BASKING RIDGE, N.J. - If you think the holiday season starts earlier and earlier for consumers, you're right. That's why smart online retailers are already planning and preparing for this year's seasonal e-commerce crunch.
This year, more shoppers than ever are expected to go online to do their holiday gift buying. According to industry sources, online holiday shopping sales exceeded $29 billion in 2007, a jump of 19 percent over the previous year.
September and October are critical months for online retailers to check their list of preparations. With that in mind, Verizon Business offers e-retailers six key information technology (IT) tips to help make the most of the busiest time of the year:
- Figure out what makes your Web site tick. All retailers have underlying business processes, such as purchasing, that enable their online business. Retailers should carefully evaluate the e-commerce sections of their Web sites to identify essential business processes - for instance, "add product to cart" and "checkout." Then, the retailer's IT team should determine which IT components, such as servers and applications, support the processes and make sure the right capacity is in place.
- Fix it or back it up. Retailers should review their IT architecture, looking specifically for any places where e-commerce business processes are not redundant. If the IT team discovers a lack of redundancy in the critical online-buying process, it should develop a backup plan that outlines what to do if that application fails. Round-the-clock monitoring and management is also key to quickly isolating and fixing problems. Retailers may want to consider relying on a third-party provider to host and manage their Web site. The goal is to avoid the worst-case scenario - an application crash that brings down the Web site.
- Plan, plan, plan. Using historical information as well as online shopping projections, the business can estimate the number of users expected to visit its Web site. The IT team can then determine what's required to maintain consistent, reliable uptime. If capacity limitations are identified during planning, the e-retailer should bring in extra support (which may take the form of additional staff, servers or memory, among other things) to meet its anticipated increase in traffic volume.
- Put it on the calendar. Retailers should create a business-impact calendar to show where Web site availability is crucial and high-volume Web traffic is anticipated. The day after Thanksgiving, the first weekend in December and the last shipping date before Christmas should be on the calendar. It is also important that the IT team knows when promotions, coupons or new product launches are scheduled. Above and beyond the typical holiday traffic spikes, promotional events can cause significant surges in online activity. As these spikes can bog down a Web site, additional measures such as load balancing may be needed.
- Go into lockdown! Most retailers institute a holiday change freeze that restricts or denies changes to their IT systems and applications. Retailers should institute this freeze in early November. One change in a single application can cause a ripple effect across the larger infrastructure. The risk here can far outweigh the benefit.
- Last but not least, make it safe. Hackers frequently target retailers, looking to capitalize on the wealth of consumer- and identity-related information that retailers store. Retailers should make sure to protect legacy applications, as well as sensitive data stored in log files. In addition to having the appropriate detection tools in place, retailers should ensure that security logs are closely monitored round-the clock, 365 days a year. Maintaining compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of comprehensive requirements for enhancing payment account data security, should also be at the top of the list.
With industry sources estimating that holiday sales can account for up to 50 percent of a company's annual sales, a profitable holiday season is a business imperative for retailers. By embracing the tips above and getting a head start, retailers with online stores are well on their way to a happy - and successful - holiday season.
Verizon Business provides a wealth of IT and hosting solutions that empower retail customers around the world, serving as a true extension of their IT organizations and delivering secure, stable and reliable technology infrastructures. The company's IT and hosting solutions deliver complete, end-to-end, integrated IT and network solutions. Services include Data Center Colocation, Remote Backup and Restore, Hosted Messaging and Instant Messaging, IT Service Desk, Akamai Services, IP Application Hosting, and Remote IP Application Management. More information is available by visiting http://www.verizonbusiness.com/us/itsolutions.
About Verizon Business
Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), operates the world's most connected public IP network and uses its industry-leading global-network capabilities to offer large-business and government customers an unmatched combination of security, reliability and speed. The company integrates advanced IP communications and information technology (IT) products and services to deliver leading enterprise solutions including managed services, security, mobility, collaboration and professional services. These solutions power innovation and enable the company's customers to do business better. For more information, visit www.verizonbusiness.com.