Black Friday: Are online retailers ready?

Black Friday: Are online retailers ready?

Rampant consumerism at its finest, Black Friday is the busiest period of the year for online retailers, but the question is, are they ready? Preparation is key to avoiding that dreaded downtime, yet why do retailers still crash out year on year? We’ve put together six heads from some of the industry’s key players to get their insight into why Black Friday is leaving retailers red faced and what they can do to help combat the chaos.

James Henigan, cloud and managed services director at Six Degrees:

"Shoppers in the UK spent £1.4 billion online during the Black Friday weekend last year. The four day retail event has become a key part of retailers’ sales calendars, and as online spending rises whilst high street spending continues to fall, there has never been more emphasis on the uptime and availability of ecommerce websites to ensure that sales targets are met.

Despite this, we continue to see major online retailers suffer downtime during the Black Friday weekend. John Lewis and Debenhams both experienced issues last year, whilst in 2016 Currys PC World, New Look and River Island were all hit with downtime.

No matter what the scale of your ecommerce operations, preparing your web applications for known or unknown traffic spikes is essential. Scalable cloud services can be vital for businesses operating in today’s competitive retail environment.

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.”

Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, tech evangelist at Zerto:

“Avoiding downtime is something that should always be top of mind for all businesses, however it’s especially important over the Black Friday weekend. At this time of year, retailers feel the pressure to ensure 100% uptime to serve an ‘always-available’ customer culture. Last year, a record-breaking $5.03 billion worth of sales were made on Black Friday and, with a similar turnout expected this year, retailers will need to be ensure they stay online to capitalise on the opportunity.  

When it comes to managing this high demand surge over consumer holidays like Black Friday, establishing a multi-cloud environment can help make sure your website isn’t vulnerable to suddenly dropping offline.

Indeed, having the freedom to move to, from and between any combination of clouds, including Azure, AWS and the hundreds of smaller local cloud providers available, can aid retailers in coping with the huge spike of traffic and sales, regardless of any challenges that third-party cloud suppliers may be experiencing. The risk is spread across multiple platforms, minimising the possibility of vendor downtime. 

A lot of demand is placed on retail IT systems during the peak holiday season, so the ability to quickly, easily and safely move workloads to, from and between different types of cloud environment can significantly improve system performance, even in the midst of peak holiday sales season.” 

Nigel Tozer, solutions marketing director at Commvault:

"Retailers may think it’s more secure to host online commerce platforms from their own premises. But, when the Black Friday madness begins, an offer or hit gift can lead to peaks in demand that can’t be met. Not only does this affect your profits, your reputation also gets dented. This is where being in the cloud has its advantages – with its elastic nature, it can scale to cope with demand on this once-a-year day which has now become a regular annual event.

The good news is that many businesses are already using the cloud for these scale benefits, but it’s worth remembering that the cloud is not itself infallible. Cloud resilience is no replacement for modern, cloud-native backup, and while the cloud has so far managed to avoid threats such as ransomware, it’s still subject to wholesale outages or downtime brought about by human error. Either way, your Black Friday preparation check-list should include reviewing your disaster recovery plans and ensuring they include the public cloud elements of your business.”

Gary Watson, CTO of StorCentric and founder of Nexsan:

“Seasonal shopping days such as Black Friday test the peak capacity of IT resources, often to breaking point. With many retailers expecting to see a rise in profits – and more customers coming through the door, either physically or digitally – everything right down to the fulfilment is tested.

With this in mind, it’s important to ensure any IT environment can meet the retailer’s needs and isn’t being stretched beyond its limits. This also means testing the elasticity and capacity demands and ensuring there are adequate cost control measures in place when it comes to scalability.”

Neil Barton, CTO at WhereScape:

"As Black Friday approaches, retailers are making critical decisions given the data they have at hand to understand the likely purchasing habits of buyers during this often high-intensity spending season.

By analysing the data patterns from previous years, retailers are able to both optimise their supply chain to meet demand without over-ordering, as well as be ready to offer significant personalised sales incentives and discounts for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers.

Additionally, real-time data collection and analysis during these mission-critical events will enable online retailers to respond quickly if any unexpected deviations should occur to limit risk or better capitalise on opportunity.

All this is enabled through data warehousing and a savvy big data strategy, powered by automation. With these, IT teams can commit to quickly delivering the data-driven insights that retail leaders will need to ensure they maximise the revenue gains available this holiday season.”

Paul Bryce, CCO at Node4:

“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."