Black Friday - have you got what it takes?

Written by Darren Watkins, Managing Director Published 2015-12-17 08:00:00

The temperatures are dropping, the nights are getting darker, and as we approach Christmas, retailers have already experienced an explosion of web traffic as a result of US import Black Friday and its associated sales – which has progressively gained traction in the UK market in recent years.

Traditionally just an in-store activity in the US on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is now also a fixture in the online shopping calendar. It has also spawned a virtual cousin known as Cyber Monday, a similarly-chaotic shopping day held the following week, which is exclusively online.

Both days now experience huge online sales for retailers, and both have indeed migrated across the ocean to our fair shores. Pardoning the pun, is it really that big a 'deal'? Well both figuratively and literally for online retailers, yes it is. Online sales on Black Friday hit £1.1bn this year, marking a 36 per cent increase from last year and making it the biggest online shopping day ever in the UK. [1] Cyber Monday also held its own, bringing with it a better than expected £968m in sales.[2]

Black Friday has traditionally been linked to chaos, with eager shoppers clawing reduced items from each other in the heat of the moment, and we're now seeing that battle transposed to the online space. These grapples are now virtual and are happening amongst the huge increase in traffic within the data centre.

Consumers were rushing online to make purchases and in order to facilitate this and make sales, it was vital that retailers had the data centre infrastructure to handle such requirements. For online retailers, downtime and website outages literally equates to lost revenue.

This year, retailers such as Schuh and Zara suffered outages, and shoppers were forced to queue on the Argos website to browse certain items. As well as lost reputation with customers, it was estimated by that website problems would equate to revenue losses in the millions.[3] At such a crucial period in the lead up to Christmas, and in a very competitive environment, retailers can suffer terribly in losses made due to website delays.

This downtime fear is shared by CIOs globally, as demonstrated by a May 2015 Brocade report. The CIO survey saw a huge 75 per cent of respondents citing their network as an issue in achieving their company's goals with two of the top issues needing to be addressed being the upgrade / expansion of network itself as well as the data centre. Many though, face issues trying to address these issues within owned facilities where upgrade options can be limited.

Further to this outage fear, with this huge influx of customers looking to make purchases, as well as retailers sending out marketing emails to millions, this also creates a huge cybercrime opportunity. With this extra threat to the revenue opportunities presented by these days, is it not prudent to ensure your infrastructure is up to scratch and have one less headache?

In emerging time critical environments, retailers are not only expected to cope with the deluge of sales but also create personalised content that follows the customers and effectively analyse their data.

Sophisticated technology tools are now readily available for retail companies to do this, as well as well as keeping up with shipping benchmarks set by the likes of Amazon. These new opportunities though are also new challenges, particularly when this technology is untested.

Static and inflexible storage facilities no longer meet these challenges, which means it's more essential than ever that business put robust scalable technology in place to cope with new demands.

Attempting to enter such crucial yet chaotic periods without a rigorously tested robust infrastructure, is genuinely costing some of the country's biggest retailers huge amounts of money each year. As these unique days only grow in popularity, the need for proper data centre facilities to deal with this only grow too, adding to the difficulties faced by CIOs.

By making investment in the right kind of facilities in the first place – and ensuring that these are secure and flexible – then the CIO can ensure that customers, as well as the rest of their business, remains happy. These unique days and now the busy run-up to Christmas should be utilised by businesses, not feared.