Black Friday for Dummies: enjoy your Thanksgiving break by going shopping. Public holidays have long been marked by a bout of retail therapy, and retailers are geared up to take advantage of our behaviour. Black Friday is now a key pre-Christmas spike in terms of retail revenue; in 2014, a staggering $47bn changed hands over this period.
But what are you going to do if you’re unable to go shopping on the Friday of Thanksgiving, or can’t imagine anything worse than grappling with strangers on the shop floor for the sake of a few bargains? After all, aren’t we all online now?
Say hello to Cyber Monday –a solution for those unwilling or unable to actually go shopping. Retailers have forensically targeted this demographic, and Cyber Monday offers similar sales incentives to those who prefer to hunt their bargains virtually.
But… on a Monday? Why can we only shop online on a Monday?
Perhaps the rationale is that Thanksgiving includes the whole weekend and the beginning of the following week is the best place for the virtual version. Alternatively, perhaps the retailers anticipate most buyers will be back online once they get back to work and likely to prefer a virtual shopping trip to actual work. Either way, the choice of the Monday seems arbitrary.
That seems to have driven Wal-Mart to offer the same promotional campaigns via their websites this Sunday instead of waiting until Monday, as Reuters reported this week.
Their view, I assume, is that being online is a 24/7 existence. The logic is irrefutable even if an invisible truce has been forever broken. Because Wal-Mart’s behaviour will reset the template for the US internet retail industry, this week and into the future. And we already have a name for this new phenomenon. Yes, Cyber Sunday is here. Probably to stay.
Variable Consumer Demand
This isn’t setting any precedents in the UK. For a long time, the post-Christmas promotions in the UK have crept incrementally earlier and earlier. Many bargains are available way before Christmas.
It’s no secret that this promotional activity is ultimately designed to boost sales. These peaks and troughs in retail internet traffic underpins what analysts call Variable Consumer Demand.
There are other examples. They include major dates in the retail world – Christmas, Superbowl Sunday – and, to a lesser extent, the seasonal stock clearance exercises we call ‘the sales’. The elasticity of these sales and promotional periods that it becomes something of a challenge to remember a point when paying full price was an option.
IT Peaks and Troughs
Business has long coped with peaks and troughs, but extending the rollercoaster of demand in terms of web traffic creates significant challenges for IT – namely, supporting regular business demand while meeting high demand with the same infrastructure. To put that in context, ‘peak’ demand may exceed the ‘normal’ traffic demand by some distance.
Many large retailers have suffered catastrophic problems by simply failing to predict the demand; their IT systems simply collapsed under the weight of web traffic. Loss of service, as described in Renato Quedas’ recent blog, can impact organizations to the tune of $300,000 per hour.
You need to perform on the day
Establishing an online promotion without preparing the underlying IT infrastructure to cope with demand is at best a risky approach and a gamble that many cannot afford to lose. Keeping out of the headlines for the wrong reasons is, however, well within the retailers’ grasp. It is a question of assessing the potential risk and using contemporary technology to meet it.
The Silk Performer™ and Silk Performer CloudBurst™ products from Borland enable software quality teams to rapidly launch any size peak-load performance tests without the burden of managing complex infrastructures. The Borland white paper Testing Times for e-Commerce is available now.
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Wal-Mart has the confidence to expand their online promotion, and their actions will not go unnoticed by other retailers. Another period of peak consumer demand is upon us. See our Black Friday infographic and take a look at how smart organizations have tackled variable demand to ensure they grab their slice of the Thanksgiving pie.