With the festive season, and its accompanying discount days (barring the January sales of course) a distant memory of 2018, now is the perfect time to look back at the madness the bargain bonanzas created. In this Q&A with Craig Lager (pictured below), IT manager, Prezzybox.com, RetailTechNews learns about how the gift retailer prepared for days like Black Friday, and the pros and cons of such days for retailers.
RetailTechNews: What do you do, above and beyond the usual, in preparation for Black Friday?
Craig Lager: High-traffic periods have become pretty routine for us as a gift retailer, so we have configured our environment to automatically respond. As Black Friday is far less predictable in terms of behaviour, compared to our more traditional events like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, with the help of Zen managing our AWS environment, we have manually increased our caching and database capacity this year. This ensures that we could serve our customers in the most stable, resilient, and responsive way possible.
In which areas are retailers falling short, when it comes to preparing for discount days such as Black Friday?
Because of the unpredictability in what customers and other retailers are going to do, it’s very hard to prepare around stocking and deciding on how heavily to discount. Everyone reacts to each other when Black Friday starts approaching; so, ultimately, people need to prepare to react very quickly to market changes.
Some retailers still fail to prepare for customer demand. We see sites slowing down or going offline due to resource demand – some go as far as implementing queueing systems to ‘gain access’ to the sales. Fortunately for us, Zen’s role in providing flexible, secure, and scalable infrastructure means that we haven’t experienced such issues.
What do you see as the good and bad points of Black Friday for Prezzybox?
Giving our customers a chance to get their Christmas shopping done at a great price really fits with our mission of ‘creating moments of happiness’. On the negative side, however, customers tend to wait for Black Friday weekend to start their Christmas shopping. This creates challenges for us around forecasting stock requirements, organising the logistics of getting stock in and out of the warehouse and, more than anything, we’re compressing the shopping period by roughly 50% – which I’d suggest isn’t something that any retailer wants.
As Black Friday continues to grow in the UK, how do you plan to develop your operations so you can deal with the influx of customers?
We’re constantly evolving our environment to scale faster, safer, and more efficiently where possible. As I mentioned earlier, Zen consults us on how load is affecting our resources, as well as where we can make cost-effective improvements.
We’ve been on AWS with Zen for years; and due to the constant reviewing, tweaking, and enhancements to its cloud-based solution by Zen’s Managed Services team, our capacity is really at the point where a surge of customers isn’t much of an event.
Is Prezzybox looking to take advantage of overseas discount days, such as Singles’ Day, at the moment? Is this something you might do in the future? How would preparation tactics vary from Black Friday?
At the minute, our top priority is the UK; but we’re always looking to grow our overseas sales. We need to be careful to not constantly run discounts, and these events sometimes conflict with UK events that we need to consider. To prepare properly, we’d need to look at how to optimise our environment for international customers to deliver them a consistently great experience. This may involve launching servers outside of Europe, which is something that’s quickly done in AWS.