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Black Friday & Cyber Monday: 8 experts on how to manage your retail IT infrastructure on this all-important shopping holiday

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales already having begun in earnest, with yet more deals set to hit this weekend, retailers need to be fully prepared for the potentially overwhelming spike in traffic. Though this can lead to huge numbers of sales, it can also cause website downtime, forcing customers to look elsewhere. To combat these challenges, seven technology experts give Data Centre Review their thoughts on the solutions that can prevent a shopping disaster.

Build a strong infrastructure

Jon Lucas, co-director at Hyve Managed Hosting, explains that to make the most of the busy weekend, it’s crucial to “thoroughly prepare your website or application to avoid outages, improve the digital experience and reduce shopping cart abandonment. Downtime for e-commerce websites can be detrimental to your business reputation and finances. So, scaling up your infrastructure to deal with peaks in traffic is a smart move ahead of the festive season. Alongside scaling up, retailers should be reviewing their security, performing audits and optimising key pages as well as overall site speed.”

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the biggest days for retailers,” agrees Alan Conboy, office of the CTO at Scale Computing, “yet most retailers still use the same technologies they employed a decade ago. Many retailers still collect, send and process data over networks and off-site data centres. The challenge is that if that off-site data centre experiences an outage or network failure, this will certainly lead to downtime, ultimately affecting shoppers’ experiences, whether in-store or online.

“Instead of only sending and storing data in a centre located hundreds of miles away that every store on the network relies on, retailers should consider the deployment of an IT solution at the edge. A hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solution with edge computing capabilities brings a mini data centre directly to each store, while still utilising the larger, off-site data centre. It combines high-performance servers and storage into a single, simple to use, onsite data centre that isn’t reliant on external networks, so downtime is no longer an issue. This simple, efficient way to manage IT allows retailers to capitalise on the shopping rush.”

Get your head in the cloud

One of the most effective ways to cope with an influx of online customers on Black Friday is through deploying cloud solutions. Eltjo Hofstee, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK, explains.

“Retailers are now under greater pressure to ensure they continue to meet the three main characteristics of a seamless customer experience: speed, reliability and security. Gearing up for peak retail days, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is now all the more important.

“Working with a comprehensive cloud hosting solution, including hybrid-ready product portfolios, iron clad security solutions, core uptime and an extensive network will be beneficial in these times of extreme peaks. A cloud hosting solution such as this addresses industry-specific requirements and can be trusted to ensure they are always open and their customers are always happy.”

Paul Bryce, CCO at Node4, also encourages businesses to invest in a hybrid cloud solution to make scaling simple.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring about the busiest trading days of the year for online retailers, so they will be pulling out all the stops to maximise the profitable opportunity. But, in the event of even one minute of downtime, not only is the customers’ experience negatively affected, they will also start looking elsewhere for deals, meaning sales could drop.

“A hybrid cloud solution can be used to provide retailers with the best of all options on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 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.”

“The foundation for great customer experiences in the current omni-channel retail world is the efficient collection, analysis and utilisation of data,” advises Jonathan Wright, industry director for retail at Six Degrees. 

“Cloud technology enables data to be held centrally, analysed and utilised to deliver insights. This increases visibility, enables effective management and – ultimately – increases revenue and secures the future of your retail business.

“However, as retailers embark on their cloud adoption journeys they should not forget that it is imperative to maintain high levels of security at all times. Consumer confidence is everything to retailers – a breach of personally identifiable information (PII) can lead to both GDPR fines and irrevocable loss in consumer confidence.”

Keep your data in check

Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise, comments on how businesses must be ready for the flood of data from customers throughout the Black Friday weekend, and ensure that their sites don’t crack under pressure.

“Last November, the Office for National Statistics said that for the first time UK online sales accounted for more than a fifth of spending, mainly thanks to the Black Friday weekend. With this huge spike in online traffic, retailers need to be confident that their websites can cope with the influx of users that are expected to browse the online sales to get their Christmas shopping sorted. Businesses don’t want the increase in data produced to clog up users’ access to their site, so having a sophisticated, cost-effective data management solution in place is crucial to efficiently manage all this unstructured data so it does not clog up the transactions.”

Alex Simonson, client director at Mango Solutions concludes that “meticulous prior planning is essential to ensuring everyone gets the most out of these shopping events, and data analytics underpins that planning. Tracking historical data and doing predictive analytics will help determine projected customer behaviour and therefore help optimise stock levels and pricing accuracy to ensure maximum returns on the day. However, it is important to ask the right questions prior to carrying out the data science, as this will be the differentiator between success and failure on the big day.”

With retailers anticipating a busy weekend, IT leaders should consider investing in these technology products and solutions to keep their websites up and running, and keep customers coming back again and again.

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