Prepare for the worst so your customers get the best this Black Friday

Prepare for the worst so your customers get the best this Black Friday

Once again, shoppers are gearing up for the biggest sale events of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Although it has only gained popularity in the UK over the past five or so years, the weekend has quickly become one of the most important in a retailer’s calendar. Last year on Black Friday alone, UK shoppers spent a jaw-dropping £1.4 billion. With this kind of shopping frenzy on the cards, the entire ‘Black Friday weekend’ can potentially be the make or break for many retail businesses.

Intelligent CIO Europe spoke to eight IT experts, to get their best practice tips for a successful Black Friday weekend:

Prepare for traffic and avoid downtime

“Scalable cloud services can be vital for businesses operating in today’s competitive retail environment,” said James Henigan, Cloud and Managed Services Director at Six Degrees. “It’s critical to build a suitable platform and application architecture that enables horizontal scaling of the application in scenarios of load increase. Working with your service provider to understand how this can be technically and commercially achieved is a key consideration, along with how dynamically this can work. The cost of dynamic scaling is often not warranted when peak demand is known and can be planned for. However, with events such as Black Friday when the size of the load increase is unknown, having the ability to dynamically scale is critical, along with the appropriate commercial and contractual model that enable this.”

Jeff Keyes, Director of Marketing at Plutora, commented: “Black Friday is notoriously crucial for companies like Amazon due to the spike in traffic and revenue generated across the site. For companies like these that service entire businesses online, it is imperative that they’re able to keep up with the high volume of traffic that Black Friday entails. If they are unable to keep up, there’s a loss of brand credibility, productivity and revenue — revenue that is likely to be lost to the competition.

“With this in mind, mean time to recovery (MTTR) should be at the forefront of companies’ minds as we approach this holiday season. If these companies only experience downtime once every year, but it takes an entire day to recover, consumers won’t care that the issue has not happened at any other time all year. All that will be talked about is the long recovery time. But if the site goes down five times on one day for less than one second, it would hardly be noticeable.

“To ensure a lower MTTR, organisations should incorporate failure planning into every level of service delivery – creating redundancies in every layer of the application delivery stack. Plan for failures anywhere and everywhere. There are even opensource toolsets created to induce chaos into the infrastructure such as the Simian Army. Reduce time of delivery for software updates utilising continuous deployment with significant automated tests so that patches are less likely to introduce further problems.”

Paul Bryce, CCO at Node4 said: “Black Friday is the busiest trading day of the year for online retailers and they’ll be pulling out all the stops to maximise this opportunity. However, this could all be scuppered if downtime is experienced, as not only is the customers’ experience negatively affected, but with consumers looking elsewhere for deals, sales could also drop. Though one size doesn’t fit all, a hybrid cloud solution can be used to provide retailers the best of all options on Black Friday; with fixed capacity for core applications and the ability to rapidly scale on demand with the public cloud, this accommodates the sudden influx of traffic. Additionally, having a disaster recovery strategy in place is crucial – running on a single platform can still leave you exposed if something were to go wrong and so having sufficient recovery plans in place helps you get back online and trading.”

The need for constant availability also extends to a business’ network as Todd Krautkremer, Chief Marketing Officer at Cradlepoint, discussed: “Retailers need to transform their Wide-Area Networks (WAN) to provide always-on access from brick-and-mortar stores to remote pop-up stores and kiosks, and provide greater bandwidth to handle the increase in traffic. The good news is that today’s 4G LTE wireless networks are more pervasive, delivering faster speeds than ever before. Over 75% of the world’s top retail brands are already using LTE to provide non-stop connectivity to mission-critical applications and the cloud, to isolate and securely connect ‘store-within-a-store’ deployments, and to provide anywhere, anytime connectivity for pop-ups and seasonal stores. The cost, availability and speed of today’s 4G LTE services make it attainable for retailers of all sizes, allowing them to leverage cloud applications to reduce costs and improve customer experience. And because it helps keeps their critical systems online, they can avoid having Black Friday turn into a ‘black eye’.”

Valuable assets in customer data

“Customer data is a strategic asset for retailers, so that data must be readily accessible,” Jon Toor, CMO, Cloudian commented. “At this time of year, when events like Black Friday and Christmas are driving big spikes in consumer spending, it’s important to consider the direct link between data availability and bottom-line performance. If retailers are to provide customers with the real-time offers and dynamic shopping experience they need to remain competitive, data storage and management must be a year-round priority.”

Security is essential

“The days of basic phishing schemes have more or less passed,” said Anurag Kahol, CTO at Bitglass.
“Computer-savvy individuals rarely fall foul of traditional phishing scams because they know how to detect malicious-looking websites and badly written emails. However, this Black Friday, we will see attacks that rely on advanced forms of infiltration that better disguise malicious intent – and shoppers may be vulnerable to attacks that obfuscate their intention. In their rush to buy discounted products, many individuals may download malicious applications that masquerade as large retailers offering Black Friday specials. As information is stolen from affected devices and malware makes its way to more endpoints, businesses that support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) must be mindful of how they secure data and defend against threats.”

Additionally, Jan van Vliet, VP EMEA at Digital Guardian, commented: “Retailers should take extra care with their point-of-sale (POS) systems during this busy shopping weekend as they’ll no doubt be a hot target for hackers. “Compromised POS systems have been the gateway to some of the largest and most damaging data breaches of recent years. These attacks are particularly hard-hitting because they usually involve the theft of sensitive financial details including customer names, credit card account numbers, expiration dates and CVV security codes. There are multiple measures retailers can – and should – deploy to defend against these attacks including encrypting all POS data upon entry and decrypting it only when it reaches the payment processor; implementing application whitelisting; regularly updating POS software and performing regular vulnerability testing; segmenting networks used by POS systems; and using complex, secure passwords and 2FA.”

The optimum experience – for shoppers and staff

During these events, retailers will be pushed to their limits and so staff preparation and training should also be a top priority. Steve Wainwright, Managing Director EMEA at Skillsoft, commented: “The key to success is delivering an optimum shopper experience. This builds customer loyalty and drives sales, and in many cases it’s down to staff on the shop floor to help deliver that experience.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday makes for one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year and shop-floor retail staff really have their work cut out. Footfall is set to increase dramatically as shoppers race through the doors to bag a bargain. But as retailers put the finishing touches to their in-store merchandise displays and hang banners announcing the bargains on offer, they shouldn’t forget that their teams need preparation too. For some members of staff, the intensity of peak shopping season can be daunting. For an industry that relies so heavily on its staff, ongoing training and development is crucial. It helps put staff at ease and ensures they can deliver that all-important customer experience.

“We’re reminded of this during busy shopping periods but it’s important to remember that training should be a year-round priority. It takes time to develop the skills needed for the retail environment – skills such as customer service, managing relationships, developing people and brand evangelism. A comprehensive training programme that’s structured around the retail calendar will be far more effective than a last minute rush. This can prioritise longer, more in-depth training for quieter shopping periods, while also providing ‘just in time’ learning during peak periods for members of staff who need a timely re-visit ahead of the rush.”

Retailers have a lot to consider as they run up to festive holidays and seasonal sale events but the message from all of these experts is clear – be as prepared as possible. Prepare your staff, your stores and your systems to see in a successful festive season this year.

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