One of the advantages of retailers and other businesses partnering with reliable data centers is that those facilities are typically well-equipped to handle the spikes in traffic that occur on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two days that have become among the biggest shopping days of the year — especially in the United States.
Many people immediately start planning their shopping lists well before Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrive.
Data published by the American Marketing Association suggests the desire to shop on those days is still well above-average The statistics from 2017 indicate retailers earned $7.9 billion last Black Friday, representing an 18 percent increase compared to the previous year. Then, analysts predicted an additional $6.6 billion in profits from online sales on Cyber Monday.
Ultimately, Cyber Monday became the biggest shopping day in U.S. history, according to research firm Adobe Insights. So, if retailers have website outages during either Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it's not hard to envision how they could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
It's common to see long lines of people waiting outside of stores, anxious to be among the first in the door on Black Friday. Some even sacrifice having Thanksgiving dinner and set up tents in parking lots to camp out before the shopping day happens. Given that trend, people might assume most consumers still like to shop in person on Black Friday.
But, compiled data shows that some people stay home to get the best details. A press release from the Consumer Technology Association revealed that 2017 was the first year when smartphones surpassed computers as the most-used method of shopping online during Black Friday week — otherwise known as Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Specifically, 41 percent of people shopped on their smartphones, versus 38 and 34 percent using desktop and laptop computers, respectively. The Adobe Insights data mentioned above also discovered people spent $2 billion while shopping with their smartphones on Cyber Monday.
People aren't necessarily avoiding stores altogether, though. But they're increasingly realizing that the gadgets they own let them access shopping deals without showing up to physical stores. That means the data centers associated with online stores must be ready for the rush.
A data center outage is an event that illustrates to businesses how accurate it is that "time is money." According to 2016 research from Ponemon Institute, the average cost of data center downtime has gone up 38 percent since 2010, now totaling more than $740,000. In the worse cases, expenses can reach millions — not including the reputational damage occurring afterward.
When the website for Gymshark, a global fitness brand, went down for eight hours on Black Friday, it lost an estimated $143,000 in sales. That disaster prompted the brand to move to a more robust e-commerce platform and send more than 2500 handwritten apologies.
With these things in mind, retailers must abide by best practices to prepare their data centers for Black Friday and similar major shopping days. That means being aware of previous shortcomings and fixing them before the peak of the shopping season starts. Businesses should also scale their infrastructures beyond the expected demand and install load-balancing software to prevent failures proactively.
Cloud testing tools could also aid preparations, especially by spotting bottlenecks and suggesting how load balancers could help avoid problems. Some interfaces allow making adjustments for time zones and other factors that could cause unusual and sudden increases in traffic.
Also, businesses that work with cloud providers should not wait to discuss some of the primary areas of concern related to data center readiness. Those include climate control and power usage, plus having a disaster preparedness plan.
It's essential for retailers to realize increased website traffic may not cause complete outages, but it could bring about other frustrations. In 2016, e-commerce issues hindered brands through slow page loading times and items mysteriously showing up in shopping carts, even though consumers hadn't purchased them.
Then, last year, Macy's and Lowe's were among the stores not ready for online Black Friday traffic. Macy's had such issues before, making analysts assert that the company isn't planning correctly. The Lowe's site only went down for about 20 minutes. However, such downtime increases the likelihood of online shoppers going to other stores or reconsidering their purchases.
The outcome of this holiday shopping season depends on how retailers, specifically e-commerce, prepare for the spikes in traffic. Failing to anticipate issues and fix them now could bring disastrous consequences that could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kayla Matthews writes about data centers and big data for several industry publications, including The Data Center Journal, Data Center Frontier and insideBIGDATA. To read more posts from Kayla, you can follower her personal tech blog at ProductivityBytes.com.