For American students, summer is (sadly) winding down and back-to-school activities are just around the corner.
As anyone who works in retail knows, this is a huge time of year for shopping, second only to the Christmas holiday. Families of school-age children are expected to spend an average of $674 this fall on new clothes, sneakers, electronics and school supplies, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). And most shoppers are hitting the stores now – one to three weeks before the school bell rings for the 2016-17 year.
For retailers, this time of year means customer volume, increased transactions and an influx of seasonal employees. It should also be a time to evaluate systems and prepare for the seasonal peaks to come with the fast-approaching winter holidays.
Elevated traffic often elevates risks for retail businesses, especially when it comes to cyber threats. And if the potential of a data breach isn’t worry enough, retailers must also stress about accommodating today’s omnichannel shoppers who expect a strong customer experience in store and online. They’re mere clicks away, after all, from purchasing from a competitor.
I would like to talk about three ways retailers can prepare for periods of high demand:
- Be responsive
- Be elastic
- Be secure
Responsiveness relates to customer experience and ensuring a fast, smooth and easy-to-use e-commerce system regardless of volume. Test, test and test again, I like to say, and be sure to examine the entire IT architecture, including applications, data, networking and cloud platforms.
Look deep for performance issues; they can hide within interoperating systems. And don’t forget third-party systems. They could prove to be the weakest link in your e-commerce chain.
Elasticity deals with scalability – how do your systems cope with the customer rush? I recommend you design software to scale by placing workloads on systems that can be grown quickly. You’ll also want to ensure network bandwidth scalability. I’ll put a plug in for the cloud (private, public or hybrid) to do both of these important tasks.
Security covers the realm of data breaches, something no retailer wants to deal with, especially in times of high-volume. Unfortunately, when you’re working at your peak, cyber attackers are working at theirs too. My best advice is to guard the last mile – the payment transaction – where the majority of data breaches occur and take a holistic approach to security that includes fraud detection and best practices.
You’ll also want to audit early and often to ensure that vital data is encrypted, and make sure all IT systems have the latest security patches and fixes.
We have a great point-of-view (available for download) that digs deeper into the issue of seasonal peaks and how to prepare. I recommend you check it out for a more in-depth look at the advice I’ve outlined here.
And in the meanwhile, good luck in the busy weeks ahead. Hopefully a little prep now will help your business avoid any back-to-school blues and get you ready for happy holidays ahead.
Mike Deittrick is Global CTO of Retail and Consumer Industries for CSC.