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Data centres prepare for Black Friday 2015

Posted by on November 26, 2015

Everyone loves a good deal. And if enough retailers offer a sufficient number of really good deals, the result will be a frenzy of online and offline shopping. 

That’s the lesson of Black Friday 2014. Last year, lured by the prospect of mouth-watering discounts, UK shoppers spent more than £800m on November 28th, with online sales up 44% on the year before, according to payment company Worldpay. And as this year’s Black Friday (November 27th) approaches, at least one analyst – namely commerce consultancy Salmon – is predicting that UK shoppers will spend £1bn in a single day for the first time ever. 

Black Friday is a relatively new concept for UK shoppers. The term was originally coined by the Philadelphia police department more than half a century ago to describe the annual rush of shoppers onto the city’s streets in the wake of the Thanksgiving celebrations. More recently retailers in the US capitalised on this spike in consumption by offering well-publicised discounts, resulting in a further surge in sales. In 2010 a few retailers imported the concept into the UK. Today it is part of the shopping calendar. 

In a retail marketplace driven by post-recession price sensitivity on the part of customers, Black Friday has proved itself a highly effective marketing tool. The concept is simple, offer customers a day (or more likely a long weekend) in which they are more or less guaranteed goods at bargain prices and the result will be a concentrated bout of spending. For retailers it’s a way of ensuring that consumers reach deep into their wallets in the pre-Christmas period. 

Heading for a meltdown? 

But Black Friday brings challenges. On a commercial level you could argue that cutting prices on a single day or over a weekend will boost sales around the chosen period but not necessarily improve retail performance over the Christmas/New Year period as a whole.

But equally important there are some very real risks that the sheer volume of transactions will result in poor customer experience.

This is particularly true in the case of online shopping. The threat here is that retail websites – and the associated back office processing systems – won’t be able to cope with a sharp upturn in transactions. 

And in 2014, Black Friday undoubtedly took its toll, with major retailers including Curry’s, Argos and Tesco reporting downtime on their websites.

And as the Black Friday concept gains traction with customers, retailers and those who supply their systems should be focused on ensuring that the technology doesn’t buckle under the strain. 

Preparing for 2015

So the secret to a successful Black Friday – not to mention the traditional online shopping peak of Cyber Monday – lies in rigorous pre-planning. Put simply, retailers who participate in the event should by now have predicted any likely surge in traffic and put in place the necessary capacity to deal with the increased volume of transactions across customer facing websites and back office systems. 

This is a challenge not simply for retailers but for every company providing functionality within each company’s e-commerce infrastructure.

And it’s a challenge that undoubtedly extends to data centre operators. This is in itself an increasingly complex eco-system. Retailer systems may be hosted in-house or outsourced to third party data centres, with additional services being supplied by cloud providers, who in turn use their own data centres. 

All will have to take steps to ensure there is enough capacity to cope with demand. And given that the period around Christmas  (including, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the January sales) is increasingly characterised by peak periods, flexibility will be needed to allow retailers and their partners to cope with huge spikes in activity that may only sustain for a matter of days.    

In other words data centres have a huge role to play in ensuring that retailers not only have a happy “Black Friday” but also a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. As such, this year’s Black Friday will supply a major test for the industry.


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