While Black Friday may have started in the US for retailers to offer discounts for shoppers after their Thanksgiving feast, the sales phenomenon is now recognised in many countries including the UK, where consumers are inundated with advertisements rife with ‘Black Friday deals’ from retailers. Whilst businesses start preparing their shelves and security guards for a huge shopping spree to take place, nine IT industry experts discuss why retailers also need to consider reinforcing their IT infrastructure ahead of the long shopping weekend.
Prepare to be flexible and scalable
Eltjo Hofstee, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK comments, “The enhanced shopping experience is compelling from a customer perspective, however, at the same time, 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.”
“Cyber Monday and Black Friday are planned events, so the surge in demand and website traffic should be predictable enough that retailers can ensure a smooth and successful day for their business and for their customers,” says Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru.
Martin continues, “A website crashing on Cyber Monday is comparable to the power going out on Christmas Eve, and if a main channel of communication goes down, customers will displace to all other channels of communication to get an answer.
“In fact, the retail industry could learn a lot from organisations in the utility sector that are already utilising the latest in cloud customer engagement technology, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and advanced customer journey analytics, to ensure they can seamlessly service each customer correctly, first time round.
“The chances of experiencing such an issue are much higher if you are relying on legacy technology to host customer interactions. In the event of a technical hiccup, using a cloud-based engagement platform can be the difference between a retailer crashing out with reputational harm and profit loss, and one with happy customers at the end of a busy day.
“Retailers, much like energy providers, need to be able to scale up and down their resources and allocate them across each component of their omni-channel environment. Without the flexibility gained by utilising cloud customer engagement technology, the channels will be overwhelmed and only serve to exacerbate the original issue.”
Cliff Duffey, President and Co-Founder of Cybera discusses how the entire customer experience (CX) is key to attracting customers: “The path to achieving this goal, not surprisingly, lies in technology. But it isn’t always obvious which technology platform will be the most helpful in this regard. Advanced technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and augmented reality are among those with the highest potential since they help retailers create digital experiences that are efficient, expedient, personalised and immersive. But these technologies aren’t always feasible for smaller retailers that might lack the budget and IT resources to effectively integrate them. Unfortunately, these limitations can put smaller retailers at a distinct disadvantage when competing against larger retailers and e-tailers.
“So, what’s a smaller retailer to do?
“There is one specific technology that can be a great equalizer for smaller retailers: a secure software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) platform. SD-WAN provides any size of business with the necessary network foundation to improve flexibility and security, as well as business agility. In fact, SD-WAN is the key to accelerating business at the network and services edge, where many smaller retailers operate. The technology allows retailers to rapidly deploy new technologies without requiring advanced IT expertise, an approach that can be particularly transformative for smaller retailers.”
Alex Simonson, Client Director at Mango Solutions says knowing your customer behaviour is key: “Without doubt the biggest event in global retail, Black Friday – closely followed by Cyber Monday – presents retailers with a huge opportunity to maximise sales and attract new customers. But 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.”
Avoid outages and downtime
Jon Lucas, Co-Director at Hyve Managed Hosting states that “The shopping extravaganza brings in huge profits for retailers across the globe, with recent research from PwC suggesting that this year, the average shopper intends to spend £234 over the weekend.
“With so much anticipated traffic, it is important to thoroughly prepare your website or application to avoid outages, improve the digital experience and reduce shopping cart abandonment. The biggest mistake you could make is to underestimate the impact of a huge spike in traffic on your servers. 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.”
Steve Blow, Technology Evangelist at Zerto discusses how “Mitigating downtime should be top of mind for every business year-round. However, it’s especially important over the Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday, because retailers operating online are expected to provide uninterrupted retail options for an ‘always-on’ customer culture.
“Managing the surge in demand over consumer holidays like Black Friday is easier if retailers have established a multi-cloud environment that ensures the ability to move freely to, from and between any combination of clouds, including Azure, AWS and the hundreds of smaller local cloud providers available. This will help retailers deal with the mammoth spike in traffic and sales, despite any challenges that third-party cloud suppliers might experience. The risk is spread across multiple platforms, minimising the possibility of vendor downtime.
“The peak holiday season brings a lot of demand, so the ability to be agile with workloads can significantly improve system performance, even in the midst of peak holiday sales season.”
Protect your company, website and customer data
Jonathan Wright, Industry Director for Retail at Six Degrees highlights that, “The foundation for great customer experiences in the current omni-channel retail world is the efficient collection, analysis and utilisation of data. 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.
“By hosting systems on cloud infrastructures, your business can make data easily accessible to the right people whilst maintaining high levels of security that will increase consumer and regulator confidence: all essential ingredients to a successful Black Friday, Cyber Monday, 2020 and beyond.”
“Frequently during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, intrusions are detected by a notable change, such as a rapid increase in network traffic, a suspicious system login location or time, or the unusual export of sensitive information. Machine learning security approaches can make it fast and easy to find anomalous and suspicious user and device behaviour. Its algorithms can baseline normal behaviour in your network environment, then alert your security team whenever anomalous activity occurs,” says Steve Moore, Chief Security Strategist at Exabeam.
Steve continues: “Prebuilt security incident timelines can display the full scope and context of related event details. This means that analysts don’t have to comb through massive amounts of raw logs to manually create a timeline as part of any investigation.
“As a result, analysts can detect breaches sooner and reduce the amount of time that attackers are ‘dwelling’ in a network environment, significantly reducing the size of a breach and its devastating impacts. With the increasing sophistication and worsening impacts of mega data breaches as the holiday season approaches, now is the time for organisations to implement smarter security management solutions.”
Jan van Vliet, Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Digital Guardian says, “When preparing for the increase in sales, ensuring the right levels of security for Point of Sale and back end payment systems should be a primary focus. However, even with the best technology solutions in place, 90 per cent of corporate cloud breaches occur through social engineered attacks. It is just as important to have your staff as prepared as your technology.
“As a common form of these attacks, malicious parties will try to target administrators with spear-phishing attacks to gain control of accounts or endpoints. To mitigate this risk, retailers need to ensure regular training for employees so they can recognise a potential spear-phishing attack. Additionally, having the right controls in place to avoid common attacks used to gain access and control of an admin workstation will go a long way to warding off unwanted visitors.”
This Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s evident that retailers should not only think about keeping their stores up and running, but also their online websites – with added security to prevent unwanted attackers.