How Retail IT can Address Challenges and Reach Big Data Potential This Shopping Season

Article Written by David Marshall

This year, the National Retail Federation projects that 137 million consumers will shop between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday. Retailers have stocked their shelves and warehouses and are already weathering the traffic storm that comes with this time of year. 

While the profit potential of the holiday season is the upside for retailers, there are many IT challenges related to successfully managing this increase in traffic - ensuring networks stay up, servers can handle demand and data is protected should something go wrong. In store and online, Black Friday sales are dependent on a sound IT infrastructure. On the flip side, Black Friday and Cyber Monday present many opportunities for retailers to capitalize on the massive amount of data collected at this time. To stay on top in the market, it's crucial for retailers to understand and leverage data analytics tools this season. 

How is retail IT preparing for this all important weekend? Here are a few idea from some top industry experts:  

"There is never a good time to discover your IT infrastructure is not resilient. But, Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be the worst days of the year for retailers to lose critical systems and find their core business is out of operation.  Forget the frustrated customers writing bad reviews online, the brand impact and the customers who won't return; think of the impact to your revenue," said Rob Strechay, VP of Product, Zerto.  "Retailers need to rigorously test their business continuity across applications ahead of the big days, as well as the underlying technology that supports IT resilience," Strechay continued. "You don't want the first time you have to try and recover in minutes for real to be in the heat of the shopping day!  Seconds count in online sales." 

"With holiday buying peaks over the next few weeks, IT teams in retail and e-commerce companies need to have a strong disaster recovery (DR) plan in place," says Chuck Dubuque, Vice President, Product and Solution Marketing, Tintri.  "A good DR plan should categorize applications according to their business criticality, have clearly defined recovery point objectives (RPO) for each, and should be tested multiple times before and during the buying season. This level of planning can help companies avoid lost revenue and customer experience problems associated with extended outages," he said. 

"Many retailers don't have IT staff onsite, which can be a big problem if there are network outages or loss of data for applications such as point-of-sale or e-commerce," said Patrick Brennan, senior product marketing manager at Atlantis Computing. "Retailers need an IT strategy that will ensure high performance during peak times on the sales floor or on the web, and fast recovery should issues arise. These issues are best solved if IT staff can manage their IT environment effectively from a central location or in the cloud, without physically going to hundreds or thousands of locations. Retailers who followed these steps will be more prepared to deal with heavy crowds and web traffic this holiday season as they will be worrying less about their IT infrastructure," Brennan concluded. 

"While the big focus every year around Black Friday and Cyber Monday has been on how companies can keep their websites and check-out counters up and running with the influx of shoppers, there is huge potential that many retailers struggle to take advantage of," said Jeff Evernham, Director of Consulting, North America at Sinequa. "That is understanding and analyzing the massive amount of data generated from customer purchasing and their habits. Often this goes unrealized because the disparate systems and diversity of data make it difficult to bring shopping and purchasing information together - to say nothing of incorporating unstructured data (such as that from social media sites) to gauge how shoppers are feeling and responding. Retailers that are able to unify their data and leverage cognitive search and analytics to gain insight will have a definite advantage to hit their revenue targets - by understanding their customers and tailoring their pricing, messaging, and campaigns for the remainder of the holiday shopping season," Evernham said. 

"Shoppers aren't the only people who are busy during the holidays. Data scientists are hard at work doing things like dynamic pricing and product promotion" said Mike Upchurch, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Fuzzy Logix. He continues, "buying patterns of shoppers will affect the content you see online and how it's priced.  Careful shoppers can play the game and get good deals, but for many, the work by data scientists could hand retailers a win by driving impulse buys and using low margin items as bait to drive high margin additional purchases."

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About the Author

David Marshall is an industry recognized virtualization and cloud computing expert, a seven time recipient of the VMware vExpert distinction, and has been heavily involved in the industry for the past 16 years.  To help solve industry challenges, he co-founded and helped start several successful virtualization software companies such as ProTier, Surgient, Hyper9 and Vertiscale. He also spent a few years transforming desktop virtualization while at Virtual Bridges.

David is also a co-author of two very popular server virtualization books: "Advanced Server Virtualization: VMware and Microsoft Platforms in the Virtual Data Center" and "VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center" and the Technical Editor on Wiley's "Virtualization for Dummies" and "VMware VI3 for Dummies" books.  David also authored countless articles for a number of well known technical magazines, including: InfoWorld, Virtual-Strategy and TechTarget.  In 2004, he founded the oldest independent virtualization and cloud computing news site, VMblog.com, which he still operates today.

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