Avoiding festive gridlock: UK Retailers take action to cope with likely surge in demand
Our friends across the pond may have invented it, but Black Friday’s become a firm favourite with us Brits. A quarter of the 2,000 UK consumers surveyed recently by PwC plan to purchase over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, spending £203 each on average. That’s more than double last year’s average spend over the same period.
Black Friday is mainly an in-store phenomenon in the US, with Cyber Monday considered its younger e-commerce cousin. However, consumers this side of the Atlantic have embraced it largely as an online event.
Consumers expect to make more than 70% of their purchases in the sales via online channels, according to PwC. Meanwhile, Affiliate Window predicts more than £50 million in revenue could be posted by affiliates across its network of 1,500 retailers.
Despite not everyone thinking Black Friday and Cyber Monday (plus the weekend in between) will live up to the hype this year, retailers are in a state of high alert to ensure they can cope with the large volumes of traffic a surge in demand will drive.
So what kind of impact do Black Friday and Cyber Monday have on retailers?
All about the baseline
Data gathered by Akamai, whose retail customers represent the top 20 global e-commerce sites, showed that European traffic on its network increased by 39% over baseline on Black Friday, and by 11% on Cyber Monday in 2015, with varying peaks and troughs.
Overall traffic activity in Europe peaked on Cyber Monday with 4.5 million page views per minute at 9 am GMT. The next highest daily peak was not on Black Friday itself, but at 9 am GMT on Saturday, reaching 4.3 million page views.
Our video offers a view of where the highest volumes of traffic can be expected this weekend:
Akamai also reported considerable variances between online behaviour in Europe and the US. In the latter, mobile played a bigger role in Black Friday purchases, whereas Europe’s e-commerce traffic was more equally distributed – use of desktop devices narrowly edged out mobile (51% to 49%) over the entire weekend period.
So what actions are UK retailers taking to ensure they can handle demand?
Some are so keen to avoid website meltdowns they’ve announced offers early, with promotions running for several days and even weeks.
Others are supporting in-store mobile use with a stronger in-store network. This is particularly important given that consumers often use their mobiles to access vouchers, conduct research and check product availability.
Currently, most retailers are backhauling internet traffic over the wide area network, through the data centre, and out to the internet. Akamai warns that this contributes to congested, high-latency, low-bandwidth networks. The result is slow HTTP applications, video and software updates.
Slow apps, whether accessed inside or outside the store, mean unhappy customers and unproductive employees. Accelerating HTTP applications, video, and software updates while offloading the enterprise network to ensure fast, high-quality experiences to all end users will prevent this and allow retailers to make the most of m-commerce.
Fit to burst
Major retailers perform many weeks of internal performance testing before any sale event goes live. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of consumers at any given time remains one of the greatest unknowns. In other words, IT teams have to ‘guesstimate’ this metric, with the danger being transactions hang or crash in the event of a spike.
To mitigate the impact of a spike, retailers need the ability to burst to the cloud, or have some additional capacity internally they can burst to. Although the cloud has typically been a first port of call, there are now new consumption models available that mean it’s possible to build on premise data centre capacity for baseline traffic and rent for peak.
Virtualisation also has a key role to play. Virtualising both network and servers gives retailers the ability to move workloads and shrink down processes elsewhere in order to make workloads available for their e-commerce platforms. Using elastic load balancing, retailers can ensure they have capacity on demand and make the most of new compute capacity they deploy.
Ultimately, a well constructed e-commerce platform with apps that are intuitive and easy to use is essential. Apps must be inherently scalable, link live to stock and distribution systems to process orders quickly, and include appropriate billing options.
6 of the best: Cisco’s top tips for avoiding festive gridlock
- Apply Quality of Service (QoS) – prioritising e-commerce traffic ensures there are enough web servers at the front end to support the efficient flow of traffic into the web app servers in the data centre from where content is served
- Automate your burst capacity – don’t wait for your website or point of sale (PoS) tills to go down; set thresholds to 80-90% so that you can start spinning up VMs for your burst capacity
- Use Big Data analytics – with a big data platform you can maintain a single view of the customer and ensure a joined-up, multi-channel experience
- Harden your security appliances – geographically load balanced traffic enables you to avoid attacks like DDoS (distributed denial of service)
- Implement software defined networking – SDN sets you on the road to digital as it gives you the ability to make changes to the network quickly and support an agile mode of operation for continuous development
- Virtualise for resilience – use virtualisation to ensure those areas where you engage with your customer – whether it’s your website, app or even PoS – operate at peak performance and avoid scenarios where transactions are lost because the tills are running slow or there’s a communications problem