Black Friday: Big Opportunity, Bigger Challenges

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Black Friday’s here - but is your business prepared?

The US phenomenon that is Black Friday is now firmly cemented in the UK’s retail landscape as one of, it not the, flagship ecommerce events. Brands large and small now compete cat-and-dog to launch the best deals and tempt those shoppers to their physical and online stores.

The discount day, which generally heralds the start of the Christmas shopping period, has triggered a sea-change in consumer shopping habits. Increasingly, customers aren’t hitting the high street in search of bargains. Why would they? Standing in long queues in cold weather can hardly be fun. So instead, they’re hitting websites. Including, importantly, yours.

As a result, as an IT manager or CIO, Black Friday for you isn’t about seeing how much you can get an Xbox, 4K TV or Breaking Bad boxset for. No - you’re grappling with more complex questions, questions like:

  • How can I ensure our website doesn’t go into a 404 or just crash as it struggles under the weight of a spike in Black Friday traffic?
  • How can I be confident any sensitive data passed from our data centre to our public cloud network is protected and properly managed?
  • How can I mitigate against potential DDoS attacks, ensuring we don’t miss out on lost sales?

It’s important that effective IT management on Black Friday, not forgetting its sister event Cyber Monday and all other related retail attractions, is made a business priority.

Why? Well this is a big-ticket retail event that, last year:

  • Generated more than £3 billion in retail sales
  • Was the biggest day for online retail - ever
  • Boosted online traffic by a whopping 60 per cent

But if your customers can’t get to your site or you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to cyber crime, you’re set for a very black Friday indeed.

Help! I just can’t cope!

It’s not at all unusual for brands to suffer serious network outages as their websites fail to manage large numbers of Black Friday bargain-hungry online shoppers. Last year,  many household names buckled under the pressure. Among them were John Lewis, whose website crashed for around an hour as it experienced “record levels” of demand. Research from one ecommerce agency suggested one in five online retailers couldn’t deal with the strain.

There is also the added complexity of mobile. With many consumers now shopping from their smartphones, brands also need to ensure their websites are mobile responsive. They need to be fast, too - consumers are turned off by sites that are sluggish and slow to load.

This all comes at a significant cost: lost sales. Literally. Ecommerce firm ChannelAdvisor estimates that a retailer could lose around eight per cent of a day’s online sales for each hour its website is down. Depending on the size of your business, that could be millions and millions of pounds in lost revenue.

So how to deal with skyrocketing Black Friday traffic?

Test your infrastructure - is it equipped to deal with an influx of traffic? How much can it handle? Work with your team well in advance of Black Friday to do a stress test on your network. If you think you’ll struggle, invest in extra machines for your data centre, or look for a cloud solution.

Prepare for mobile traffic and optimise your website - today’s consumer doesn’t have time to wait for your website to load. One study found that 47 per cent of British consumers will give your website a mere five seconds to load before switching to a competitor.

Be scalable - look for ways to respond to problems should they arise. Explore capacity planning, failover capacity and disaster recovery.

Buy in extra resource - build extra capacity into your website and consider renting additional bandwidth, to cover you for any upsurge in traffic.

Up in the clouds: effective cloud management

If you’re using the cloud to manage your IT infrastructure, you may well have a private dedicated connection that sends information from a data centre to a public cloud provider, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.

This information could be sensitive, taking the form of customer details or sales data. And unlike private cloud services, the public cloud isn’t protected behind a firewall. You’ll naturally want to protect is as much as possible. Do this by:

Taking advantage of any security products offered by your cloud provider - like with online banking, some cloud providers offer security products you can download to protect your data. Use it.

Password protect - the majority of passwords can be cracked. Very, very quickly. Having a password that’s easy to remember is great, but it leaves you at risk of someone accessing sensitive information. Choose strong, secure passwords, and consider two- or three-step authentication.

Encrypt your data -  most cloud storage providers offer some level of encryption and some offer encryption keys, where you can encrypt data on your computer before it goes to the cloud.

The DREADED DDoS

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks represent a major headache for online retailers. You’re no doubt familiar with them - they’re a form of cyber crime in which a website is flooded with traffic, the aim being to take it offline. Many well-known brands have fallen victim to DDoS and Black Friday is an event attackers may well use to target a high-profile firm.

A DDoS attack not only means lost sales - it can affect your reputation. Martin McKeay, a senior security advocate at Akamai, told Computer Business Review: “If retailers have a DDoS hit it could mean the difference between making or failing to make their figures for the year.”

Prepare for a DDOS attack by:

Knowing your risk - understand how much traffic your website should be hit by, and whether your infrastructure is equipped to deal with it

Have an ISP that allows traffic to pass to your site efficiently

Use a site defender - these help to absorb and deflect DDoS traffic and can also ensure your server doesn’t get overloaded

Black Friday is the bumper retail event of the year, and offers retailers a rich bounty of rewards. But with it becoming more and more popular, the game is getting harder for IT departments to stay on top of the game.

They need to stay on top of traffic levels, protect sensitive data and guard against cyber crime. Firms who have websites that crash, under the weight of customer traffic or through DDoS attacks, risk losing cash and reputation crash and burn. Ensure you’re not one of them.

Sources

http://realbusiness.co.uk/sales-and-marketing/2015/11/20/learning-from-currys-argos-and-tesco-how-to-ensure-you-dont-crash-on-black-friday/

https://letstalk.globalservices.bt.com/en/security/2016/11/need-ready-deal-ddos-black-friday/

http://www.cbronline.com/news/cybersecurity/breaches/ddos-wipe-black-friday-online-sales/

http://techbeacon.com/avoid-website-outages-big-retail-days-cloud-testing

https://blog.intechnica.co.uk/2015/11/13/19-ways-to-guarantee-website-uptime-on-black-friday/

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/11/30/cyber-monday-why-retailers-cant-keep-their-sites-from-crashing.html

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