For about a year and a half now, traditional window shopping has been replaced in many places by online shopping sprees. Particularly as the coronavirus pandemic began, general shopping behavior has shifted toward e-commerce. And although most stores have now returned from lockdown to open their store doors, there is no denying the online shopping industry is still thriving. For the second year in a row, the holiday shopping season is also directly affected by this trend.
Traditionally, the holiday shopping season kicks off with Black Friday on November 26th. However, online retailers such as Amazon usually offer the first bargains in the weeks beforehand as well. The grand finale of the bargain hunt is usually, just as traditionally, Cyber Monday on November 29th. In these few days, a large part of the end-of-year errands is already taken care of. Retailers, especially those who quickly went digital at the start of the pandemic, could run into problems in the process due to network overloads and security gaps. Equipped with the right tools and skills, channel partners can continue to position themselves as architects of digital transformation—and make themselves indispensable for the future.
Sascha Giese, Head Geek™at SolarWinds, reveals how retailers can keep their network and websites stable in the anticipated flood of shoppers during the most revenue-critical time of the year and enable an optimal customer experience. Channel partners play a key role here, providing expert support for digitization. Which solutions should be used where?
Know and Understand Your Own Limits
Retailers should put in place at least rudimentary network forecasting and capacity planning systems. Such measures will help IT managers adapt to the increased demands of their network, understand the limits of their technology, and ensure their systems don't buckle during the busiest time of the year. Sudden network outages and lackluster performance can be avoided with better planning of network requirements, such as bandwidth.
With the shopping season in mind, it would be useful to draw on so-called telemetry data from past end-of-year periods, such as data on web traffic or transactions. Of course, high traffic or sales on a particular day or week indicate online customers are flocking to the site and claiming the network. This already gives a good basis for allocating network capacity and resources for those days. Alongside this, you could start collecting other useful data—such as traffic at the payment gateway or customer device usage. This should provide a more diverse database on which to plan network capacity.
Monitor Your Network
When it comes to keeping the health and performance of a network stable, monitoring serves two critical functions: First, it allows IT to keep an eye on their network and respond to any issues that could cripple it. Second, it gives the IT team a clear idea of recurring problems or difficulties on the network; collecting data about such issues helps better predict and plan for future challenges.
Network monitoring solutions offer configurable monitoring windows, tools, and plugins. Network solutions for monitoring hybrid and cloud-based IT environments can then shed light on specific processes on servers in detail. How many purchases are in the shopping cart and how many carts can be processed per minute? To generally make their customers' online buying experience as smooth as possible, retailers can also use monitoring solutions for digital performance. These can be used to proactively address issues such as server congestion, website inaccessibility, or longer load times before they impact the customer's purchase.
Finally, monitoring solutions can be used to monitor competitors' homepages. How does the price structure change for popular items? Are other online stores lowering the prices of certain products? In this way, you can keep an eye on movements in the market and react particularly quickly to fluctuations during these business-critical days.
Access to the network from mobile devices and increased use from the home office can pose major risks to data protection and are gateways for hackers. Private devices may not have sufficient malware protection, and unprotected IoT devices may also have direct access to the network.
It's therefore critical to make cybersecurity a top priority. This should include both establishing strict access control policies to ensure customer data and IT systems remain secure and following modern monitoring practices. Strict policies and effective access rights management can help keep track of what and how data is being used within the network. In the event of potential compliance violations or cyberattacks, these processes can be exposed. Another way to increase network security is to use an encrypted VPN connection. To ensure smooth operations, IT departments should currently plan for sufficient capacity.
Drawing Conclusions for Future Christmases
The benefit of well-implemented network forecasting and planning is that it tells you what's working on the network—and what's not. That's because it's not just the network being monitored, but also the technology that supports it. This is especially true for retailers, who have had to quickly deploy various third-party digital solutions as they digitize. Most of these tools or solutions have not yet been exposed—or have only been exposed for once—to the network stresses common for the holiday season. And in general, the more a digital solution is used by multiple retailers and businesses, the more common
problems become. Imagine, for example, a third-party payment gateway becoming crippled due to a high volume of simultaneous transactions. Without proper monitoring, it's nearly impossible to detect the problem before it impacts the quality of a retail service. And without the proper telemetry data collected during monitoring, similar events cannot be predicted and prevented from ever happening again.
With many shoppers set to trade in their physical for digital shopping carts again this year, retailers need to ensure their online experience is properly monitored and all stakeholders are preparing for the shopping spree in the best possible way. Channel partners can help with their expertise because retailers need experts to support them in setting up and expanding a future-proof architecture. They also need technicians with whom they can integrate their pre-digital processes into a new digital architecture or optimize it. Architects are needed here, as are programmers who can build interfaces between the old and new worlds. Partners who combine this expertise can help make enormous leaps forward in terms of digitization.