This must be the “strangest” of strange states as our consumer society evolves from zero “Black Fridays” to two – and gives my original article a second lease of life. The early bird resellers launched Black Friday part one last week attempting to steal a march on the masses, but the real frenzy and furore starts now with the default Black Friday fast approaching followed by Cyber Monday just around the corner.
These two shopping days were absent from my childhood as I lived a world of window shopping that on the odd occasions evolved to in store browsing when I sought to interact and engage with the myriad of products I hoped I could one day afford to buy. Click and collect didn’t exist but via a very thick paper based catalogue “click and deliver” was a highly rewarding activity with the click of buttons on the home phone followed by that feeling of Christmas when the catalogue item was delivered via the postal service (nothing ever fitted or looked as amazing as the catalogue pictures).
But as we fast forward to the present day with frequent announcements of the demise of the high street, much of our in store browsing is online (and frequently from a mobile device), click and collect / deliver an essential way of life and our approach to product selection and purchasing is now unrecognisable from a decade ago. Our immersion in social networks, digital procurement platforms and financial systems have helped to make many of us digital by default when we shift into product buying mode because the sheer breadth of offerings and convenience is unmatched.
But it comes with a health risk. The “digital me (or you)” and our always on entity existing on both known and unknown public platforms, ensures we become valid targets for attackers seeking to emulate our digital personas for financial gain. Black Friday signals the start of one of the busiest and most frenzied trading weekends of the year. The mix of in store and online price reductions results in both “want and need” based purchasing to ensure “too good to be true” deals are not missed, culminating on Cyber Monday with an online price war second to none.
Secure business, secure purchasing, secure user experience are often assumed by customers without a second thought of the cyber threat spectre waiting in the wings. This leaves many combing the net for deals, offers, codes or any other digital token to make “cheap” even “cheaper”, blissfully unware that many of those “benefits” are fake, malware ridden or designed to harvest personal credentials for future use.
Cyber Monday 2017 surpassed $6.7bn of sales which for both retailers and cyber treat actors is a prize too lucrative to ignore (stat CNBC). For retailers, getting the security basics right will be essential to ensure successful and secure consumer trading outcomes. DDOS mitigation, enhanced phishing protection, web application security, anti-malware, access review and least privilege are essential controls that must be tested and optimised in advance of the starting gun for Black Friday.
For consumers / users, education and heightened levels of cyber vigilance plus a realisation that too good to be true – “is too good to be true” when interacting with online systems prior to and beyond the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend. This is the time of year where spam and phishing Email volumes reach unprecedented levels with social engineering used to make those “offers” too compelling to ignore. DONT CLICK emails for “amazing deals and offers” – pure and simple as a moment of weakness may result in malware, ransomware or other forms of compromise taking hold of your digital persona and potentially that of your company. Its safer to visit the website of the vendor in question “directly”, no need to click a link that may not be from the company in question.
If you want to be “online smart” a few simple things can deliver HUGE security enhancements to your Black Friday shopping experience. Ensure you turn on the two-factor (or multi) authentication and notification options on your various online email services and accounts with further security improvements gained by using a password manager to ensure different passwords are applied to various services you use.
Building the walls higher just won’t do, both vendors and consumers must work in tandem to ensure the most secure possible online and digital trading experience is realised by all reducing the potential for data breach or subsequent misuse.
Safe and happy shopping during Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 (and beyond).
Until next time.
LOB CTO UK: Networking and Security – Computacenter UK
After numerous years performing a task (it can be anything from a daily job to fatherhood), you often reach the point of preaching (or maybe it’s just me): “In my day…” or “we didn’t do things like that” and so on… But the rate of change in business driven by information technology (IT) today makes time frames as short as a year ago seem like the “good old days”.
Last weekend was opened by “Black Friday”, a social season that’s skipped across to the UK in pretty much a year to mirror one of the largest retail trading windows in the US – “Thanksgiving”. The Thanksgiving weekend stateside unlocked a retail extravaganza of below bargain prices and frenzied shopping at a level rarely seen in the UK outside of the few weeks that precede Christmas. Even though we don’t celebrate “Thanksgiving” we now have our own Black Friday price crash and shopping madness that I suspect will be here for the indefinite future. So where I hear you ask is the IT link, can IT really be the silver bullet to retail success in a manic market? Not in isolation as people buying from people, served by people, engaging with people is still the richest emotional experience, but with the dawn of Omni-channel as an essential go-to-market strategy, IT genuinely is the “silver bullet”.
Picture the average UK shopper last weekend (Black Friday weekend):
- The UK news media started to stoke the fire of “Black Friday” days earlier advertising the potential for once in a lifetime deals and prices.
- Consumers via the internet researched current prices and specifications of products of interest.
- Those consumers keen on bargains but without the crush were waiting keenly at 00.00am (and 1 second) on Friday morning to place the first online orders at the Black Friday price.
- Many web sites couldn’t cope creating a situation that reinforces the importance of robust IT systems potentially using cloud computing to allow “burst” or on-demand scaling with application delivery controllers that shares workloads across both local and global systems.
- As the online trading carried on furiously through the early morning, the retail high street front doors opened and stampedes ensued for many who had researched online, but wanted to visit the store in person (as much for the emotional and tactile shopping experience).
- And as the tills rang and many left those frantic stores bargains in hand, fleets of delivery vehicles were then despatched to deliver both online orders and in-store orders in a manner most convenient to the purchaser.
A quick comparison with the “good old days” and using a similar example:
- The consumer would visit the store, research in store and buy in store (or visit multiple stores until the price or “offer” was right); or research online, buy online; or research online, pick in store; and for both delivery to a location that suits at a time that suits.
Dynamic, highly scalable processing systems, with the capability to burst into on demand resources at peak times, balanced across the globe by high performance, application-aware networks with secure application delivery control, must surely be the only template that can deliver repeated success in this “Black Friday” influenced digital economy. That’s why IT delivered well is key to Omni-channel success (in fact retail success in general). As Europe’s leading user enablement IT infrastructure systems integrator, Computacenter plays a major role in this arena, ensuring time is not just money, but equally ultimate customer satisfaction.
Omni-channel, underpinned by the effective amalgam of IT and human service delivery delivers the best of all of the above. The consumer “Omni-channel” engagement mode (“my product, in my time, my way”) is fast becoming the norm for consumers ever-present today, with few memories of the “good old days”. Buy online/collect in store, research online/collect in-store, browse in-store/buy online – “my way”.
Without Omni-channel the only channel available to the consumer is “your channel”, the channel(s) presented by the retailer. However in today’s personalised digital economy retailers may find if they don’t allow the buyer to engage and interact via “their” channel, they may choose not to transact via the retailer at all. A simple to use, effective online presence is now essential, but alongside UC-enabled customer contact centres, high street-based outlets with engaging staff, customer WIFI, digital signage for rich media advertising and back-end systems that deliver a single customer data view, it’s easy to see how Omni-channel that blends all is quickly becoming the king of the castle.
Until next time.
Linear Scalability would have made some retailers a lot more money on Black Friday and left them better prepared for the peak in internet traffic. Why might you ask is this possible? Anybody watching the news, surfing the web or actually leaving the comfort of their armchairs to visit a shop in person this weekend can’t have missed the phenomenon called “Black Friday” arriving in the UK.
Now I’m not one to dismiss new trends and indeed I would consider myself an “early adopter” on the axis of the maturity curve; however Black Friday bought two big issues out in to the open for retailers. The first and not my interest today, was the requirement for many of the UK Police forces to deploy teams of police in riot gear to manage the hysteria as waves of people flocked to the stores to pick up a bargain. The second was the legitimate Volumetric Denial of Service (DoS) attack that retailers invited to their sites on the back of the torrent of advertising emails that were sent out in the run up to the event.
For those of you who don’t understand what Volumetric a Denial of Service attack is, Arbor Networks classifies it as an “attempt to consume the bandwidth either within the target network/service , or between the target network/service and the rest of the Internet. These attacks are simply about causing congestion.” And that’s exactly what happened on many commercial websites with the number of visits and site requests swamping them and causing so much congestion that people couldn’t get on them to find a bargain let alone buy one!
Now we’ve all seen this kind of issue with ticket sites – you want to buy tickets for the latest band and spend hours waiting to get in to a queue to buy them. But retailers were caught out and several implemented queuing systems through the course of the day which I’m sure infuriated many people as they had to wait up to an hour to get access to the site. Some might say that this isn’t an issue as it’s a British tradition to queue patiently for things – however the internet isn’t British and in this “always on, always connected world” we are moving towards, a queuing system quite frankly doesn’t cut it with today’s “always on, always connected” internet consumers.
The dilemma facing retailers is that to implement infrastructure that supports that amount of availability when it isn’t used for much of the year isn’t cost effective. Which is why many have resorted to a queuing system that throttles traffic to the back end systems and ensures that the website stays up and running and delivering acceptable performance and reaction times to those accessing it. In doing so however a large proportion of the potential spending population will go elsewhere and therefore whilst no doubt profitable, many retailers failed to maximise the potential of Black Friday.
So what are the alternatives? Linear Scalability is one solution to this problem – the ability to deliver continuous throughput through the provision of on the fly additional infrastructure. This where cloud services can provide the answer and Computacenter can assist. Cloud adoption has been slow in the main as a result of security concerns – why would you trust your crown jewels and intellection property (IP) to a cloud provider when it’s a challenge to protect it within your own datacenters? And this is where we are missing a trick… Most organisations if they looked at the bottlenecks in their systems on Friday would have quickly realised that the issue lay in the web delivery capability which wasn’t able to meet the number of requests being made and not the application or database servers sitting at the back end. By moving or complementing the delivery engine in the cloud, many retailers would be able to maintain performance and the IP would have stayed in the corporate datacenter but the content delivery would have expanded exponentially to cope with demand.
In a “Pay Per CPU Per Hour” cloud model Computacenter can help you implement the necessary architecture to provision and decommission infrastructure on the fly thus allowing you to maximise the money making potential of events such as Black Friday and other peaks in sales throughout the year. Taking the analogy further, if you were able to provision such infrastructure on the fly then why have a DR datacenter sitting idle for much of the year and why not do this to mitigate nefarious Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks? Equally why tie yourself to one cloud provider when you can go where the most cost effective solution is on a month to month basis?
Computacenter is one of the few organisations that can help you with the end to end delivery of such solutions and won F5’s 2014 “Rising Star” award this year in recognition of our innovation and integration of the F5 portfolio in to our solutions. To implement linear scalability you need a raft of vendors – from load balancing and provisioning to networking and datacenter; we have one of the most comprehensive capabilities in Europe and can build and demonstrate this to you in our Customer Solutions Centre in Hatfield.
In an always on, always connected world where website usability and reaction times are proportional to the profitability, why wouldn’t you come and talk to us?