5 tips to help prepare your business for the holiday shopping period.
Within the next two months, the UK is set to experience two of the biggest peak sales periods in the calendar – Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The start of the holiday season sees consumers huddle over screens and flock to bricks-and-mortar stores to cash in on big savings as part of what has become a cultural and commercial phenomenon.
The ever-increasing digital dependency of consumers emphasises the pressures retailers and their systems face in order to provide new levels of service, security and selection – not just during the holiday season, but all year long. To do this, many are turning to hybrid cloud, mobile and analytical technologies that can make their business more accessible, more efficient and ultimately smarter.
In 2015, digital spending grew by 259% on Black Friday alone and as digital’s popularity – particularly mobile – continues to rise, it’s safe to assume that this year will be bigger still. And while businesses that are properly prepared can capitalise on the increase in footfall and web traffic, those that aren’t might experience something more akin to the supermarket carnage seen in recent years.
Yet it doesn’t need to be that way as long as you’re keeping systems in check by having strong strategies in place. We look at key considerations that can be adopted now to ensure you and your business have a successful holiday season.
Organise your shop window
A customer’s first interaction with your brand is most likely to be through your website; it’s where they’ll view, compare and ultimately purchase your goods, so now is the time to have a plan. Clunky, disorganised retailers will not fare very well at all – and not just over peak holiday periods.
Recent studies found that 40% of retailers would lose more that £10,000 if their businesses suffered just one hour of downtime and a further 17% stated that such outages or issues could cost in the region of £100,000. Such losses would prove more severe for independent retailers; an hour-long outage could mean a loss of £16,000. And for small, independent outlets, this could be crippling and potentially cause business death.
Consider testing your shopping cart experience. Can people check out easily? This is particularly important when running limited item sales that are likely to be snapped up quickly. It is also important that key pieces of information such as contacts, refund policies and delivery pricing are easy to find – especially to those who may be unfamiliar with your brand.
Next, talk to your hosting provider to check that increased traffic will not slow down, or worse still, bring your website down.
Take it to the cloud
Black Friday 2015 saw major high street retailers buckle under the pressures of increased web traffic with 1 in 5 stores crashing before 9am. Historically, businesses that relied on in-house servers would have to plan in advance how they would manage the expected peak in traffic, for example by buying additional servers. Thankfully, this can now be more easily managed using a cloud provider.
Cloud solutions provide flexibility and instant scalability in data storage and capacity – perfect for managing increased demands on your server with minimal costs involved. Your provider should have the ability to scale resources during peak times by using in-house hosting, cloud storage or a hybrid model.
One size rarely fits all when it comes to cloud solutions for your business, but using a scalable, elastic cloud environment like to host your websites, ensures you have enough computing resources to exploit new opportunities such as increases in traffic, or relieving constraints on your current IT infrastructure.
But cloud-based services can do much more than simply supporting your website. Organisations invariably find themselves having to take on more staff during the kick-off of the seasonal shopping period. These staff are primarily employed to compensate for the extra demand. Without cloud solutions these extra users would need to be supported with more server hardware, storage and software.
Hold the line
Surprisingly overlooked at peak holiday periods, your telephone systems should be an equal priority in terms of handling increased incoming calls and assessing whether you have the manpower to answer every call in a timely manner so you never miss a sale – or indeed a problem. Consider this: if the internet is your main stream of revenue, do you have enough lines in place to handle demand?
You should be talking to your telephone provider about how it can assist you in setting up additional lines or channels, running tests and even helping you analyse call traffic so that you can plan your resources accordingly.
For bricks-and-mortar businesses, this also translates to the availability and reliability of point-of-sale (POS) systems. As a small business, if you usually rely on one or two POS devices, consider equipping your floor staff with mobile POS devices enabling customer transactions to be completed over the WiFi anywhere within the store. This will also help to reduce queues, minimise waiting times and the risk of abandoned sales, as well as keeping existing connections clear to avoid system failure.
Busy sales periods create perfect opportune moments for cybercriminals to showcase their capabilities because they know that security teams are often stretched and policies are loosened up to accommodate the increase in volume.
It’s no secret that distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are rising in frequency across the UK and all businesses – no matter what size or industry – are potential targets. With almost 278 DDoS attacks taking place globally every hour, and with the average cost to a business sitting at £350,000, it is vital that your business looks at the risks, to assess if your current IT systems will protect you.
Many businesses think their sites are too small to attract attention, but if it’s big enough to attract business, it’s big enough to attract an attacker. As cybercrimes get more sophisticated, businesses must be able to constantly adapt to these new security threats. And while there are no methods or tools that can completely prevent DDoS attacks from happening, having a security “insurance policy” in place is the first step in ensuring that you are completely prepared. The ability to quickly suspend this new level of attack is tantamount to protecting company data as well as your business as a whole.
The first and best defence against a DDoS attack is the ability to recognise it early. Unfortunately not all DDoS attacks are easy to distinguish from normal spike in network or web traffic, or a sudden slowdown in network performance, which is why it’s so easy for attacks to go unnoticed. Investment in the right technology, expertise and training can help you tell the difference as can the use of anti-DDoS services which will help minimise lost revenue, lost business, data loss, productivity loss and brand damage.
Throughout Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016, 18% of UK buyers used mobile internet to grab their deals and a further 12% used mobile apps. Yet staggeringly, a fifth of top retailers are still relying on websites that redirect to mobile-friendly versions rather than responsive designs that adapt to different devices.
Mobile e-commerce has never been more important so if your online store doesn’t already offer mobile-optimised shopping experiences, not only are you discouraging visitors from converting, you’re also pointing them directly to your competitors’ sites.
For cost-conscious businesses, you also need to consider whether you are getting the best from your workforce during peak holiday periods. Savvy businesses might want to consider optimising their customers’ in-store experiences by equipping staff with tablets and smartphone devices that provide them with immediate access to customer data stored on your CRM as well as access to real-time inventory levels, limiting ‘out of stock’ scenarios that results in lost sales.
Additionally, if you are a business that provides employees with mobile handsets, now might be the time to consider reviewing your current tariffs to avoid a loss in productivity and revenue from lost sales if your staff are all going online at peak periods to do bag their own bargains.
With just over a month to go before Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period, and with Christmas hot on its heels not long after, it’s crucial that your business has the right IT infrastructure in place ready to cope with the increased customer traffic you’re likely to face.