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The second in our series of blogs on "what keeps retail CIOs awake at night" focuses on the nightmare (?) of Black Friday. A relatively new phenomenon in the UK there is no doubt that it is real and that it puts considerable pressure on the CIO, their team and the retail software technology solutions which underpin the organisation's trading.
With less than a month to go, there is nervous tension in the air. After all, it is hard to forget the experience of last year where omnichannel retail solutions were brought to their knees by the sheer volume of customers and transactions which were squeezed into one day. In fact, forget the less than a month to go' comment: there are a variety of opinions about when it will start with some analysts claiming Amazon could start offers from as early as this week.
There is also debate about how big an event it will be this year in the UK with estimates ranging from one billion pounds and the biggest shopping day in the UK ever, through to 20% down on last year.Regardless of opinions and speculation, there is a truth that peak trading and particularly spikes in trading, severely test our retail technology services and solutions to their limits. The key point is that this isn't a surprise and the CIO will have prepared for it.
There are strategies for spreading the load and taking the peaks off the spikes in trade but the bottom line is that you have to be ready for volume sometimes 10x or 20x the norm.
The performance testing needs to cover user experience, stability, resilience, volume and soak testing. One of the most disruptive incidents I experienced on an online trading system was not caused by a particular spike (we'd traded higher volume in the weeks before it) but it was caused by a gradual build-up of sustained high volumes which caused a certain threshold to be breached ending in a multi-hour outage.
So the technology, services, people and environments required to undergo the required performance and volume test activities need to be carefully assembled to meet the needs of your omnichannel retail solutions and ultimately the bottom line of your business.
From a CIO point of view, this could be viewed as `just another project' in the portfolio but it is smart to plan ahead and ensure that this work gets sufficient attention. There is a leadership role here too; if you place greater emphasis on the importance of this then your team will reflect that.
The debate about the wisdom of Black Friday - the erosion of profit margins, the unpredictability of the event, the cannibalisation of subsequent December trade, the imperative of competing with Amazon and other disruptive forces - will rage on. For I.T. it is worth sticking to the old adage: "Be ready for anything and be surprised by nothing!"
David has worked exclusively in retail throughout his career, from store management at Argos to technical roles at The Burton Group and senior IT roles at Debenhams including operating at CIO level. David has extensive experience in multi-channel, e-commerce and store systems as well as the back of house implementations in Data Warehousing, HR and Finance.