Black Friday: Christmas Come Early or ‘Commercial Carnage’?

Black Friday. Love it or loathe it, few can ignore it. Especially those retailers competing with big global brands which set out to make as much profit as they can from this day of discounts.

In the UK, we may miss out on Thanksgiving, one of the reasons for Black Friday, but we still love a bargain. Plus, the date, (24th November this year), comes close to the last pay day before Christmas and as such marks the beginning of the serious Christmas shopping period.

Because of this timing, Black Friday and its ‘younger sibling’ Cyber Monday would no doubt see peaks in sales even without the US influence. But fuelled by aggressive advertising and slashed prices, the concept does appear to have taken hold here. The figures speak for themselves; UK shoppers spent a record £5.8 billion over the four days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year – with online retailers taking around £2.8 billion of this – up 20 per cent from the past year.

It’s no wonder retailers are now building this buying surge into their plans. However, the surge turned into a tsunami for some big brands whose websites were swamped with activity and eventually went down. Last year it was Argos who suffered; in previous years John Lewis and Boots were among the victims. One national newspaper recently called the event a time of ‘commercial carnage’.

So how can retailers be sure that technical shortcomings don’t reduce anticipated sales? Those with physical stores obviously need to ensure stock levels can match demand. Even if a product is 50 per cent reduced, customers still expect 100 per cent availability. However, online retailers face a more substantial challenge – the durability of their website and backend supportive infrastructure.

In light of this, it’s certainly worth retailers speaking to their IT and cloud providers. For example, in the build-up to this year’s Black Friday, Pulsant has been proactively providing advice about scaling up cloud services platforms quickly to meet mounting demand. We’re known for getting to the real heart of our customers’ business needs, but we also need to take into account their existing infrastructure and scalability potential.

We use a combination of our own modelling tools, analytics and, of course our expertise, to find the best way to configure and optimise platforms for these peak periods. We also have a team of solution architects that can profile volumetric characteristics for this purpose.

We’re not just talking about Black Friday here, but we can help ensure stability for any major promotion or season that could cause sudden spikes of internet traffic and then scaling down after the event. Our service also includes comprehensive monitoring across multiple service operation centres to ensure that the right capacity is always there.

After all, Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, having been introduced only a few years ago by Amazon. So who knows what other ‘shopping events’ we might end up adopting in the future?

How about the not-so-traditional Chinese custom of Singles’ Day which took place a few weeks ago? It’s now such a big deal that Alibaba, the online marketplace giant, hired a Hollywood director to make a four-hour national television gala including Western stars such as Jessie J and Nicole Kidman to mark the event, putting the John Lewis and M&S Christmas adverts in their place.

The result was an amazing $25 billion spent in one day – a 40% rise on last year. However whether it was just records that were smashed – as opposed to websites – we’ve yet to discover.

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