‘Tis the season; the time of year retailers deck their stores with the latest electronics, clothing and gifts galore. As stores promise the best prices of the year, a projected 137 million consumers will shop between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday (News - Alert), according to the National Retail Federation.
This clearly offers massive profit potential for retailers. However, these sales figures are dependent on internet connections working, servers coping with demand, in-store bandwidth holding up for transaction processing, etc. Both in store and online, Cyber Monday sales are dependent on technology.
Industry experts take a look at how retailers can prepare for their biggest season of the year, with tips on how to avoid a disaster in their IT infrastructure and how retailers can take advantage of shopper data:
Tackling IT Challenges
“There is never a good time to discover your IT infrastructure is not resilient. But, Black Friday (News - Alert) and Cyber Monday would be the worst days of the year for retailers to lose critical systems and find their core business is out of operation. Forget the frustrated customers writing bad reviews online, the brand impact and the customers who won’t return; think of the impact to your revenue,” said Rob Strechay, VP of Product, Zerto. “Retailers need to rigorously test their business continuity across applications ahead of the big days, as well as the underlying technology that supports IT resilience,” Strechay continued. “You don't want the first time you have to try and recover in minutes for real to be in the heat of the shopping day! Seconds count in online sales.”
“With holiday buying peaks over the next few weeks, IT teams in retail and e-commerce companies need to have a strong disaster recovery (DR) plan in place,” says Chuck Dubuque, Vice President, Product and Solution Marketing, Tintri. “A good DR plan should categorize applications according to their business criticality, have clearly defined recovery point objectives (RPO) for each, and should be tested multiple times before and during the buying season. This level of planning can help companies avoid lost revenue and customer experience problems associated with extended outages,” he said.
“Many retailers don’t have IT staff onsite, which can be a big problem if there are network outages or loss of data for applications such as point-of-sale or e-commerce,” said Patrick Brennan, senior product marketing manager at Atlantis Computing. “Retailers need an IT strategy that will ensure high performance during peak times on the sales floor or on the web, and fast recovery should issues arise. These issues are best solved if IT staff can manage their IT environment effectively from a central location or in the cloud, without physically going to hundreds or thousands of locations. Retailers who followed these steps will be more prepared to deal with heavy crowds and web traffic this holiday season as they will be worrying less about their IT infrastructure,” Brennan concluded.
Reaching big data’s potential in retail
While there are certainly many IT challenges related to Cyber Monday, there’s also an upside. Some IT experts believe there is tremendous analytics potential in the holiday shopping season that not enough retailers are capitalizing on:
“While the big focus every year around Black Friday and Cyber Monday has been on how companies can keep their websites and check-out counters up and running with the influx of shoppers, there is huge potential that many retailers struggle to take advantage of,” said Jeff Evernham, Director of Consulting, North America at Sinequa. “That is understanding and analyzing the massive amount of data generated from customer purchasing and their habits. Often this goes unrealized because the disparate systems and diversity of data make it difficult to bring shopping and purchasing information together - to say nothing of incorporating unstructured data (such as that from social media sites) to gauge how shoppers are feeling and responding. Retailers that are able to unify their data and leverage cognitive search and analytics to gain insight will have a definite advantage to hit their revenue targets - by understanding their customers and tailoring their pricing, messaging, and campaigns for the remainder of the holiday shopping season,” Evernham said.
“Shoppers aren’t the only people who are busy during the holidays. Data scientists are hard at work doing things like dynamic pricing and product promotion” said Mike Upchurch, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Fuzzy Logix. He continues, “buying patterns of shoppers will affect the content you see online and how it’s priced. Careful shoppers can play the game and get good deals, but for many, the work by data scientists could hand retailers a win by driving impulse buys and using low margin items as bait to drive high margin additional purchases.”
While retailers focus on the obvious surface-level challenges of the holiday shopping season, like predicting what their biggest sellers will be, managing long lines, etc., their IT teams need to be putting that same level of focus on being prepared for and tackling potential IT challenges, all while arming themselves to take advantage of the plethora of data at their fingertips.
About the Author: Scott D. Lowe is co-founder, senior content editor and strategist at ActualTech Media. He is an enterprise IT veteran with close to twenty years experience in senior and CIO roles across multiple large organizations. He hold multiple industry certifications including VMware vExpert, Microsoft (News - Alert) MCSE and MVP Hyper-V.