Preparing to scale the peak trading periods
Black Friday has become the crucial focus for many retailers – and unsurprisingly. With £10.1bn estimated spend over the Black Friday week in the UK last year and an increase in online transactions of 11.3%, it’s fair to say it’s the Everest of the peak spend period leading up to Christmas. In fact, widespread adoption of mobile devices prompted experts to predict that the majority of shopping would take place online this time, which was proven as many shoppers chose to switch from the high street to the comfort of their own homes. Whilst every sale is important, this does put enormous pressure on retailers’ compute capability to manage the intense traffic.
In fact, the rise of the Black Friday “uber peak” has caused retailers to redress their approach to IT infrastructure. In 2015, as many as one in five online retailers’ websites crashed under the heavy traffic, prompting significant investment in IT across the board, to accommodate consumer behaviour. In a bid to lessen the load, we’ve observed increased adoption of the Black Friday Week, which saw retailers including Amazon, Argos and Curry’s PC World launch Black Friday deals early in an attempt to spread demand over a larger number of days and mitigate against downtime. Following on from Black Friday 2016, digital analysts SimilarWeb stated a year-on-year increase in traffic of 52% on Black Friday itself, and 81% in the four days leading up to Black Friday.
Black Friday is quite rightly a focal point – but it is far from being the only retail peak of the year. The lead up to Christmas, Boxing Day sales and January sales – to name a few - all require retailers to flex their capacity to accommodate active consumer demand and successfully convert browser volumes into spend. The trick, of course, is to have sufficient compute capacity available to manage the biggest peaks without having to commit to paying for that higher volume throughout the year, when most retailers won’t need that level of capacity.
An agile approach
Agility is key - and technology, as well as contracting models, are evolving to accommodate variable capacity requirements. The result? Retailers can manage their budgets more effectively, whilst prioritising that all-important customer experience and ensuring they can deliver for customers throughout.
Here are a few areas that retailers should consider when developing their IT strategy:
When requirements are variable, a supplier that can flex to meet your needs is a must. Consider their technical scope and availability to ensure the solution works for your business. Work out your maximum anticipated demand – and add a bit. Does your provider have the capacity available to support that additional demand? If you needed to call on it, how quickly could it be provided?
It’s also important not to overlook the people aspect – do you get a named contact? How easy is it to access somebody that is able respond to your changing needs immediately and just “get things done”? Make sure you’re clear that you have the breadth of support you need, with the technical competence that you need. At Blue Chip, all of our customers have named contacts that are easily contactable. Our data centres are manned by our engineers 24/7 and parts are held on site, enabling us to quickly respond to requests for change or conduct maintenance promptly.
It’s important to ensure that an appropriate level of technical support is on-hand should any problems arise. For instance, you’ll want to know the exact provision of technicians on-hand to conduct any maintenance or repair work for you, when required. Is this a 24/7 service? Also check the detail of monitoring systems that your provider has in place to help prevent any downtime for your business. Our Itheon software not only identifies potential issues, it understands the linkages between systems and the business impact of individual errors, enabling us to take a far more proactive and intelligent approach to protecting uptime. A large number of incidents can be prevented using the right monitoring and alert software, backed up by a proactive engineering team.
Make sure you understand your recovery arrangements
In the event that there is a problem, ensuring that you have the right recovery arrangements in place is vital. Speak to your managed services provider about the “RTO” and “RPO” – these metrics will tell you the length of time it would take to recover your systems in the event of a disaster, and the point from which you’ll be able to retrieve historic data. You will know the length of time that would be acceptable for your business to be out of action, so tailor your recovery arrangements accordingly.
There’s no good time for downtime. By considering the detail of requirements and the preferred delivery model, retailers will find themselves far more prepared to deliver a robust infrastructure and a positive customer experience.