Gabriela Gavrailova

// Product Marketing Associate for Devs

More and more customers prefer online shopping to grab the best deal on Black Friday. It is so much easier to get your Christmas shopping over and done with without even leaving your home. But what does this mean for eCommerce websites? It’s simple – you need to prepare for a huge amount of traffic on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To be ready for it, you will need a stable infrastructure. We’ll show you why.

Why preparing your infrastructure for Black Friday is important?

Holidays are approaching and this is the most wonderful time of the year, right? This means that you need to start thinking about all the presents you need to get for all your loved ones. And what better time to get them but Black Friday? For all sellers, this is one of the busiest times of the year, too.

More and more shoppers are eager to participate in Black Friday shopping. The traffic you might experience can be bigger than the traffic you experience day to day, so you need to be ready. We don’t want you to lose customers simply because your site is not ready for them. No business – big or small – should forget to prepare for those big sale days.

Over the last few years, a lot of big brands, including Walmart, J. Crew, Lowe’s and GAME, lost a lot of money and damaged their customers’ trust because they weren’t completely ready for Black Friday. It is not only important to focus on stock and offers, but also how you can support all the shoppers that are going to come to you.

Your platform needs to be suitably powerful. It needs to be able to process extreme peak loads and avoid costly and embarrassing website crashes throughout the lead up to Christmas. In some cases, this can mean quickly expanding your infrastructure or just preparing all your resources for use on this day.

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Getting ready for Black Friday: Operating with a stable infrastructure

Having a stable infrastructure means that you have the capability to rebound from catastrophic failure as quickly as possible, that there is no automatic restart planned for this day, and making sure there are enough resources available. If you focus on these three things, you should be in a pretty good place in terms of your uptime.

To be prepared means that your infrastructure will be ready to handle a lot of traffic, without you having to worry about it during Black Friday. Depending on whether you use your own homebuilt solution or procured infrastructure, you’ll need to consider some of the risks and actions to ensure optimal functioning throught the day.

Homebuilt infrastructure

If you are using a homebuilt infrastructure, it means that you will have to prepare well in advance for Black Friday. It is true that sometimes having your own infra is cheaper, but it can be more time consuming because you are the one having to take care of every aspect of that infrastructure.

As any solution does, this one has its own pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros:

  • Everything is in your hands – you can decide what should be done and how.
  • You can make as many tests as you want and analyze the results by yourself so you can implement the best solution.
  • You have access to the servers and all data that is stored on them. You can also be sure that the data is safe and no one can access it.

And now for the cons:

  • That everything is in your hands is as much a positive attribute as a negative one because, if anything happens, you need to be the one to react and save the day (literally).
  • As we mentioned, you need to think about everything well in advance because most of the time you will have to add more hardware to expand your infra.
  • You need constant monitoring so you don’t miss anything, particularly on high peak days.
  • You will need a real superhero to take care of your infrastructure, and even if you find them, you need to be sure that you can trust them to be there 100% of the time to intervene, maintain, repair, and manage your servers.
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  • In most cases, your infrastructure is built to handle your usual daily needs, possibly a bit more than that. which means you might need to get additional resources to handle the increased traffic just for Black Friday. To have an agile infrastructure on-premises is not always cheaper than having your infrastructure outsourced to a third-party.

Cloud-based infrastructure

It is true that one of the quickest ways for retailers to deal with any amount of high traffic is to use on-demand cloud-based infrastructure. But what exactly are the pros and cons of choosing a cloud solution?

Let’s look at the pros:

  • Cloud providers are responsible for all aspects of cloud server management and they are guaranteeing you an uptime, that they need to maintain.
  • You don’t need to think about anything hardware related – your provider will take care of it. This is just the first thing that the cloud infra is taking off of your plate.
  • Flexibility and scalability are entirely customizable. They are also the two things that will be most beneficial for you on Black Friday. You can request more resources or even use auto-scalability features if your provider offers those for peak moments like Black Friday. Pay a bit more for that period only and then just give it up and go back to your regular capacity.
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  • You have far more than one person constantly monitoring the infra performance to intervene in case of an email emergency.

But what about the cons?

  • Cloud infrastructure includes all the essential components such as virtual servers, PCs, and storage clusters, but you don’t have any access or control over it.
  • You won’t have direct access to the physical location in which your data is stored, so you will have to trust your provider is doing everything they can to keep your data secured.
  • There is always a risk of occasional downtime while you wait for a problem to be resolved, but you will know that there is a strong team of IT specialist working to fix everything for you in a matter of minutes.

Tips to prepare for Black Friday spikes

Every seller’s situation is unique, therefore there is no one solution that will work perfectly for everybody. We are going to mention only a few tips that we think should be taken into consideration while you are planning for Black Friday.

Remember: it’s always good to plan in advance so you can make any adjustments well before the big day.

Plan enough elasticity for your site

A lot of customers are making their purchases online because it is easier for them. This way they can avoid the big lines in the store.

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That means that, as a seller, you should expect more web traffic during key shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To make sure you won’t lose customers and lose money in any unplanned downtime or lag, you need to stress-test your infrastructure well in advance. This way you will know the limit of your system and know that you can handle the amount of traffic you expect.

But how will you know how much traffic to expect? You can use machine learning to forecast demands – when you see that your volume is gradually increasing on this day, you can use the machine learning algorithms to calculate what resources you might need and request them from your cloud provider.

You need to check with your network provider that you can have a bigger amount of bandwidth for when a large number of customers attempt to enter and use your site at the same time. Most of the customers spend no more than 15 seconds evaluating your site and deciding if they want to stay or leave. So you need to make sure that they can open everything fast and without any issues.

A lot of brands are relying more and more on cloud solutions like Google Cloud. For example, Lush decided that Google Cloud can help them better manage any site traffic climbs, storage solutions and preventing any outages. And even more – they saved 40% of the price of their hosting solution after the migration. It might be worth it for you to take some time to learn more about the cloud infrastructure option and see if this is a good solution for you.

Don’t forget about security

As much as we hate them, hackers are always present and most of the times, no matter how much we hate to admit it, they are really smart people.

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Hackers know that you will experience a large influx of traffic and that these days are critical for your financial welfare. So what if a hacker doesn’t like you or your brand? He can try to ruin your best sale days. To avoid this, you need to have an infrastructure that it is not only stable, but also secure.

Let’s look at the different threats you could face during this period:

  • Orchestrated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks is a high risk during peak traffic periods because the work of the hacker is made easier with the already increased traffic you are expecting.
  • Since you are going to receive a lot of online payments during days like Black Friday, you need to make sure that the data of your clients is secured and no one can get to it without you knowing. GDPR and your customers will hunt you down if you ever allow this. Here as well, stress tests would be a perfect way to test your infrastructure for different types of attacks and see if everything will go smoothly.
  • Phishing scams during holidays like Black Friday is another type of attack that shouldn’t be neglected. Hackers send messages relating to payment, order confirmations, and coupons that contain malicious links. Will this is something that can’t be prevented, it’s important to educate your employees and, if possible, your customers that they should not trust those emails and how to recognize them.

 

Improve the use of your site on mobile

A lot of consumers are only using their phones to make purchases. We get it: it’s easy! You can be anywhere, pick up your phone, and get presents for the whole family.

You need to be sure that your site loads on mobile as fast as it does on a computer, or that your app for mobile is up-to-date and can handle all the visits. So you need to be sure that you are using a solution (either cloud-based or in-house) that can deliver content across globally distributed points of presence.

Make payment and return options easier

Both the payment process and the payment success rates are crucial to your profit on Black Friday.

Don’t forget to include popular payment methods like PayPal and ease the procedure for all of your customers. Don’t forget that you will have to probably take care of thousands of payments on such peak days, so you need to be sure that your infrastructure can handle it and you have enough bandwidth to execute all those payments without a delay.

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Another pain point is the return options – yes, this is not something that will happen immediately on Black Friday, but it is still worth mentioning it. It is good to have an easy return policy for customers that bought items online and give them the chance to return the items in person in the nearest store.

Also, having data analytics combined with machine learning enables you to understand why returns happen and learn to make better product recommendations in the first place.

Ensure all your emails are sent

Can we make this one BIG and FLASHY? Emails are a key element in your sales activity around Black Friday, and you’ll need to pay special attention to what happens both on the days before, and during the actual day.

Of course, you’ll already have sent the biggest part of your marketing campaigns to tell your customers about all the discounts that you are going to offer, but it is never a bad thing to remind them again. But sending a newsletter on Black Friday is not an easy thing because your customers’ mailboxes will be overflowing with emails.

There are two things you’ll need to plan for and pay special attention to:

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Black Friday marketing campaigns

On the marketing side, something that you need to consider is that there should be constant monitoring of your deliverability. There are a lot of emails to be sent and the ISPs can react badly.

Most of the ISPs adapt their policies during such high peak seasons too, and they know that the volumes will be higher (yes, they are preparing their infras as well). However, they are heightening their anti-spam and security policies. Because of that, if you don’t have your own compliance or deliverability team to monitor your reputation as a sender, it might be better to consider outsourcing your emailing infrastructure.

Transactional emails on Black Friday

Now your customers know that you are offering amazing discounts for Black Friday and they’ve decided to stop by your site to buy something. They see a nice K-Pop Funko they like (no judging!), press ‘Buy’ and it’s done. It is time for the transactional email to shine.

Of course, you can create a beautiful one, but what if it never arrives to your customer’s mailbox? This is something you never want to even hear about, and specially not on a day like Black Friday.

The most important thing is to be ready to handle a lot of transactional emails on that day. Transactional emails include new accounts to password resets too, and if those emails are not delivered on time, it will mean that you are losing a customer. No one will want to wait for hours for an email to arrive so they can give you their money.

Then we’ve got order confirmations and delivery notices, and there’s hopefully going to be a lot of those during Black Friday, more than on any regular day! On Black Friday, every buyer will be eager to receive this confirmation in minutes, or sooner, to be sure that everything went well and their purchase will be delivered. If those emails are not delivered you may see a lot of customers asking you on Twitter, chats or even by phone.

Having a tool that helps you monitor your transactional emails and alerts you if something goes wrong can be great for days like Black Friday (or any day, really). At Mailjet, we wrote about how our tool Real-Time Monitoring can help you do just that during Black Friday.

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Your email infrastructure will need to be ready for the increased email volume too, and to do so, you’ll need to look at the sending speed and scalability. On days that you are expecting to send high volumes – no matter if they are the last marketing reminders for the sales or transactional emails that need to be sent on time – your email infrastructure should be ready too. Again, things can be a little different if you have a homebuilt email infrastructure or work with a third party solution.

Having your email infrastructure in-house is not so different than having any kind of homebuilt infra – you need hardware, configuration, monitoring and maintenance ready. When you need to send more emails you will have to adapt to all this and invest more money to meet higher email demands. So this can be more expensive than just outsourcing your email solution to an ESP.

By having your email infrastructure outsourced you can just get a bit higher subscription for such high sending peaks, but still be sure that someone is taking care of your deliverability and will be there to help you in case of need.

At Mailjet, we work hard to ensure email is not one thing you have to worry about during Black Friday. Your emailing is something that we can help you with by delivering your email on time and to the customer’s inbox.

If you’re not sure whether you should choose a homebuilt or outsourced email infrastructure, check our Email Infrastructure Guide and find what is best for you and your business.

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Monitor your infrastructure’s performance during the day

You can plan for almost anything, but customers can always surprise you. Imagine that your biggest competitor didn’t plan for Black Friday and experiences some issues – then all of their customers will come directly to you. This means that the traffic you are going to experience will be even bigger than what you expected.

This is why you need to keep an eye on your infrastructure during the Black Friday and Cyber Week sales. You will know if there is something you need to improve immediately or implement a hotfix. You need to be prepared to react fast to keep things going smoothly and not allow any downtimes or crashes.

The best advice we can give you is to stay agile and resilient at the same time, don’t make your system so tight that it breaks easily. Allow yourself some flexibility – plan for even more than what you expect and remain diligent.

The work is not over after Black Friday

Let’s say that all the extravaganza of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is over. Now it is important to check all the information you have gathered and analyze it. This will not only help you make improvements for next year, but will also be key to ensure the Christmas season just around the corner runs smoothly.

A great tip? Check the news for any known crashes or issues with famous brands. Most of the time there is information on why this happened and you can learn a lesson without experiencing it on your own back.

There are many more scenarios we could talk about but, we’ve covered the most important to help you get ready. Think about your business and what makes the most sense for you to focus on to achieve the maximum results.

Trust us when we say that it all comes down to having a stable infrastructure and planning ahead. If you are sure you’ve got that covered and you are ready to provide the best customer experience possible across all customer touchpoints, all that remains for you is to be jolly.

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