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GUEST COMMENT Six IT Capabilities Internet retailers must have this holiday season

Six ways to get ready for peak – get your mobile ready

Internet retailers live or die based on how well they can engage customers between Halloween and New Year’s Day, a roughly 60-day period that determines whether these companies will be able to survive and thrive for another year.

Last year, shoppers spent a record-breaking US$5 billion online on Black Friday; US$2 billion of that was spent through mobile devices. Even more staggering, Cyber Monday saw US$6.59 billion in sales, making it the largest U.S. online shopping day in history.

The Golden Rule for technologists in Internet retail? Don’t break anything. Lock the application down from November to January. Don’t risk making changes, inadvertently breaking the commerce flow.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Smart platforms and automation, coupled with resilient processes, can make commerce operations truly agile. And the agile retailer, the one that can react to the market before competitors, will win the battle for dollars this season.

How do agile Internet retailers do it?

  1. Flexible application platform. Keeping customers engaged requires the ability to deliver application experiences that are dynamic, up to date, and differentiated—not only from direct competitors, but also from aggregators. If your technologists are locked out of the platform for a season—afraid to make changes to react to and keep ahead of the market—your team will be on its back foot. The most responsive Internet retailers will have processes for developing, testing, and deploying changes that are automated fully from end-to-end, including merging those changes into production under heavy traffic. With enough staff, you can do it all yourself. But every minute a team spends managing IT infrastructure is a minute they’re not spending on creating an amazing shopping experience. A platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) environment that can eliminate all the underlying DevOps infrastructure and processes can be a competitive advantage, if it can fully automate deployment, from development to testing to production at scale.
  2. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). Today’s customers have zero tolerance for latency. If it takes more than a few seconds for an application to load, most will simply move on to the next application. Providers of CDNs optimize the Web and mobile application experience by leveraging points-of presence (PoPs) around the globe, but not every CDN is created equal—especially for dynamic commerce experiences. Agile Internet retailers employ a multi-tiered global CDN, capable of managing both static asset caching and dynamic assets.
  3. Mobile databases. Today, users expect every application to provide the same level of interactivity they experience with, for example, an application from Uber. If the application experience doesn’t continuously update with relevant data that lets customers know where their package is, chances are they won’t remain engaged. These mobile applications may require unique back-end services that may be challenging to manage in legacy PaaS that only supports a single development language or framework, or onerous to orchestrate in a DIY situation. Agile Internet retailers need a polyglot approach to app deployment.
  4. Continuous testing. Dynamic applications, personalized offerings, and mobile experiences all increase cart size and purchase frequency. But adapting testing processes to these ever-changing conditions can be painful. Internet retailers need to stay on top of all the dependencies that might impact their application. Traditional approaches to commerce application deployment make it especially challenging— in addition to the app itself changing, development, testing, staging, and production environments can get quickly out of sync. Testing needs to be built and managed in lock-step with the application itself, and consistent across environments.
  5. Analytics. Most Internet retailers are familiar with the concept of A/B testing to determine customer preferences. But it’s also critical to gather the data required to create a segmented application experience across different classes of customers. It may never be feasible to engage in mass personalization of the application experience, but agile retailers apply analytics within the context of a marketing automation framework.
  6. High availability. Nothing costs more money during a holiday season than downtime. Every second a website is down can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. In the event application and infrastructure resources become suddenly unavailable, Internet retailers need to have entire stacks of applications ready to spin up in minutes. While that sounds like a simple enough concept, disaster recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) requires extensive planning to make one of the most difficult tasks in all of IT look easy. Alternatively, a second-generation Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) can automate high availability at each level of the stack, and enable automated failover and recovery of services—especially under holiday season loads.

Performance and availability have always been keys to success in an online shopping experience. This is more true now than ever, with a greater share of commerce shifting to mobile devices that sometimes have spotty connectivity. Your IT posture for success in the holiday season should incorporate key processes and tools to make sure your commerce experience meets expectations. In the past, that meant locking down, and avoiding change. But this season’s winners will leverage PaaS innovation to keep their customers engaged and outpace the competition.

The good news? It’s not too late to acquire the capability to deploy continuously to the cloud—throughout the holiday season and beyond—if you make the right platform choices.

Image: Fotolia

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