From The Editor | November 20, 2012

Cyber Monday 2012 — Minimize Downtime To Maximize Profits

Bob Johns, associate editor

By Bob Johns, associate editor

Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, has quickly become the largest e-commerce day of the year, increasing 18% last year according to IBM Smarter Commerce. The massive adoption of mobile devices that have Internet access should make this Cyber Monday bigger than ever. In 2011, Cyber Monday created over $1.2 billion in retail sales, but with so much money at risk, why do we continue to hear about retailers that are unprepared for the customer volume or were open to a cyber attack?

Here is a short list of some of the retailers that experienced crashes last year on Cyber Monday or Black Friday: Brookstone, Crutchfield, PC Mall, Toys ‘R’ Us, Urban Outfitters, Crate & Barrel, Nordstrom, Barnes and Noble, and Walmart. This does not even include the monumental failures Target experienced from the launch of the Missoni line in September 2011 all the way through the holiday season. We do not know if these were all related to volume or if they were the result of cyber attacks, but the sheer number of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks has spiked considerably over the past few years, with Prolexic, a leading DDoS protection and mitigation company, noting an 88% year-over-year increase in attacks in the third quarter of 2012. Banks and retailers have been the primary targets of these attacks, and the down time costs them money by the minute, not to mention the damage to their reputations. In the ultra-competitive world of retail, any down time opens the door for the customer to move on to another retailer, potentially costing the company a customer for life.

DDoS attacks overwhelm websites with data, causing a complete crash or significant slowdown. This can also be used to mask the theft of customer data, including credit and personal information. As I mentioned in an earlier article on DDoS, the real damage comes to a retailer’s reputation. Imagine the impact if a retailer has a massive data breach around Black Friday. This is a time when retailers can make between 20% and 40% of their annual sales. Lose that, and the year is shot.

Here are some tips on how retailers can minimize downtime and not miss out on the growing e-commerce market. The first is to make sure the site can handle traffic volume. Choosing a reliable, stable platform that is scalable is essential. E-commerce has nearly doubled in the last five years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and it is expected to double again over the next three to four years. Being able to handle this type of growth will be crucial to the survival of the retailer. Your current platform may not be able to handle the anticipated growth. The thing to remember is that with this type of growth, there is a corresponding increase of general traffic volume. More people surfing, checking out the products, abandoning carts, signing up for rewards, and the numerous other things that require data to be kept. Handle the data properly, and you can handle the customer properly.

You also need to review the security of your website.  This has multiple levels. First, you want to have a secure environment for the final transaction. Second, you need to restrict access to all company and customer data. And third, you need to prevent and survive attacks. Whether or not your current e-commerce solutions provider can do all three is the question. This is where retailers must perform their due diligence. There are solutions providers that may do one or two things really well, like DDoS prevention, transaction security and PCI compliance, or data security, and that may be who to choose for those applications. You may end up with multiple solutions providers, but the data security and smooth operation of the website are the main concerns.

Providing great customer service online requires that the retailer meet the expectations of the customer — provide me with the information I want, keep my personal and credit information secure after checkout, let me choose how to receive the merchandise, don’t make me wait for pages to load or kick me off the site. The holidays have just begun, here’s to a successful, profitable, error-free cyber-shopping season!