Black Friday/Cyber Monday: How technology can offer retailers a helping hand

Black Friday/Cyber Monday: How technology can offer retailers a helping hand

For years now, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have reigned supreme as the biggest shopping days of the year and they’re only getting bigger. Nowadays, ‘Black Friday/Cyber Monday’ encompasses the majority of the latter half of November, with corporate giants celebrating the event for weeks before the actual day. For retailers, this boom in sales can pose a logistical challenge, especially as so much of our trade has moved online. So how can we use technology to make the most of this busy shopping period?

This year, Intelligent CXO spoke to 10 industry experts to gain their knowledge and advice on what businesses should be doing to bolster their offerings and avoid looming online threats this Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Avoiding the overload

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be incredibly chaotic for even the most prepared retailers websites crash, stocks run out and customers can get frustrated. “This year promises to pose an even greater challenge with an inconsistent supply chain and labour shortages,” said Rob Shaw, Managing Director EMEA at Fluent Commerce. “To add to the pressure, recent research from Fluent Commerce revealed that 42% of people in the UK plan to start their Christmas shopping by Black Friday this year.”

Jeff Keyes, VP of Product Marketing & Strategy at Plutora, added: “Retailers should control their updates to key systems on and around the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend to prevent downtime. They need to be confident that production software will remain stable and up and running without any updates needing to be pushed out. Equally, it’s also vital to ensure there is an immediate response for any hot fixes that are required for any issues that do crop up.”

Adding to this, Hugh Scantlebury, Founder and CEO of Aqilla, explained: “​​Santa has it easy and just calls up more of his elves, but for the rest of us, coping with this anticipated demand increase requires a flexible and scalable IT infrastructure and supply chain, order fulfilment and accounting solutions all need to be up to the job. Automation of key processes at each stage is absolutely critical if retailers want to keep systems running efficiently and reduce the likelihood of human error and to ensure everyone who wants one can grab an end-of-year seasonal bargain.”

Staying cyber secure

It’s important for businesses to remember that even in the festivities of the day, there will always be those looking to take advantage. Chris Rogers, Technology Evangelist at Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, highlighted: “Given the retail industry was reported as the second industry most attacked by ransomware this year, retailers must have a laser focus on security in their preparations for Black Friday. A ransomware attack on the day could be catastrophic.

“To avoid this, retailers need to shift to a more pragmatic and strategic security approach that aims to ensure the organisation can recover fast from a cybersecurity event and get back to business as usual with zero data loss. Once you’ve been compromised, prevention is no longer a viable protection strategy. By implementing tools that deliver Disaster Recovery and continuous data protection (CDP), IT teams effectively regain control of their destiny and can’t be held to ransom by external threat actors that are intent on disruption or extortion.”

Ransomware is not the only form of cyber breach companies should be wary of, fraud is an incredibly prolific form of attack. “With most by now, pay later (BNPL) offering only soft credit checks as part of the onboarding process, criminals can use false or stolen identities to purchase goods they have no intention of paying for and will no doubt sell on the black market,” stated Martin Rehak, CEO of Resistant AI.

Changing technology

Ransomware and fraud are not the only things companies have to contend with this Black Friday. Ever-changing technology, combined with increasing customer demands can make it difficult for any retailer to keep up to speed. Lex Boost, CEO of Leaseweb explained: “Evolving technology has blurred the lines between physical and digital shopping for consumers. Thanks to robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and virtual and augmented reality, retailers can bring an enhanced experience through the options of ‘fitting rooms,’ personalised digital displays, customer face recognition, instant payment and more to the palm of someone’s hand.

“The one downside to the enhancements in technology is the pressure on the retailer to meet the customers’ expectations particularly during the influx of traffic caused by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Organisations must ensure that their infrastructure is built for speed, security and reliability as to not disrupt the customer experience.”

Retailers should not be afraid to use the latest technology to their advantage. Implementing things like comprehensive cloud hosting solutions and APIs can prove invaluable, not only over the shopping period. Joel Reid, UK&I VP/General Manager at Axway stated: “In an age where consumer demand and expectations are higher than ever, this Black Friday retailers must innovate and adapt quickly and efficiently. Many are using APIs to achieve this. In fact, a recent report from Google found 52% of retailers are already using APIs to accelerate innovation.”

Contending with customer demands

The introduction of new technologies and online shopping has forever changed the retail market and what consumers expect from their retailers. “Internet shopping may be booming, but expanding retail operations online as part of a 24×7 omnichannel offering isn’t without its challenges,” Chris Wilson, Industry Director – Retail at Six Degrees, highlighted. “Today’s retailers are operating in a market where consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, increasingly sure of what they want and increasingly demanding of anyone they purchase from.

“User experience is everything. Your website’s uptime, performance and security are essential elements of the user experience you deliver.”

“The way brands and consumers interact has fundamentally changed,” agreed Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “Part and parcel of this ongoing shift is the need for businesses to prioritise their customer engagement strategy – ensuring they are able to meet changing consumer demands. Utilising an omnichannel engagement strategy allows retailers to deliver to shoppers’ preferred channels of interaction. Most importantly, implementing a cloud solution with AI-driven intelligent automation allows retailers to scale resources in line with changes in demand. This provides vital support for retailers during peak periods where every interaction and transaction counts.”

Staying staffed up

Of course, with all the new innovations in technology, it’s easy to forget the bread and butter of Black Friday the high street retailers and they are facing their own problems this year. Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal explained: “With stores open again for Black Friday this year, retailers face a huge challenge optimising their staffing levels. The so-called ‘great resignation’ has made this more difficult, with job vacancies at an all-time high. When you consider that retailers are already managing a disruptive HGV driver shortage and an IT skills deficit, additional resourcing challenges over the upcoming holiday period are nothing short of a logistical nightmare.

“HR teams need crystal clear visibility over which employees will be available in advance to ensure they have the optimal number scheduled for the busy period. The ability to analyse critical employee data, particularly around skills and experience levels, is also crucial for advanced scheduling, allowing HR to guarantee that staff with the right skills are in the correct place at all times.”

He concluded: “Getting Black Friday right this year will mean being prepared in advance: making sure staff have the most suitable facilities whether they’re working remotely or on the shop floor and that workforce management programs are up to date.”

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