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November 2, 2016updated 13 Jan 2017 11:46am

How businesses can survive Black Friday 2016

Avoiding downtime on Black Friday could mean the difference between success and failure.

By James Nunns

On Friday the 25th of November the annual retail shopping bonanza called Black Friday will get underway with consumers hoping that it will go more smoothly than last year.

Black Friday is the single most profitable shopping of the day where large businesses can expect to make millions. Amazon for example had sales accounting for 35.7% of e-commerce spending, selling over 7.4 million items from the UK version of its website alone.

However, it could have been even better for Amazon and a number of other retailers that saw shoppers spend over £3.3bn over the weekend, according to IMRG and Experian.

Companies like Target were forced to meter traffic after traffic and order volumes exceeded the expected numbers. Argos confirmed that it had experienced delays on its site due to high levels of traffic, and John Lewis’s site went down for a short time in the afternoon.

On a day when it is predicted that that £16,087 will be spent every second having 100% uptime becomes vitally important.

The problem is that with so much competition online for various offers it is easy enough for a consumer to go onto a competitor’s site if the one they are on stops working or is slow.

With around 71% of UK consumers saying that they prefer to shop online, according to Wipro Digital, it would be understandable to expect stores to have successfully planned for extremely high levels of traffic.

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Sales over the 2015 Black Friday weekend exceeded £3.3bn.

Sales over the 2015 Black Friday weekend exceeded £3.3bn.

However, the downtime seen in 2015 was also seen in 2014 at the likes of Tesco, PC World, Argos, and Boots.

So what are the reasons for the site crashes? Well in 2014 Argos got 13.5 million hits, more in 2015, and more expected in 2016 as consumers flock to the e-commerce sites. Handling that kind of traffic is clearly difficult but it can be prepared for with the help of technology.

Many older businesses are still burdened by inflexible legacy systems that were simply not built to deal with the kind of scale that is being asked of them during peak shopping days such as Black Friday.

While moving away from legacy systems can often be difficult it shouldn’t stop the business from innovating and investing in technologies such as cloud computing, hyperconverged systems or even the more flexible modern servers.

Cloud for one is on offer from many vendors with elastic scalability that will respond almost immediately to higher demand and then reduce its scale when demand drops, meaning that the business is not paying for capacity that it does not need.

Even if cloud technology is not your cup of tea it is possible to accurately plan ahead and be ready for the kind of traffic that is likely to be seen thanks to the use of analytics.

By accurately analysing the data from the previous year and using predictive analytics tools it is possible to forecast the likely amount of traffic for the next year. If the business is proactive and gets going with this early then it will give them plenty of time to get IT to provision more servers and everything else that is needed to cope with demand.

Rick Vanover, senior product strategy manager at Veeam, said: “To reduce the risk and reap the benefits of the day, retailers should leverage the data they have to determine a number of factors such as how many transactions can be made in one day to ensure the back-end infrastructure can handle the surge.”

Of course this is only one element of what a business needs to keep everything running smoothly. It is also necessary to avoid any network downtime by ensuring that the business has a network failover solution. This will ensure that the business has continuity on the day.

OpenGear for example offer automatic failover to high-speed 4G LTE to ensure uninterrupted availability for remote networks. A solution like this well help to make sure that even remote brick and mortar stores should remain up and running.

Black Friday can cause a lot of stress for staff.Another fundamental component that should be remembered is that of security. Black Friday has become renowned for frequent mad panics to grab the best offers and this can put staff under a lot of pressure.

Pressure can lead to mistakes and often convenience is put ahead of going through the proper processes. Ensuring staff are well trained and know what to do in case of a system meltdown will help to make sure that security policies and best practices are not forgotten about.

In the end it all really boils down to planning. Businesses know when the busiest days of the year are and should plan well in advance of the time to make sure that failover solutions are in place and that they are in the best possible position to deal with a rapid increase in number of shoppers and increased strain on the infrastructure.

The old saying of fail to plan and you plan to fail should be ringing in the ears of businesses months before Black Friday arrives.

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