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Black Friday Comes But Once A Year... Time For ​The Cloud To Save The Day

26/09/2017 17:02

There's nothing quite like tradition and such tradition in the UK used to mean Christmas advertising began the day after Bonfire Night.

Every year, that date has come forward to the extent that Christmas planning now seems to start as soon as the kids go back to school.

For retailers, however, be that online, mobile or the increasingly quaint bricks-​and​-​mortar stores, the build-up to Christmas is not the gospel it once was.

Now it is all about Black Friday, another day bound in tradition. It is always the Friday after the US festival of Thanksgiving.

Black Friday this year is on November 24th, two months away, but already online retailers are planning to ensure their web systems are strong enough to handle peak demand.

Any delay or 'web-site-down' can wipe out millions of pounds on what is the busiest day of the year for online retailers. Even 15 minutes of downtime is a disaster.

For some retailers, the Black Friday peak can represent as much as 10% of their annual revenues. Moreover, a report by software company Dynatrace found that 75% of mobile users would abandon a retailer's mobile site or app if it was slow or prone to crash.

Earlier this month, High Street and digital retailer Argos experienced an early nightmare when its website was down for 'maintenance', but the real problems started when its website was up that the problems really began.

Intermittent crashes and, most damagingly for the company, incorrect pricing such as an Xbox on sale for £89.99 instead of £379.99 have been an unmitigated disaster.

At time of writing, the PR crisis had still not diminished. Argos's arrogance in blaming the technology, ever-alert social media and a mother's persistence in getting a console present for her son at £89.99 still persist.

No doubt, Argos is working day and night to ensure Black Friday passes successful and they may have had a lucky escape with a disaster happening at the right time. But, how are such catastrophes averted?

Increasingly, the answer is to be found in preparing for disaster and moving away from so-called traditional 'monolithic architectures'; web systems that were designed for yesterday when the Cloud hadn't condensed.

The problem in such monolith models is that if one thing fails, all of it fails. Retailers are now thinking instead of server-first, better to employ systems that are Cloud-first and offer a deck of microservices.

Microservice architecture is an approach to software design that breaks down large projects into a set of manageable, independent and loosely-coupled services; it is by nature flexible and withhold spikes and surges.

Such models are already employed not just by retailers, but behemoths such as Amazon, Netflix, and Uber, all of which experience daily peaks, troughs and surges, not just on a Friday in November.

Argos could learn, in fact, from another online retailer ASOS, which realised as long ago as 2011 that it would have to scale for the future.

The company believed that the software 'stack' that it has used to grow would have to come from a different model. It knew that customer experience was based on how it performed for ecommerce. In 2011, that attitude was almost revolutionary and not every retailer was thinking that way.

Instead, ASOS chose to deploy in the Cloud on Microsoft Azure, the epitome of hyperscale transactional systems and worked with London-based Amido, a ''tech consultancy that rebuilds old-fashioned infrastructures in the cloud'.

"The technical restraints that traditional 'off-the-shelf' ecommerce products place on retailers impacts their ability to provide a customer experience at global scale. It's complete vendor lock-in. Once you've spent £10 million, you're not going to write it off. You have to keep spending because you have to make it work," said Alan Walsh, CEO Amido.

Six years on, ASOS were probably right. Now, its platform supports as more than 30 distinct transaction sets, including identification, product, bag, check-out and payments.

Where the company previously felt locked-in by a stack of products from one supplier, it was now liberated. The ASOS site is also ready for AR and conversational commerce, something that seems as forward-planning as the company was in 2011.

Christmas may come but once a year, but it is the 24-hour period where retailers must make, not break. So they must look forwards, not backwards and towards the Cloud, not the server.

Time will tell. May the 24th (of November) be with you.

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