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Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2020: Three Ways IT Teams Can Prepare

By Sumedh Jigjinni, Senior Strategy Consultant on the Digital Business Strategy team, New Relic

E-commerce companies need to be poised for a high influx of visitors over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period or risk IT outages and loss of sales. With the UK in lockdown and essential stores shut, this year’s sales events are likely to be even bigger event than first thought, so brands need to be prepared for big peaks in demand.

The pandemic has caused many changes to occur, one of them being the increased preference online shopping. Early promotions of sales and discounts available online have already begun to take place, and popular retailers such as Amazon had to reschedule their sales period due to the pandemic. Instead of hosting the well-known Amazon Prime Day in July, it moved the event to October, which in turn prompted other retailers to begin their sale seasons prematurely.

Taking into consideration these unprecedented times, the question of how retail IT teams can ensure they are maximising online and mobile sales throughout the peak season is answered by three best practices outlined below. However, it is also important to remember that every retailer’s situation varies, so these tips are more of a step-by-step guide for businesses, and were created to suggest different ideas and offer inspiration to make sure organisations minimise missed opportunities from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and any other big e-commerce days to come.

Have a thorough plan

The ideal amount of time needed to plan is usually around six weeks beforehand, but the last week’s run-up is also crucial. Top questions IT professionals need to consider “Which new features will we release”?, “What are the key challenges we need to address as a priority?” and “What bug tests need to be run and by what deadline?”

They also need to establish up-to-date benchmarks for application performance and availability , as well as front-ends, infrastructure and service. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should also be highlighted at every level including error/crash rates, and visitor to purchase conversion rates.

IT should also think about the amount of traffic each online shopping channel will receive and therefore how much cloud and infrastructure capacity is required to secure into place (both planned and dynamic) for those channels to run without issue, even with thousands of visitors at a time. Bearing this in mind, it is advisable to create a timeline and practice what to do in periods of high traffic and have specific teams ready to cover the entire season.

Set up your central information hub

As plans come together, IT leaders should ensure close collaboration between teams from marketing, fulfillment, web and mobile operations, and other essential functions that will participate. In the spirit of teamwork, they should try to implement a team-focused mentality as Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach by intertwining the concept of assigning roles and duties to every person for maximum cohesion. Decisions about who will make the mission-critical choices, scheme corrections, execute specific tasks, and how and where collaborations will take place. If an unforeseen development were to occur, who would be in charge?

It is also advised that leaders initiate a Network Operations Center (NOC) for key team members to monitor shared dashboards and other assets.

To achieve success, it is crucial that clear paths of communication are well-established, especially during a high-stakes period like Black Friday where timing is imperative. Any mistakes or cracks in tactical execution could unfortunately have damaging effects on the business. Leaders should try to avoid making any last minute types of fire drills by implementing well-defined lines of communication and by cultivating a culture of transparency within all relevant teams.

Don’t over-do it

It is pivotal to ensure that you can achieve everything you set out to do in your plan,  so it’s probably not advisable to carry out any risky experiments or have to deal with any unwarranted stress on such a big sales period. IT leaders should make sure that your plan carefully states not only what you are capable of doing, but also what you are incapable of doing. Having the appropriate instrumentation and visibility into your software and systems can allow IT teams to innovate with confidence, but there must be an aspect of responsibility when doing this. On the one hand, businesses don’t want to miss out on any opportunities brought on by Black Friday, but on the other hand they need to be wary of breaking parts of their website, app or other channels and struggling to make fixes as online traffic increases.

There’s a reason why many companies incorporate a timeline that contains freezes on new features and code rollouts, and it’s for the purpose of minimising the chances of any last-minute surprises. IT teams need to outline a solid date for when new elements of the online shopping experience are prohibited and a separate date for when any new code, including bug fixes, can no longer be implemented. In doing this, it will allow teams to ensure an unobstructed safe journey for key customers, and help provide a top tier digital customer experience during one of the most significant periods of the retail calendar.

Thinking about these three key elements will set IT teams up for the best chance of success over Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, it’s important to remember that while these sales events are very important, they are not the be-all-and-end-all. Therefore, after the sales period is over, IT teams should take the chance to reconvene, analyse performance observability data to assess areas for improvement and execute on it. By adopting a flexible, “always-on” approach to development, testing, and monitoring, retailers need not fixate on mistakes of the past but focus on the future of their organisation’s growth and how to get there.