With digital transformation initiatives permeating everything business does, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period this year is expected to illustrate just how far online retailers have come in embracing availability. Veeam Software examines what needs to be done for companies to maximise their sales by reducing the chances of downtime, and the catastrophic effect that has on consumer experiences.
“As we enter this period of high online shopping demand, the importance of stress-testing and simulating peak conditions are paramount. With mobile users wanting to place their orders wherever they are, e-tailers need to ensure not only the security of their sites, but also their availability and accessibility,” says Claude Schuck, Regional Manager for Africa at Veeam.
Last year, Black Friday sales drove a 10% annual increase in revenue compared to 2015. Many analysts at the time ascribed the success of Black Friday as instrumental to the growth of the economy. Given that even more sales are expected this year, especially online, retailers need to brace themselves for a peak period like no other. However, as consumers are more demanding than ever, and will shop from a myriad of devices and expect a seamless, always-on experience, pressure on retailers to meet demand has never been greater. Consumer loyalty only stretches as far as the experience they receive, so 2017 is the year that retailers need to recognise this and make sure they don’t fail to deliver.
By simulating various scenarios, retailers can test the capacity of their servers without impacting on the production environment. Similarly, if there is an outage, they can determine their ability to restore the required components as quickly as possible, minimising any negative impact on the consumer experience.
“South Africans are more comfortable in going the online route for their purchases, especially when it comes to themed days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There has to be a realisation from retailers, especially those with brick-and-mortar stores, that there will be a significant increase in demand that needs to be planned for appropriately,” says Schuck.
Businesses that fail to make the necessary changes will experience significant financial and non-financial costs that could result in the company closing its doors. The 2017 Veeam Availability Report shows that unplanned downtime costs organisations around the world an average of R270-million annually, up from the R210-million of the previous year. And there are no signs of abating, with 87% of the global IT decision-makers surveyed expecting an increase in future costs of downtime or data loss.
Not only does this impact how businesses can access data, but it also causes tension between what users demand and what IT can deliver. Downtime and data loss are causing enterprises to face public scrutiny, in ways that cannot be measured by a balance sheet. This year’s study shows that almost half of enterprises see a loss of customer confidence, and 40% experienced damage to brand integrity, which affect both brand reputation and customer retention.
With consumers increasingly unforgiving about companies that do not provide the desired levels of availability, retailers must do what they can to ensure their sites stay up and running. Unfortunately, South Africa still sees somewhat of a monopoly when it comes to sites operating in certain categories. This results in them being able to ‘get away’ with not providing the desired uptime. However, retailers will quickly discover that customer loyalty is quick to diminish when the experience or service being offered is poor.
“Last year, many consumers were left frustrated by a few local e-tailing sites having to put up place holder pages reflecting how high traffic volumes negatively impacted their systems. These ‘bump in the road’ type images, as reported by local news sites, are leaving consumers increasingly impatient for sites that are capable of delivering on their promises.”
Schuck says that even if companies learn from the mistakes of previous years, there will always be a human component to account for.
“Think power outages or somebody accidentally unplugging a server. The reality is that despite best efforts some sites will still go down. It is how these retailers handle the downtime and how quickly they come back online that will be the differentiator. Certainly, the imminent arrival of Microsoft Azure data centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg will provide viable local alternatives.”
For example, these local data centres will see a significant improvement in the speed of accessing services in the cloud. This will result in a renewed push to embrace hosted solutions with availability becoming a key factor in helping drive this growth.
“Ultimately, the Black Friday rush this year is going to be even more hectic and action-packed than before. There is certainly an expectation that local sites have taken last year’s lessons to heart and will provide consumers with a smoother shopping experience. Not only will I be looking forward to watching how e-tailers have embraced a more digitally transformed environment when it comes to the availability of their sites, but I will keep an eye out for a few specials to get as well,” Schuck concludes.