Black Friday

With Halloween out of the way, retailers have started to promote their Black Friday deals. Sales are predicted to top last year with estimates of £5 billion spend over that week. However, these sales figures are dependent on internet connections working, servers coping with demand and in-store bandwidth holding up for transaction processing. Both in-store and online, Black Friday sales are dependent on technology behind a business.

In this two-part series, Fresh Business Thinking talks to industry experts on how businesses can ensure that their IT infrastructure stands up to extreme demands this sales period:

Hubert Da Costa, vice president for EMEA at Cradlepoint: “UK retail sales reached £3.3bn during 2016’s Black Friday weekend. However, despite these unprecedented numbers, there were significant problems as servers couldn’t cope with demand and in-store bandwidth issues meant that POS transactions were slow (sometimes impossible) to process.

“Getting it wrong, just for that short trading period of a few days, can break a business. I expect to see lessons learned this year. IT teams within retail organisations should have implemented and tested reliable failover solutions. Black Friday lines are already notoriously long and slow; having them stop altogether can be devastating. Even companies that are able to process and approve credit card purchases offline beneath a certain purchase amount, or ‘floor limit’, during a network outage may not have the security mechanisms necessary to keep POS info safe. Reliable failover solutions ensure the retailer can proceed with POS confidently, even amid the hustle and bustle of Black Friday.”

Michael Hack, SVP EMEA Operations at Ipswitch:

“In recent years Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become key landmarks on the calendar for both shoppers and retailers. This is a perfect time for bargain hunters to snag a great deal, but also an opportunity for retailers to maximise revenue going into the Christmas season. However, for this to be a success for businesses, IT systems needs to work properly in order to allow customers to purchase goods without any hiccups. IT teams have this daunting task of ensuring networks stay up and running. They know they’ll be held accountable if all goes wrong.

“IT teams need deep visibility and detailed visualisation of the network and applications, servers, VMs and traffic flows within the environment to manage bandwidth and isolate issues before they spin out of control. With this type of comprehensive and flexible network monitoring, IT teams can ensure that websites are receiving adequate bandwidth to support customers’ needs and transactions requests.”

Peter Godden, VP EMEA at Zerto:

"Every year retailers are focused on driving increased revenue, but in the lead up to this hyper-active shopping period they need to ensure their IT infrastructure is prepared to be inundated by not just returning customers, but new ones who have high expectations about brand experience. Retailers need to rigorously test their business continuity and disaster recovery strategy and the underlying technology that supports IT resilience, which will allow them to be up and running within minutes, for when – not if – a crash or widespread outage occurs. Last year shoppers spent $4.45 billion during these two days and retailers cannot afford to miss capitalising on this high site transaction opportunity.”

Tony Martin, UK & Ireland managing director, FalconStor

"Retailers must ensure their storage infrastructures are able to deal with increased traffic and avoid downtime during these extra busy times. Any downtime could lead potential customers to competitor’s websites. Software-defined solutions have been crucial in improving uptime for retailers with IT teams now being able to get a view of their whole infrastructure, including the use of analytics. IT teams should utilise these features to prioritise the storage and data layer of the infrastructure stack and manage any bottlenecks which would cause customers to experience a slower service. By using analytics, IT teams can foresee any issues before they slow down the website. This approach delivers the performance and flexibility required by retailers in a fast-changing industry."

Campbell Williams, group strategy and marketing director, Six Degrees Group

"More often than not, the key to success on Black Friday is communication. Many retailers know the advantages of hosting their business critical applications, such as websites, on cloud technology. It is perfect for these flash events, when flexibility, scalable, and agility are key. But the real hiccup can be between IT experts who are in charge of these systems, and the business leaders. It is vital that they are properly aligned to ensure each knows what is required and at what time. Being business-savvy allows retailer to predict where the peaks are coming from. Being tech-savvy means they allow extra compute resources to be added reducing the risk of downtime.”

Jake Madders, director of Hyve Managed Hosting

“Last year one in five ecommerce websites including John Lewis, Boots and Argos went down before 9am. Retail IT teams should be preparing their infrastructure to see website traffic spikes of over 600 per cent. A key component of weathering the storm of bargain hunters is ensuring the hosting provider responsible for the website provides scalable options that promise peak performance during predictable high-traffic time. The best way to be confident that a website will hold up when on the hot seat is to work with a hosting provider that runs continuous tests on the website that mimic the rush of shoppers on Black Friday and adjust resources to match. Additionally, while performance is the main driver for success, security should be given equal importance when managing an ecommerce website that processes financial data. Hosting providers that are certified as PCI compliant should be top of the list to ensure all transactions are protected, for your sake and your customers."