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23 Dec

Online Holiday Shoppers Deliver Website Woes for IT Pros: Here are 3 Things We Can Learn

Online Shopping Checkout Screen

Online shopping during the holiday season hit record highs this year, with Cyber Monday alone bringing in a record $2.68 billion in sales, up 17 percent from last year. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, boasted that Cyber Monday was the single biggest sales day for online orders in the history of the company.

As virtual shelves empty faster than ever before, the heavy volumes of digital traffic are also taking a toll on a company’s most valuable asset: the customer experience.

Take for consideration that Best Buy, Neiman Marcus, GameStop, and Tesco have all experienced outages of various lengths this season, and that’s just including the e-commerce landscape. Based on a recent UN report, there are still four billion people on the planet—about 60 percent—without internet access, , and as more people come online, no organization or industry will be immune to increasing e-traffic.

The good news is today’s e-retailers are investing in better, more secure and user-friendly websites. However, it’s difficult to mimic Cyber-Monday type traffic and test these new technology stacks. As a result, sites are running out of capacity in ways e-retailers didn’t anticipate. And as the complexity of today’s online shopping experience continues to grow behind seemingly standard web fronts, we are bound to see even more failure.

So what can we learn as IT professionals and purveyors of network innovation from these most recent outages? Here are three things I believe we can take away from this year’s holiday shopping season:

1. Visibility, Something Everyone Must Look At and Trust, is Key

Even if an online retailer survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, their website’s network infrastructure might have a blind spot waiting to trip up the final shopping sprint to Christmas. And while we may not see Black Friday-esque spikes, cyber shoppers are still looking for the best online deals, browsing more frequently, which is just as impactful on a site’s network. As a result, hot spots in an organization’s infrastructure must be identified. To do this, it’s important to start at the highest level of network infrastructure and work your way down. Are there issues that need attention with the firewalls, databases, web servers or the networking that connects upstream network providers? Next, look at top layer applications, including identification, web or database applications. Ask yourself: what can I gain more visibility into and do I have a clear understanding and institutionalized way of viewing data that accurately reflects the overall health of my network? By gaining broader visibility into your technology.

2. Capacity and Transparency on Demand Can Make or Break You

As e-retailers create and engineer new shopping applications, they need to think of them as living on any number of machines instead of one single machine. When you tap into this mindset of additional capacity, you can open up the real power of the cloud and have hundreds of machines working seamlessly together to provide an exceptional and seamless customer experience,. In a way, your technology should work together to maximize capacity. At the same time, transparency into how these machines are operating together on a real time basis can help prevent and predict outages like the one’s we’ve seen this holiday season. The challenge is bringing developers “out of the code” as they are so used to optimizing their programs that they sometimes forget about real world challenges with hardware.

3. Streamline Your Mobile Applications to Provide a Consistent Customer Experience

Mobile sales are accounting for a record amount of online shopping this year. The networks don’t typically have a problem handling the increased mobile traffic, since shopping is minimal compared to other everyday use of mobile devices. However, as BYOD (bring-your-own device) and mobile adoption continues to rise, it’s important to design applications in a responsive fashion that guarantees a seamless experience that’s device agnostic. This has been a huge challenge for many companies, and can lead to slow networks, disruptive customer experiences or oversights in the technology that could result in data breaches. Finally, it’s important to remember that third-party sites and vendors, especially in the case of online shopping, often refer traffic and ultimately impacts your network and customer experience.

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