Oct 30 2023

How Can Retailers Prepare for the Holiday Rush?

With peak shopping days approaching, IT leaders should complete a holiday readiness assessment to ensure their tech is secure and optimized.

It’s officially sweater weather, which means holiday shopping and the height of e-commerce season are almost here. As retailers prepare for their busiest time of year, it’s critical that their modern wireless technology and security checks are optimized so customers don’t have to suffer through technical or operational delays and downtime. Store associates also need to feel empowered, while virtual customer support agents need to be prepared for dozens of tickets.

The holiday shopping season requires proactive planning and troubleshooting. To survive and come out strong, retailers need all forces to be in sync, and fast. It’s a tall order, but experts say it’s possible with a holiday readiness assessment.

BizTech spoke with Luis Camacho, director of intelligent platforms at CDW, to learn what’s involved in this assessment and the criteria IT leaders need to be mindful of as they plan ahead.

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What Is a Holiday Readiness Assessment?

Conducting a holiday readiness assessment helps ensure that all your critical systems can handle peak traffic, both online and in store. It also helps retailers avoid security weak spots and potential outages. For Camacho, this strategic health check includes high-volume performance and failover tests to identify bottlenecks and improve the ease of transactions. Retailers can also seek the help of an expert partner to run the check and solidify end-to-end platform support.

How Should Retailers Plan for a Successful Shopping Season?

As IT leaders connect in-store tech and prepare their e-commerce channels, they should prioritize a few key criteria.

“Customers want a frictionless holiday season,” Camacho says. For brick-and-mortar stores, that means point of sale, security, inventory layout and customer service. For e-commerce, he says, it’s “things like inventory management, visual merchandising, commerce or site optimization. You’ve got order management, fulfillment and shipping — that’s a big linchpin in the e-commerce industry.”

EXPLORE: Get the tools to perform your holiday readiness assessment this season.

Operational efficiency for online purchasing platforms and customer service systems is also important. For example, how are your customer service representatives preparing for the increased volume? What’s being done to prevent website delays or chatbot glitches? “From a performance perspective, we measure it in time. We don’t want the end user getting the ‘circle of death’ or the spinning wheel,” Camacho says.

How Can IT Leaders Stress-Test Their Environments in Advance?

There are several tests retailers and e-commerce teams can perform. The first is high-volume performance and failover tests to identify bottlenecks and improvements. Retailers can also conduct stress testing to see how applications run without any adjustment under peak traffic.

The second core type is what Camacho describes as a “white-glove monitoring service,” which includes continual live monitoring of the commerce environment and periodic updates to the system.

Luis Camacho
In a retail environment, a lot of disparate systems have to talk to each other seamlessly at one time. There’s fulfillment, inventory, pricing, promotions, the users. The earlier you start holiday readiness, the better.”

Luis Camacho Director of Intelligent Platforms, CDW

How Do Failover Tests Differ from Stress Tests?

To identify high-volume bottlenecks, Camacho says failover tests (also known as dry runs) are critical. They raise awareness of any vulnerabilities so retailers can correct issues in advance.

“In a failover test, you are intentionally taking down a piece of the application to simulate servers crashing or an influx of traffic,” Camacho says. This gives retailers a preview of how the system will perform under a massive amount of traffic. “You are intentionally crippling your system to see how it performs,” he says.

Stress testing, on the other hand, runs an application monitoring tool without any adjustments to see how it handles a lot of traffic at once. Apple did this before the iPhone 15 release in September. Camacho gives an example of 300,000 users hitting a website at one time. If your system doesn’t crash or have delays under these stressors, then you are ready for the holiday rush.

DISCOVER: Find out how to boost digital velocity in your organization.

To Succeed, Plan as Far in Advance as Possible

A one- or two-day workshop with both business and IT leaders can also help align efforts as retailers prepare for the holiday season.

Your first holiday readiness assessment may be the toughest, but once complete, IT leaders should make it a routine practice and start around the summer for best results. “In a retail environment, a lot of disparate systems have to talk to each other seamlessly at one time. There’s fulfillment, inventory, pricing, promotions, the users,” Camacho says. “The earlier you start holiday readiness, the better.”

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