they tried to buy … anything (not just the PlayStation 5). Some poor customers even faced the disappointment of orders being canceled, hours later, due to the retailer’s own website permission errors (which allowed customers to place online orders before the official release time of 9:00 a.m., meaning these orders were rejected later in the day).

So, what’s going on? How can a planned product launch cause such mayhem? Two reasons:

  • It’s the start of the holiday shopping season. We’re at the beginning of the holiday season and the early launch of many Black Friday sales events. But UK retailers have managed the transatlantic emigration of Black Friday for several years now. Most manage and plan for online sales surges using various approaches, including extended sales periods, staggered offers, and specific assortment allocation.
  • There’s (another) UK-wide pandemic lockdown. Across the UK, all nonessential retail stores are closed. So, the pressure is back on digital commerce — not just from a holiday shopping on online sales surge, but also from the displacement of all shoppers from stores to digital touchpoints only (at least until December 2 for now).

Even in the context of these additional factors (some expected, some less so), a planned product launch should not crash the websites of the some of the largest UK retailers.

It’s another reminder that retailers and brands must make sure their foundational systems, processes, and partnerships are robust enough for ever-increasing digital demand. Brands and retailers need:

  • Holistic inventory management. Retailers and brands must be able to manage supply and demand across their whole enterprise. In-store inventory visibility and holistic order allocation across stores and distribution centers are key to developing profitable omnichannel fulfillment capabilities. More brands and retailers are also engaging in drop shipping, which ultimately helps to make more products available to customers.
  • Coordinated demand planning, informed by multiple data sources. Retailers and brands must evolve from supplier relationships to joint business partnerships, with both needing to improve order management, demand planning, and product replenishment. Digital supply chains will help retailers and brands align internal processes (so teams can make smart decisions about product allocation and fulfillment) and coordinate partner relationships by orchestrating sourcing, manufacturing, and transportation partners using shared performance indicators and shared data about aggregate demand and supply.
  • Commerce solutions ready to adapt and scale. Enterprise-level commerce solutions have entered a new era, redefining the solution models available. Commerce platforms have become more specialized solutions with a focus on being exactly the right fit for the commerce business. Brands and retailers need to have digital commerce operations that are ready to adapt and scale, not just for planned holiday or promotional peaks.
  • Customer journey orchestration (not just mapping). Many organizations use journey mapping tools to understand customer behavior and design for future customer journeys or journey improvements. But as retailers and brands pursue personalization, they will also need to use journey orchestration tools to make real-time (or near real-time) enhancements to customer experiences.

UK retailers are certainly feeling the pressure. Bring on 2021 … I think.