By Alan Watson, MD, Barron McCann

Christmas can be the most vital time of the year for many businesses, especially retailers, but whether it reaps the rewards of success, or the pressures of failure will in some part be down to how prepared they are to deal with the added demands of this particularly volatile time in the business calendar. For those businesses that rely heavily on technology and hardware, the pressure to perform at a level that meets and exceeds customer expectations can often make the difference when it comes to attracting customer spend. IT downtime simply isn’t an option.

Research recently carried out revealed that every minute of POS downtime costs a retailer approximately £2,800/$4,700, and that one third of all customers will leave a queue after a wait of more than five minutes. As well as this, 50% of all customers will avoid a retailer in the future if they have experienced a wait of over five minutes. It is worth noting that these statistics were collected outside of the Christmas months, so it is inevitable that they are even higher throughout November December and even into January.

Testing all business hardware needs to be an essential part of the preparations that take place for the Christmas period and they need to happen ahead of time. The complex nature of IT problems means that a simple ‘switch on switch off’ is unlikely to resolve the problem! Simple checks allow businesses to stay safe in the knowledge that their hardware will be able to operate to the best of its abilities during the busy winter months. These checks should extend to spare hardware, not just those currently in use, and any high-failing equipment should be upgraded or replaced well in advance.

It can often be easy to blame the technology, so some responsibility needs to be taken to eradicate any instances of ‘human error’. Temporary staff can be essential for many businesses to service the increased demand over the Christmas season, and they are likely to be untrained and inexperienced. Therefore it is essential to make sure all new staff members are trained fully, and are aware of how to use all essential equipment, to reduce the risk of causing damage though human error.

Unfortunately, it is likely that some problems will arise during the winter season as you can never predict every eventuality. Adopting a better be safe than sorry approach naturally extends to the warranties on equipment, meaning that if the worst does happen, downtime will be kept to a minimum. It is also worth mentioning that maintenance and service contracts aren’t necessarily all the same, so it is worth reading the fine print to see what exactly is and isn’t covered. Steps can then be taken ahead of time to increase cover and support if it is deemed necessary.

Over the Christmas period a great deal of pressure is placed on a business’s hardware, and it is inevitable that there will be a risk of these resources will not work efficiently all of the time. Businesses should always be ready for any issues that may arise, and it is crucial that they make preparations to prevent or fix any failures in their system that may occur during the winter months. Only by examining all equipment, ensuring staff are fully trained and working with IT support staff to ensure all possible failures are covered can businesses be confident they are ready for the Christmas season.

To ensure all areas are covered, businesses are advised to download the full version of Barron McCann’s free Christmas Checklist here.