As economists have picked the winners and losers from Black Friday, the full holiday season is in swing. Most U.S. retailers count on nearly 70 percent of their annual sales from the last three months of this year, leaving little or no room for mistakes.
So as you look back on the busiest in-store shopping day and on Cyber Monday, how’s your infrastructure holding up? If your networks are struggling to keep pace, you could be in for a long and challenging season.
So what can you do between now and next year’s Q4 sales rush? Most IT executives will focus on reliability, connectivity and security.
Keep Your Doors Open and Your Network Running
While it can take years to establish customer trust and build your company’s reputation, it takes only one bad online experience to jeopardize it all. Besides the threat of losing out on millions of sales, a crashed website can be embarrassing and detrimental to your company’s long-term goals.
To reduce the risks of this nightmare scenario, take a step back from the store floor and start at the data center. For many retailers, everything ties back to the data center, including the point-of-sale system and website. A Black Friday rush can multiply any data center incident of even modest measurement.
To determine if your data center can handle the volume from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, benchmark the data with normal volumes and factor in past holiday traffic, combining traditional store traffic and online sales from at home and from a variety of locations over mobile devices.
Many consumers plan to do more Christmas shopping on their smartphones or tablets this year, forcing retailers to keep services running smoothly on computers and mobile devices.
If the extra volume and spikes are a concern, you’ll need failover and availability solutions that guarantee high-speed recovery, data loss avoidance, verified protection, complete visibility and the ability to leverage backups to provide a production-like test environment.
A failed network that prevents online payments on Black Friday and Cyber Monday not only will result in lost revenues but also will pressure customers to head to the stores to stand in line. A network failover solution ensures business continuity on busy shopping days in Q4 as well as the rest of the year when specials, trends and marketing campaigns drive sudden spikes.
Key checkpoints for the year should include:
• Achieve 99.999 percent reliability. Your stores must be able to stay online, all the time. If your primary network fails, failover should be seamless.
• The ability to augment bandwidth at a moment’s notice. When every store register is being used, customers will flood the guest WiFi network, requiring extra bandwidth. Can you provision additional bandwidth quickly? Can you just as quickly reduce your bandwidth expenditures when you don’t need it?
• Remote troubleshooting and configuration. During the busiest time of the year, you need your IT team at your headquarters, not out troubleshooting and doing configuration truck rolls. Can you manage, configure, update and troubleshoot your network without setting foot on-site? Does your failover router have secure out-of-band management capability so that you can get the primary device back online when it fails?
The Most Vulnerable Time of the Year
At the height of the Black Friday rush, or the rest of the holiday shopping season for that matter, no one can afford a security breach. Hackers know that shoppers, store IT teams and in-store staff are stretched thin, making them highly vulnerable to attacks.
You know from the publicized breaches this year with well-known retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue and Kmart that customer and store data can be easily hacked through a variety of schemes. The financial and reputational damage of a high-profile breach is difficult to overcome, especially over the holidays.
To mitigate risks, retailers need to ensure that they can keep their customers’ data secure from prying hackers. They need to protect access points and information across the entire IT stack.
But they also need to keep an eye open for internal nonmalicious and malicious threats. This time of year, convenience often supersedes security, pressuring employees to take shortcuts. It is essential to reinforce security policies and best practices while also maintaining access controls over data, money and operations.
To maintain a high level of control, cloud-based networks and security management solutions can address issues remotely. Off-site IT staff can handle security problems instantly, providing immediate solutions to urgent needs. Unified Threat Management, Parallel Networking, data encryption, stateful firewalls and event alerts can provide additional protection.
Your failover solution should be just as secure as your primary network, and in fact, any network solutions you use should help simplify Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance by keeping credit-card processing applications entirely separate from the rest of the network.
According to a study by the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales in November and December are expected to increase between 3.6 and 4.0 percent for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion. If your IT is up to speed, you’ll likely benefit from this year’s bounty. If not, you have another year to prepare.
Ian Pennell is the Chief Product Officer at Cradlepoint. Ian joined Cradlepoint after 30 years of working in the computer and networking industry.
Before joining Cradlepoint, Pennell served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco’s Small Business Group and as Senior Vice President and General Manager for Cisco’s Enterprise Access Routing Technology Group.