Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving. It is, in effect, the equivalent of the UK ‘Boxing Day sale’ where we traditionally all look for a bargain and retailers clear their Christmas stocks.
2014 Black Friday achieved substantial press coverage. And none of it was good. There were some shocking scenes on the British high street with customers literally fighting over what appeared to be the bargain of the year.
It's difficult to know how successful a marketing campaign is going to be. With capacity on the high street fixed, dealing with a sudden influx of customers is a logistical nightmare and requires some very strict safety measures. Customers get frustrated, but understand why they might need to wait in line or come back later.
But the biggest mistake by the biggest retailers was not to be prepared for the online frenzy. Key names such as John Lewis, Tesco and Argos all had issues during Black Friday when they hit peak user volumes.
It got so bad on some sites that a 'Please Wait' splash screen had to be added. Currys even had a 13 minute wait on their website at one stage. 13 minutes! On an online store. Crazy!
With so many online distractions it's difficult enough for retailers to keep our attention when service is good. We aren't used to waiting, and don't understand why we have to. A few seconds wait at checkout is all that is needed for many customers to abandon their cart. Displaying a request to wait in line before even starting the online shopping experience is commercial suicide.
So if the retailers created the buzz, why weren't they prepared for the volume?
It all comes down to existing IT infrastructure and its limitations. Retailers will have a capacity plan and infrastructure to support it. But dedicated hardware is expensive, complex and slow to deploy.
The platform can't cope with a mass influx of customers and to mitigate risk the only answer is to limit customer numbers – as you would do on the high street.
Can cloud computing help?
We are hearing a lot about cloud computing. It allows organisations to remove reliance on dedicated fixed capacity IT infrastructure and all the associated overheads.
However, many larger retailers say they are not ready to fully embrace cloud services: Too many unknowns; it's not the way we do things; there are years still to run on an our outsource contract. But the speed at which cloud computing has matured means that using its flexibility for your online presence is now the only choice. For example, an 'Elastic Cloud' service with unlimited capacity on standby means you never have to worry about high volumes again. The alternative is to have stacks of IT hardware sitting gathering dust just in case it is needed – and when it is, will it still work? That's just not practical or cost effective.
Listen to the warning signs and move your online channels to the cloud. There has never been a better business case than the events of this year's Black Friday.