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Nov 14, 2018 | 3 minute read

Is your commerce system vulnerable to meltdown on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? (UPDATED)

written by Harry Chemko

Last year’s holiday shopping season was another record-breaker. Adobe reported that the 2017 holiday ecommerce revenue climbed to $108.2 billion, beating what was previously forecasted by $1 billion. On Black Friday alone, a record $5 billion was reported in sales.

Unfortunately, like the year prior, not all brands and retailers were ready for the surge in traffic.

Calvin Klein, Ted Baker, Macy’s, and Lowe’s, all experienced online technical issues. Websites lagged or crashed. Some customers couldn’t even log on. Others had a cart full of items that they couldn’t pay for, some even saw their items disappear and replaced by someone else’s selections. Many frustrated netizens took their complaints to social media, but for every person who bothered to tweet, dozens more simply took their money elsewhere.

Readying for the flurry

According to the Forrester 2018 Holiday Outlook Report, online retail sales will increase this year by 14% and companies have worked hard over the past year to optimize every part of the shopping journey to win, serve, and retain customers during this often make-or-break shopping season.

Raw computing power has become commoditized to the point where there is little benefit in owning and running infrastructure to handle super high traffic on just a few days of the year. For companies that experience highly variable computing loads, the cost of maintaining on-premise servers just to cover those high load days, is senseless. Retailers are preparing for Black Friday surges in ecommerce system traffic with demand-based computing clouds like Amazon Web Services (AWS) that provide unlimited dynamic scaling. Computer capacity is adjusted according to demand, protecting both customer experience and costs since companies don’t pay for servers sitting idle in low season.

Companies using clouds like AWS to run their critical commerce infrastructure are also buying the expertise of the world’s top technology infrastructure platform experts. They’ll ensure new technology innovations are implemented as they arise.

The blurry season

Not only are total sales going to increase, but lines between physical and digital experiences continue to blur, putting more pressure on underlying commerce systems. Even brick-and-mortar shoppers use their mobile to check reviews or compare prices. Many retailers also use mobile presence technologies in-store. These customer tracking systems can provide contextual information to a commerce system that can then offer discounts via SMS or an app as people browse. Some stores have cut down lines by giving staff mobile point of sale devices.

All these technologies depend on reliable and scalable bandwidth in store as well as a commerce system that can handle digital and physical store purchase surges. With a unified transactional layer for online and in-store purchases, shoppers experience consistent products, pricing and promotions regardless of sales channel. Combine this with the power of AWS and the entire commerce infrastructure can easily scale as demand skyrockets. Checkout line clogging up? Add more mobile checkouts help line bust. Don’t have the right item in store? Let customers purchase anyway and ship it directly to their house. The flexibility that a unified commerce layer provides customers allows your company to solve the bottleneck problems that might sour their experience with your brand.

As commerce becomes more and more connected throughout the customer journey whether digital or physical, all transactions will go through a central system. Commerce systems running on a platform that offers guaranteed dynamic scalability will ultimately win out because they will be able to keep up with the unpredictable peaks of the holiday rush.