7 hours ago
How retailers can prepare themselves for the busiest week in their calendars
Since bursting into the lives of UK shoppers in 2014, Black Friday has fast become the busiest week in the retail calendar. Cyber Monday is the online sister of Black Friday, and that too has ballooned in recent years. In fact, last year, a record-breaking $7.8 billion worth of sales were made on Cyber Monday.
With all this demand, comes greater responsibility. Luckily for those retailers looking to capitalise on this record-busting sales event, there are plenty of cutting edge technology solutions to help them get it right.
Techerati spoke with nine technology experts to get their thoughts and advice for retailer best practice this Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The customer is king
“Cyber Monday and Black Friday are planned events, so the surge in demand and website traffic should be predictable enough that retailers can ensure a smooth and successful day for their business and for their customers,” explains Martin Taylor, deputy CEO at Content Guru. “However, we know that this is not always the case. Sometimes, there are unexpected issues with one or more of the channels that customers are using to engage with those retailers. During periods of increased demand, this can be seriously damaging, both to revenue and customer loyalty.
“A website crashing on Cyber Monday is comparable to the power going out on Christmas Eve, and if a main channel of communication goes down, customers will displace to all other channels of communication to get an answer.
“In fact, the retail industry could learn a lot from organisations in the utility sector that are already utilising the latest in cloud customer engagement technology, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and advanced customer journey analytics, to ensure they can seamlessly service each customer correctly, first time round. In the event of a technical hiccup, using a cloud-based engagement platform can be the difference between a retailer crashing out with reputational harm and profit loss, and one with happy customers at the end of a busy day.”
Eltjo Hofstee, managing director at Leaseweb UK, adds, “evolving technology is ushering in a new era of retail that blends the physical and digital while reshaping the consumer buying experience. For example, technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, augmented reality and virtual reality now allow retailers to offer enhanced shopping experiences such as ‘fitting rooms’ on smartphones, personalised digital displays, customer face recognition, robots and instant payment options.
“The enhanced shopping experience is compelling from a customer perspective, however, at the same time, retailers are now under greater pressure to ensure they continue to meet the three main characteristics of a seamless customer experience: speed, reliability and security. Gearing up for peak retail days, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is now all the more important.
“Working with a comprehensive cloud hosting solution, including hybrid-ready product portfolios and security solutions, core uptime and an extensive network will be beneficial in these times of extreme peaks.”
Don’t let your data fly off the shelves
“Black Friday and Cyber Monday present a great opportunity for retailers to collect customer data that can be analysed to provide insight into buyer behaviour,” says Anurag Kahol, CTO at Bitglass. “However, while ramping up efforts to collect this data, it is even more important to store it safely in order to meet data privacy regulations like GDPR.
“While complying with data privacy laws can be particularly challenging for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the demands for SMBs are still the same as larger companies and they must take full responsibility for securing their customer data.
“SMBs should focus on flexible, cost-effective solutions, that can prevent data leakage; for example, cloud access security brokers (CASBs) that provide features like cloud security posture management (CSPM), data loss prevention (DLP), user and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA), and encryption of data at rest. Only with these types of capabilities can an SMB be certain that the data it is storing is truly safe.”
Mihir Shah, CEO of StorCentric, parent of Drobo, agrees: “As data volumes continue to rise and critical digital information increasingly lives on IT networks, SMBs and individual professionals should view end of year deals as an opportunity to focus on planning for their business’ future success by implementing storage solutions that can keep all of their precious data safe. Your business should not suffer from downtime and seasonal shopping should be used as an opportunity to invest in your business by protecting your data and preparing for the new year.”
People are priceless
Jan van Vliet, vice president & general manager EMEA at Digital Guardian, adds “when preparing for the increase in sales, ensuring the right levels of security for Point of Sale and back end payment systems should be a primary focus. However, even with the best technology solutions in place, 90 per cent of corporate cloud breaches occur through social engineered attacks. It is just as important to have your staff as prepared as your technology.
“As a common form of these attacks, malicious parties will try to target administrators with spear-phishing attacks to gain control of accounts or endpoints. To mitigate this risk, retailers need to ensure regular training for employees so they can recognise a potential spear-phishing attack. Additionally, having the right controls in place to avoid common attacks used to gain access and control of an admin workstation will go a long way to warding off unwanted visitors.”
“Pretty much all the major stores have a digital presence these days and when it comes to Black Friday, it’s often the IT teams that bear the brunt of any operational mishaps,” comments Liam Butler, Area Vice President at SumTotal. “But spare a thought for the HR team too! The smart retailers know that employee scheduling is a science, not an art. And when it comes to one of the busiest shopping days of the year scheduling the optimum number of staff to cater for the anticipated massive spikes in demand can be the difference between success and failure.
“Retailers need to understand which employees will be available well in advance of the big day – and that’s where advance scheduling comes in to play.”
Arm yourself with the best in tech
Steve Blow, technology evangelist at Zerto, says mitigating downtime should be a top priority for every business all year-round, but that it’s especially important over the Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday.
“Retailers operating online are expected to provide uninterrupted retail options for an ‘always-on’ customer culture. Last year, a record-breaking $7.8 billion worth of sales were made on Cyber Monday and, with a similar volume of shoppers expected this year, retailers must ensure they demonstrate proper cyber-resilience to stay online and fully capitalise on the opportunity.
“Managing the surge in demand over consumer holidays like Black Friday is easier if retailers have established a multi-cloud environment that ensures the ability to move freely to, from and between any combination of clouds, including Azure, AWS and the hundreds of smaller local cloud providers available.
“The peak holiday season brings a lot of demand, so the ability to be agile with workloads can significantly improve system performance, even in the midst of peak holiday sales season.”
Steve Moore, chief security strategist at Exabeam, explains “Frequently during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, intrusions are detected by a notable change, such as a rapid increase in network traffic, a suspicious system login location or time, or the unusual export of sensitive information. Machine learning security approaches can make it fast and easy to find anomalous and suspicious user and device behaviour. Its algorithms can baseline normal behaviour in your network environment, then alert your security team whenever anomalous activity occurs.
“As a result, analysts can detect breaches sooner and reduce the amount of time that attackers are ‘dwelling’ in a network environment, significantly reducing the size of a breach and its devastating impacts. With the increasing sophistication and worsening impacts of mega data breaches as the holiday season approaches, now is the time for organisations to implement smarter security management solutions.”
For the SMB, Cliff Duffey, president and co-founder of Cybera, has this final piece of advice: “Advanced technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and augmented reality are among those with the highest potential since they help retailers create digital experiences that are efficient, expedient, personalised and immersive. But these technologies aren’t always feasible for smaller retailers that might lack the budget and IT resources to effectively integrate them. Unfortunately, these limitations can put smaller retailers at a distinct disadvantage when competing against larger retailers and e-tailers.
“There is one specific technology that can be a great equaliser for smaller retailers: a secure software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) platform. SD-WAN provides any size of business with the necessary network foundation to improve flexibility and security, as well as business agility. In fact, SD-WAN is the key to accelerating business at the network and services edge, where many smaller retailers operate. The technology allows retailers to rapidly deploy new technologies without requiring advanced IT expertise, an approach that can be particularly transformative for smaller retailers.”
Whether you are Amazon or an independent retailer, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will undoubtedly be a busy period. The good news is that there is plenty of technology out there that can ensure everyone has a successful few days of retail therapy.